“I’ve always been a fan of folklore and mythology, so Fables just seemed the perfect culmination of all that. All my career I’ve been flipping folklore and fairy tale stuff into superhero books.”
“The following is a contributor post by the Teal Time Mage.”
Ever since I could remember, I was infatuated with comic books: the modern day mythology of Heroes and Villains, Gods and Monsters. My childhood was inundated with illustrious names like Batman, Spider-man, and X-Men. It was probably when I was in high school that my palate expanded to classic stories from Greece, Norse, and Japan. The Brother’s Grimm became especially interesting due to its dark subject matter, amoral characters, and karmic view of punishment. It seemed only natural I became intrigued by Bill Willingham’s Fables comic from Vertigo (the R-rated line of DC books which included Swamp Thing, Sandman, and Hellblazer); this comic combined everything I loved about fantasy: a massive shared universe, deep story arcs, and an interesting premise.
Fables tells the story of a community of fairy tale characters who fled their homeland centuries ago and are now currently living in modern day New York City. While the more humanoid “Fables” can pass themselves off in public, other anthropomorphic creatures must go to “The Farm” in Upstate New York (my stomping grounds, although I’ve yet to find any talking pigs or anthropomorphic frogs). Notable names that readers will be familiar with are Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and Pinocchio. In order to hide from the “Mundies” (normal folk), the fairy tale residents use magic spells to hide their true forms from the public eye. When there’s lawlessness among the Fables, they call in Sheriff Bigby Wolf (aka The Big-Bad Wolf) to keep the peace. With the right balance of chain smoking, hard-boiled detective and Universal’s classic werewolf, Bigby stars in the Fables comic for much of the run. With the story’s darker juxtaposition of the more familiar Disney tropes in favor of its original Brothers Grimm roots, I find the Fables franchise to be quite enticing.
I thoroughly believe that without Fables there wouldn’t be any vested interest in cashing in on the dark fairy tale sub-genre; this would include TV shows such as Grimm, Bright, and the immensely popular Once Upon a Time. By that same virtue, video games have likewise started experimenting with entries such as American McGee’s Alice, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Rule of Rose. With that in mind, you can imagine my giddiness when I found out that Telltale was developing a Fables adventure game after their initial success with The Walking Dead video game (once again based on a graphic novel series, this time written by Robert Kirkman). Entitled The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s game serves as a prequel to the original comic which sets up a lot of the events of the comic as well as crafting a new story revolving around Bigby Wolf investigating a serial killer on the loose in Fabletown; not to sound droll, but let’s follow the yellow brick road of The Wolf Among Us…
As is the same case with The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us features a unique art style combining cel-shading with a lush variation of pitch black shadows, neon pink, drab green, and pale yellow backdrops rarely seen in the original comic. The game looks and feels like a 1980’s noir detective story with its effective use of subdued interior designs contrasted by the bright and colorful fairy tale characters and settings. For example, most of the indoor environments are marred with bland orange and gray color schemes whilst characters like Bigby and Snow White are identified by brown and blue hair colors that pop against their surroundings.
Another point I want to bring up is the effective use of lighting; gorgeous night time scenes offset by bright neon signs are peppered throughout the game which bolsters the seedy underbelly of the Fabletown community. This is a superb use of urban landscape which gives the game a stylistic tone. There are also the scenes within Bigby’s office, presented to the player with Wolf’s cheap lamplight giving the room a faded yellow glow that reminds me of the comic in how it really described Bigby’s personality (a shabby detective that hides something much deeper than what’s on the surface).
My major complaint with this game is the occasional buggy hiccups within the visuals: in one instance, Bigby is seen picking up a dollar bill with his hand and proceeds to walk around with it. However, he is seen picking up something else with the same hand while still holding onto the dollar bill. Not only that, but he is again seen holding onto the dollar bill during the subsequent cutscene. This may be due in part to the technical issues the game may suffer from, but it doesn’t take away from the game’s visuals too much to enjoy the vibrant character designs and settings.
