UPDATE: We have updated our review of The Wolf Among Us with two additional sections, addressing impressions of the belated releases for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as PlayStation Vita.
After adapting The Walking Dead into a massively successful episodic adventure game series, Telltale soon after set their sights on another beloved comic book brand, Fables. The self-contained Vertigo/DC Comics series may not have a popular AMC television show to feed off of like The Walking Dead did, but its issues have nonetheless won numerous awards, and have really struck a chord with avid comic book readers.
Thus, it’s a series that really deserves more recognition. Leave it to Telltale then to follow up their increased exposure from The Walking Dead scooping up numerous Game of the Year 2012 nominations and wins by adapting another gritty, mature comic. It may be all about fairy tale personalities, but Fables involves anything but a Happily Ever After, making it an unexpected, but still smartly chosen spiritual follow-up subject to Telltale’s The Walking Dead.
For those unfamiliar with Fables, the series is about fairy tale personalities trying to eke out a hard living in present day New York, following being driven out from their homelands. After founding their own undercover suburb called Fabletown, the fairy tale folk then attempt to live among regular humans, whom they dub, “Mundies.” They are also protected and watched over by Sheriff Bigby Wolf, better known as the ‘Big Bad Wolf’ from The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood alike.
While Fables often unfolds from multiple perspectives, The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s five-episode prequel to the comics, is all about Bigby Wolf. He’s a rough-around-the-edges lawman who is burdened and seeking redemption from his violent past, and from there, players can shape the character as they see fit. Is he a by-the-book law enforcer who can be fully trusted to follow orders? Is he a violent renegade that isn’t above tearing up whoever gets in his way? Is he perhaps an intimidating, but non-violent tyrant who walks the line between both ideas?
As much as The Wolf Among Us tries to draw you in with its murder mystery, it’s the core appeal of the lead character that will make you stay, ultimately giving these episodes a similar appeal as The Walking Dead before them. It’s not quite the lightning-in-a-bottle that The Walking Dead was, granted, with your decisions having less impact, and the play mechanics treading rather close to Telltale’s previous zombie-dodging adventure, but The Wolf Among Us is still a riveting story in an engrossing, dank and mature world, one that still comes very highly recommended to enthusiasts of interactive narratives.
Like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us uses a gritty cel-shaded art style that feels very comic book-esque. It even takes the familiar Telltale engine from The Walking Dead and does even more with it, thanks to the foreboding streets of Fabletown’s seedy underbelly.
Splashes of neon colouring amidst more detailed shading effects make for an adventure that very much has its own style, even from the opening menus. During the day, Fabletown still has a lot of character, having shops and venues that are sly references to the origins and histories of its fairy tale personalities, but it’s at night that the art style really comes to life and leaps off the screen.
As delightful as it is to get lost in the sleazy secrets of Fabletown’s alleys and bars however, the character designs are also superb. Characters are drawn and rendered incredibly well, even better than they were in The Walking Dead! Every Fable has their own unique look and sense of character, which effectively modernizes their most well-known fairy tale incarnations, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. This is best displayed through Bigby himself, who can impressively look both forthcoming and vicious without missing a beat, often at the player’s discretion.
The visuals hold up perfectly between platforms as well, with none feeling like they drastically turned out better or worse than the others. Obviously, the most impressive visuals will come from the PC and Mac versions on optimal settings, but the game still looks very sharp on PS3 and Xbox 360. Even when playing the iOS build on an iPhone, The Wolf Among Us is a real visual treat compared to most other mobile games, though with that said, the iPhone version is still the least optimized, and does often look very compressed with its decreased resolution. If you do wish to play The Wolf Among Us on an Apple device, it’s far better suited to an iPad than an iPhone.
Those wishing to play on consoles should also bear in mind that, as with The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is not as well optimized on Xbox 360 as it is on PS3. The game is still perfectly functional on Microsoft’s console, but it has noticeably longer load times, and its performance really tends to stutter and chug pretty regularly in its Xbox Live Arcade incarnation, which hurts the immersion. The PS3 version suffers a few chugs too every now and again, but it’s far more stable and generally runs smoother. If you own both consoles, you may want to play The Wolf Among Us on PS3 for the most reliable and smooth experience.
Regardless however, you’re always getting a visually captivating game. Even with a cel-shaded style, The Wolf Among Us feels real, and effortlessly draws players in. It’s more colourful and striking than The Walking Dead, and the brutal, sometimes squeamish levels of violence certainly don’t lose their edge amidst the comic book-style graphics either!
