BY NICK McCOY
Of the several video game genres, Episodic, choice-based graphic adventure games are some of my favorites to dive into. While I don’t play them as regularly as I once did, these types of interactive media scratch an itch I have for story-based games coated in interesting characters, themes, and decisions that can result in many different scenarios.
I also understand completely why this type of game isn’t everybody’s cup of tea; Some might not even consider these games at all. However, I’m personally able to look past the lackluster gameplay elements and minimal player control because, more often than not, the story and characters keep me invested enough.
And in the 2010s, Telltale Games were the undeniable kings of these types of games. Before their unfortunate shutdown in 2018, they delivered some incredibly emotional stories filled with interesting characters, and choices that could affect how the game played out in many different ways. With some incredible titles like their Walking Dead series, Game of Thrones and Batman: The Telltale series, I want to give attention to one of their more underrated titles, and my personal favorite graphical adventure: “The Wolf Among Us.”
Released in 2013, “The Wolf Among Us” is not only one of Telltale’s best titles, but in my eyes, one of the most interesting and engaging graphic adventures out there. Full of interesting characters, great writing, exceptional music, and an instantly recognizable style propels “The Wolf Among Us” as a masterpiece in this genre.
Like a lot of Telltale’s other titles, “The Wolf Among” Us is based on an already established IP; the comic book series “Fables.” Written by Bill Willingham and printed under DC Comics Vertigo, now known as DC Black Label, “Fables” focuses on a variety of different characters from fairy tales and folklore, now living in a New York City borough known as Fabletown after being exiled from their homelands.
Most of the comic deals with the characters, collectively known as “fables” trying to stay hidden from regular humans (known as Mundies), and the return of the Adversary, a deadly enemy responsible for the fables’ exile. Some fables blend in through the use of “glamours,” spells that change their appearance. Fables who can’t get glamorous or can’t pass as humans are sent to a place known as The Farm.
Although the comic features an ensemble cast, the primary character is Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby was formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf, who terrorized characters like Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. Pardoned for his past crimes and having taken a human form, Bigby has worked to put his past behind him and keep the citizens of Fabletown safe; at the same time, he must deal with mistrust and fear from many of the townsfolk. Bigby serves as the sole playable character in “The Wolf Among Us.”
“The Wolf Among Us” takes place in the 1980s, and serves as a prequel to the comics. It sees Bigby, with the help of Snow White and several other characters, attempt to solve two grizzly murders. As the murder unfolds, what begins as a simple whodunnit turns into an enthralling mystery, as Bigby discovered a black market for glamours, corruption in the Fabletown government, the intense class divides between the poor and rich members of the community, and a mysterious crime boss known as the Crooked Man, who has been extorting much of Fabletown’s population.
The story unfolds through five episodes, released between 2013-2014, and Bigby’s story is set to continue thanks to AdHoc Studios, a company consisting of former Telltale employees, in “The Wolf Among Us 2,” set to release sometime in 2024.
Like most if not all, of Telltale’s catalog, choice is a massive part of “The Wolf Among Us’” story. Bigby (and the player) must make several decisions throughout the course of the game, all of which affect the ending in some way. Some are massive choices that can heavily impact how a situation plays out, while others are more so minor consequences that really only create additional scenes. An example of the latter is when Bigby is forced between arresting two fleeing suspects in the murder; Arresting one will result in the other escaping. Whoever you chose to arrest does not matter in the long run; All it does is give context and information regarding that certain character. Even if the consequences are relatively small, it’s still interesting to see the different scenarios play out.
A big part of this game is how other characters in the world perceive you: Another common trope in many of Telltale’s games. Like I said before, many people in Fabletown do not trust Bigby due to his dark and violent past. During the course of the game, he can choose to fight that notion, or embrace it; Basically, players can choose to make Bigby a caring sheriff who genuinely cares about the people and the state of Fabletown, or they can turn him into a selfish, violent sheriff who only cares about getting the job done.