Jared Emerson-Johnson crafts a majestically macabre score utilizing a quiet yet menacing theme; it reminds me of episodes of Law and Order where the tone rapidly changes from inquiry to pulse-pounding tension. Again, this is very indicative of the detective noir genre, where the emotional tone switches back and forth to give added weight to the narrative. Johnson’s score was nominated for a National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers award for Original Dramatical Score, and it is well deserved! The blend of whimsical melodies with the somber beats conveys a stark dichotomy between the fairy tale and urban backdrops.
Sound is also top notch in this game. Sound effects including handguns, breaking glass, and fist-pounding are some of the most frequently used, but they feel effective in the overall storytelling.
Voice acting is where the game really hits its strides; the voice work is really well done to convey the emotional connections to the characters. For years I’ve only had the cold text of comics to go by, and the talented voice actors featured in this game give life to the graphic novels, sounding dead on. The dialogue is nicely paced and carries the right balance of emotion and diction. Bigby (voiced by seasoned video game voice actor Adam Harrington) evokes the type of gruff, primal tone that properly reflects the noir style. The Wolf Among Us was also nominated for a BAFTA award for Story and Performer highlighting Harrington’s performance as Bigby. I’ll say Telltale really knows who to cast in their voice acting roles as each bit of script plays deliciously with the player’s feelings, be it attachment or revulsion towards the characters.
I think it would be fair to say that Telltale’s style is the modern spiritual successor to the point-and-click genre of the late 80’s and early 90’s. In The Wolf Among Us, you scour your surroundings with a targeting reticle finding clues, items, and persons of interest. As a contrast to games such as King’s Quest and Monkey Island, TWAU foregoes intense puzzle-solving in favor of deeper storytelling and branching conversations. Items can give added options in dialogue trees, but can also affect how characters react to you, which is the real meat of the gameplay.
Every action and spoken word has a profound impact on the game, from characters, to settings, and even the order of events. Wolf can either be viewed as a reluctant pacifist or as a vicious enforcer in the eyes of the Fables. This is indicative of the way in which Bigby handles a given situation with his actions and dialogue; the player can try to reason with his fellow Fables through diplomacy or guile, but can also interrupt a scene with moments of violence and intimidation, influencing how characters will see the Sheriff. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a “morality” meter like other games (as Bigby is known for both his stand-offish nature as well as his compassion in the comics, making him somewhat enigmatic and hard to read), but rather the player’s preference for how they wish to play the game and inevitably arrive at the journey’s end.
At various intervals, the game will switch gears to more action-packed moments involving QTEs (Quick Time Events involving button pressing); these scenes are usually combat scenes and/or chase sequences. I must admit, I used a controller to play this game as God of War showed me how handy it can be with QTEs. You’ll have to use directionals, button mash, and aim with the reticle in order to maintain the pace of the game. Of course, one mistake won’t cause an “instant death”, but it will affect your progression of the game and whether or not you can proceed from where you’re at.
TWAU has a definite cinematic quality which transitions from story to active gameplay, but I would really have preferred the proper time to let it breathe. As is the case with other Telltale games, this game is extremely linear and only rarely do you get a chance to explore an area in its entirety. Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human allow players to truly immerse themselves in the gaming world, whereas TWAU feels more akin to that of a movie you interact with from time to time. Of course, this may be due to the game being presented in Chapters, it’s probably meant to be seen as more of a movie than a game, but I feel it’s detrimental to the overall experience of the gameplay.
Perhaps the most glaring issue I have is due to the glitches in the game skipping an important cutscene and popping a choice grid where there are no options and no way to proceed, forcing you to restart from the most recent checkpoint. This fully frustrating fumble took me out of the game, which was a major oversight.
The ability to choose your dialogue and actions gives a wide variety of scenarios to play with, granting added motivation to replay alternate scenes which were unavailable in your initial playthrough. Additionally, playing through the game using different branching paths will unlock more profiles in your pause menu, giving you added insight into characters, locations, and backstory. Those going for achievements can go the completionist route as the game is incredibly short (about 3-5 hours of gameplay overall), you can replay to your heart’s delight without too much backtracking or grinding.
TWAU is a game that many casual gamers can pick up and play, it doesn’t feature too many complex game mechanics other than the QTEs. The very first minutes of the game will tutor you on the “whats and hows” of the interactive action sequences of the game. Checkpoint auto-saves also help to re-load your game should you feel the need so there’s no fear of losing too much of your progress. I will say that it’s best to buy this game as a bundled package as opposed to individual chapters due to the fact it is meant to be played as a whole. Thankfully, enough time has passed so you can easily find the game in its entirety.