The actual soundtrack in The Wolf Among Us is quite limited, much like in The Walking Dead. Any given story scene plays out without music, which is often reserved for the main menu, and the credits sequence that unfolds at the conclusion of each episode. The soft, foreboding menu theme will grab players quickly however, and the dark, heavy synth that serves as the game’s main intro and outro theme also fits the Fables world incredibly well.
Again, the colourful style doesn’t get in the way of the stark realistic sound effects either. The Wolf Among Us may be adapted from a comic book, but the sound work is still very grounded, which is especially apparent during the more violent scenes. Fables are virtually immortal, and can take quite a lot of punishment, but players will still cringe at the sound of bones splintering, and some characters literally being torn apart during the more squeamish moments.
It’s the voice acting that will really stand out amidst the audio however. The Walking Dead did an incredible job of creating sympathetic, emotional personalities between its characters, and The Wolf Among Us also does this incredibly well. Every voice actor throughout the five episodes is outstanding, with each character feeling distinct, and sporting noticeable shades of grey, regardless of their supposed moral alignment.
This is very important, as The Wolf Among Us is another Telltale game that aims to emphasize player choice. The demeanours of certain characters towards Bigby in particular will change depending on your chosen dialogue and actions, but regardless of what kind of sheriff you choose to be, the characters are still true to themselves and their personalities, even as their opinion of you shifts. There’s clearly been an incredible amount of detail put into the episodes by both the actors and the writers, and it really shines throughout the experience here.
The audio loses a bit of punch in the iOS version, especially without a good pair of headphones plugged in, but regardless, The Wolf Among Us still consistently sounds as great as it looks, which is wonderful.
In borrowing many of its play mechanics from The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is really not a complicated game. The most that players will have to do is occasionally wander around and examine things. Beyond that, much of the game is comprised of dialogue prompts and quick-time events.
This may sound like a boring set of play mechanics, but since the story, characters and world are so incredibly well-realized, players will be nonetheless sucked in. As they develop Bigby and influence the tale around them, players will genuinely feel as if they are a part of Fabletown, and that they are directly responsible for its fate, effectively merging with the inner conflict of Bigby himself.
Unfortunately however, as engrossing as The Wolf Among Us still manages to be, its decisions are a bit less impactful compared to The Walking Dead. Sometimes, player actions merely change minor dialogue in passing, and do little else. Unlike The Walking Dead, you’re no longer concerned with characters living or dying by your decisions, merely either respecting or distrusting Bigby as a lawman. It still matters, but it matters significantly less this time.
Fortunately, the better episodes still manage some creative gameplay. Episode 3 has a particularly strong moment where players will have to decide which time-sensitive lead to pursue first, likely forsaking the evidence that they opt not to prioritize. Likewise, during a fight in Episode 1, you can drastically alter Bigby’s reputation depending on how you resolve the situation, which is one of the handful of decisions that genuinely has far-reaching consequences for the remainder of the episodes.
Unfortunately however, as much as the clever moments like this really add effective weight to an already strong story without the interactivity, there are times where The Wolf Among Us does feel a little too scripted, regardless of your decisions. Episode 4 is a particular offender here, which takes the awesome momentum of Episode 3, generally a highlight episode, then slows it to a crawl with very limited interactivity, plus a sense of treading water so that the game can simply stall for the action of Episode 5’s finale.
The limited interactivity may turn off players seeking a more action-oriented experience, but The Wolf Among Us is still a testament to high thrills and suspense with a very simple, perfunctory gameplay formula, leaving players to think, rather than simply react. Since dialogue prompts are timed, and Bigby will simply opt to say nothing if you don’t pick a response before the time runs out, players will still have to determine an appropriate response with some degree of urgency, and like The Walking Dead, it’s likely that players will say an undesirable thing at least once, simply because they panicked or got impatient.
Again, this effectively ties back into the inner conflict of Bigby himself. You can’t please everyone in Fabletown, and certain characters will really push you. If you’re trying to be a good sheriff, there will be times where it will be tough to resist kicking someone’s ass after they trivialize and insult your competence, and the game gives you the opportunity to smack them around. Likewise, it can be a lot more satisfying to scare Fabletown into respecting you as the law with violence and anger at those who oppose you, but then, when it comes time to answer for your actions or ask for the help of the citizens, people will be far less understanding of you, and far less willing to help you out, which can hurt your case.
Each episode will often see similar or identical results, regardless of what you do, but the journey there is still compelling. It also remains interesting to see how your decisions stacked up with other players across all platforms, a returning feature from The Walking Dead, which Telltale displays for you at the conclusion of each episode, and keeps in your records, so long as you don’t overwrite your save file.