This mainly boils down to how you handle certain bits of dialogue and how you handle suspects; in that previous case with whoever you arrested, you can choose to calmly interrogate the suspect, treating them well. Or, you can choose to violently torture them. Plus, there is a major decision near the end of the fifth and final episode which truly determines what kind of sheriff you turn out to be.
Whatever decisions you choose to make, the story is entertaining and incredibly well-crafted, and the characters are superb. Bigby Wolf itself is a great character to control; his backstory is interesting, and his character is very well fleshed out. He can be calm and compassionate, or aggressive and bloodthirsty, depending on what the player chooses. I found myself going towards the good wolf side, as seeing characters overcome their mistrust and hatred towards Bigby is nice to watch, and I feel it gives the character justice. Bigby’s character is helped tremendously by the dialogue and the performance of Adam Harrington, whose gruff voice fits Bigby perfectly.
The game features a colorful, entertaining cast of characters aside from Bigby himself. These characters provide a new, fresh look at classic fairy tale and fantasy characters, and their relationships with Bigby are interesting to watch unfold. The relationship between Bigby and Snow White is a great blend of professional courtesy and obvious romantic feelings, without ever feeling cheesy or cliched. The ways that “The Wolf Among Us” handles certain fairy tale characters make them feel both unique and a lot to the world.
This game’s version of the Woodsman from Little Red Riding Hood is a depressed alcoholic who actually planned to rob Red and her granny when he saved them; Ichabod Crane is the town’s mayor, and harbored an incredibly concerning fascination with Snow, and Narissa aka the little mermaid is a stripper at the Puddin N’ Pie, owned by the smug Georgie Porgie, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum are two thugs for hire. On top of that, there are the characters of Toad and Colin, who add some much-needed humor while also having their own interesting stories. Colin, in particular, one of the three little pigs, is seen drinking and smoking. Seeing a talking pig just casually smoking a cigarette genuinely gave me a chuckle my first time around.
Outside of the game’s story, “The Wolf Among Us’” style is by far my favorite aspect. Despite featuring talking animals and various fairy tale characters, this game is, for all intents and purposes, a neo-noir story. The title screen and opening score emphasize this perfectly; Bigby walks through the streets of Fabletown, cigarette in hand, with blue and purple neon lights shading him as a pulsing techno beat plays. This is greatly complimented by Telltale’s signature cel-shaded graphics, which gives the game a nice edge.
Despite its fantastical elements, the game is very gritty and deals with some pretty mature themes. Fabletown may seem like a whimsical place, but in reality, it’s a run down New York neighborhood filled with crime, corruption, and plenty of seedy activity. The usually neutral and dark color palette is contrasted by the various neon colors, mainly blue and purple, adding to the 1980s aesthetic. While this dark take on fairy tales is nothing new, “The Wolf Among Us” does in a way that feels fresh and enjoyable. The stylized graphics, mixed with the lighting, color palette and that amazing opening theme, give “The Wolf Among Us” plenty of style and substance.
“The Wolf Among Us’” gameplay is easily the weakest aspect, and that’s not surprising given Telltale’s catalog. The entirety of the gameplay revolves around Bigby moving around different areas while interacting with items, or talking to other characters via dialogue trees. Action sequences are played entirely through various button prompts, which can keep players on their toes but is hardly the foundation of an engaging system. Gameplay is the part where I can see many players just not enjoying “The Wolf Among Us,” and I understand completely. However, to me, I’m perfectly fine with the lackluster gameplay just because the story serves it so well. Plus, some of the quick time fight scenes are honestly really cool, especially in the later episodes.
All in all, while there’s no denying the emotional impact of Telltale’s Walking Dead series, “The Wolf Among Us” is Telltale’s best title in my eyes. It’s full of style and sleekness that makes the game pleasurable to look at, its story and characters are deep and interesting, and its choices and dialogue all leave an impact. The pitch-perfect writing makes each choice feel important, and the phenomenal voice cast, particularly Harrington, help bring the characters and world to life. If you’re going to play any of Telltale’s titles, “The Wolf Among Us” is one I can’t recommend enough. I am beyond excited to see where Bigby’s story goes with “The Wolf Among Us 2.”