As a consequence of easy access, I feel the game offers very little as far as challenge. This isn’t meant to be a trial of skill but a compelling story to draw players in. The creators want you to kick back and enjoy the ride rather than beat your head against the wall. Not much of a challenge, but an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
Choice is perhaps the greatest theme presented in the game; Bigby’s character forms the crucible of the narrative as Sheriff Wolf is seen with much fear and hatred as a result of his past actions as The Big Bad Wolf. This constant feeling of scorn and derision serves to bolster his motivation to serve as Sheriff as it would signify a willingness to change. Suspicion and loathing drive a wedge between Bigby and his investigation into a string of bizarre murders occurring around Fabletown, and as a result, the player can alter the Fables’ attitude towards Bigby depending on how he treats others. This mechanic fully embodies the theme of redemption in my eyes, identifying Bigby as more of a Byronic Hero rather than a predator.
Outside of redemption, there’s also a lingering feeling of corruption and apathy on the part of Fabletown. These aren’t your typical fairy tale characters; class-ism, prostitution, and forced internment map out the world-building in this game to powerful effect. Similar to the works of Neil Gaiman and the late great Terry Pratchett, fairy tales can be a literary tool for addressing modern issues in our society, drawing on a lot of lore from the comics. TWUA is a must play simply for the savory scale of storytelling packed into each chapter.
I always get a lingering sense dread when I play any video game adaptation of an established property, be it from a movie, comic book, or book series, mostly because of the ambiguous canonicity which oftentimes gets retconned by the series’ respective authors. Thankfully, TWAU sidesteps the issue by offering a prequel experience that doesn’t outright contradict the events of the comic. Telltale accomplishes this monumental undertaking by focusing on a new cast of characters such as Mr. Toad, The Woodsman, and The Tweedles, absent from the graphic novels, allowing flexibility to explore deep character arcs and world-building.
Another important aspect of the narrative is its sense of scale: the Fables universe is massive, featuring extensive sagas involving The Farm, The Adversary, and The Homelands. Telltale once again eschews the grander arcs of the comic in favor of a smaller stand-alone story more akin to Se7en than The 10th Kingdom. This keeps in line with the Fables comic as a detective story. The very first volume of the graphic novel series (Legends in Exile ) highlights Bigby Wolf as a detective attempting to solve a murder mystery, echoing the storyline in the game.
Perhaps it’s because of the fact that comics are more story-based that they serve as perfect templates for video games, and TWAU utilizes a mish mash of mediums to great effect.
Unlike Telltales’ other licensed characters (Batman, Sam and Max, Guardians of the Galaxy), TWAU is at present the only game to feature characters from the Fables imprint. A sequel was planned, but alas, Telltale’s bankruptcy halted its production. With the recent news of Telltale’s appropriation by LSG Entertainment, there may be hope that a sequel will be released, but I wouldn’t hold my huffing and puffing on it.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
There are flaws aplenty with A Wolf Among Us, but it still holds up extremely well as an adventure game. It’s true that there’s little challenge to the gameplay mechanics and it’s overall short in length, but I feel this works in favor for its replayability and ease of access. The sometimes glitchy bugs can disrupt the flow of the game, but the immaculate art style, music, and voice acting make this one helluva ride for the uninitiated.
Bigby Wolf is by far one of the coolest characters you will experience in video gaming in terms of abilities, backstory, and character journey, and this game offers you the chance to experience it all first hand with a game focusing on your choices to dictate where your story is going to lead. By the end, you’ll feel a great attachment to Sheriff Wolf and the Fabletown community. For those wishing to know more, read the Fables comic by Bill Willingham, a magnum opus graphic novel series and one of the greatest pieces of modern literature.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
The Teal Time Mage lives at a fixed point in time that is set between 1991 and 1997. Outside of his time vortex of nostalgia, he writes horror short stories, cosplays, and coordinates for various charity groups. Find him on Twitter @ArosElric, on Facebook @ArosElricCosplay, and on Final Fantasy XIV’s Cactuar Server under the name “Aros Erlic”.
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