Even then however, while some replay incentive exists at various defining moments between the five episodes, some larger sections simply don’t demand to be revisited, because The Wolf Among Us is more uneven than The Walking Dead when it comes to a feeling of lasting impact. Some players may wish to visit certain locations first, or take different actions and see how characters perceive them later, but the effects are more minor and less interesting than they were in The Walking Dead unfortunately.
It seems that even Telltale caught on to this however, and they added some potential replay incentive with the Book of Fables, which gradually fills up with information on Fabletown’s citizens as you play the game. Some sections of the Book of Fables are missable, and you’ll need to go back for them if you don’t find them by initiating the proper actions or making certain decisions the first time, ‘rewinding’ the story to a separate save file.
This is a new addition from The Walking Dead, but even so, it’s a bit of an annoying one. More casual players who aren’t necessarily completionists likely won’t bother with filling it out, and those who are completionists will just find the Book of Fables to be irritating achievement/trophy fodder. The added information can be worthwhile for people who want to learn more about the Fables universe and its citizens, but if you’re well familiar with the comics, most of the information in the Book of Fables likely won’t be much of what you don’t already know.
Fortunately, even with its rather limited interactivity, The Wolf Among Us nonetheless presents the surprisingly compelling play mechanics of The Walking Dead amidst a new universe. They don’t have quite as much punch this time, but they still work, and they still make you feel like you’re properly living in Fabletown, not just observing it.
With gameplay once again not being much of a focus for Telltale, The Wolf Among Us is left to sustain itself on a good plot. Fortunately, the storytelling is one of the game’s biggest successes! Whether or not you’re familiar with the Fables comics, The Wolf Among Us tells a superb and wonderfully gritty story with an engrossing mystery and a satisfying resolution. It’s more than enough to sell the five episodes by itself.
Almost every episode is filled with interesting and engaging story developments. Again, Episode 4 is a bit of a weak link, since it simply seems to meander around, stalling before Episode 5’s finale, but the rest of the experience is layered with all sorts of great writing!
Episode 1 begins strong, establishing the world, the characters and the central mystery, and ending on a wonderfully tense cliffhanger that’s quite shocking, even if it will be more so for people who haven’t read the Fables comics.
Episode 2 is mostly just as good, though it does undo much of Episode 1’s more impactful moments. Still, the episode really begins to up the ante, effectively laying the groundwork for things to only get better from there.
Episode 3 is the real highlight of the package, perfectly balancing mystery, drama and high stakes. Players’ decisions matter more than ever, and there’s more impact with your choices here than there is in most of the rest of the story.
Episode 4, again, is a weak link, though still far from badly-written. It just feels like a mandated episode to adhere to the five-episode structure set from The Walking Dead however, and it’s a shame that Telltale couldn’t contribute more interesting elements to it.
Fortunately, Episode 5 delivers a strong and action-packed finale, with an emotional and flexible denouement, depending on your choices, particularly how you opt to wrap up the case at hand. It ends on another cliffhanger, with Telltale no doubt teasing a potential second ‘season’ for The Wolf Among Us, but many players will be left wanting to see more regardless. Fortunately, the main story arc at hand is still solved, and players will still likely be satisfied at the resolution of these five episodes.
In any given episode though, the game’s world is as much a star as its characters. There’s a real palpable air of misery and malice throughout Fabletown. Almost all of its citizens are smoking or drinking, many are forced into prostitution or thuggery, and as much as players will love hanging out in this seedy place, it definitely doesn’t seem like a great place to actually live in. The dismal atmosphere will hang heavy over players, making them wonder if they ever are actually making a difference for Fabletown, which will perhaps in turn influence their actions toward nihilistic violence, or perhaps even greater determination to make things right.
Either way, Telltale’s panache for exceptional storytelling is alive and well here. The Fables comics are already full of great stories, and The Wolf Among Us easily stands among them as another highlight tale in what’s already a great universe on the printed pages!
While The Wolf Among Us is still a superb interactive mystery game on next-gen consoles, the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Telltale’s Fables prequel remain pretty unremarkable, just like the belated next-gen versions of The Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: Season Two that came out a few weeks beforehand.
Unfortunately, the same technical issues that drag down the previous versions of The Wolf Among Us still occasionally come up on PS4 and Xbox One, and beyond a minor resolution boost that puts them in line with the PC version on optimal settings, there’s zero difference between the PS4 and Xbox One versions, and the last-gen PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. The Xbox One version does double the value of the achievements in contrast to the Xbox 360 version, but that’s its only perk, and the PS4 version doesn’t even offer that with the trophies.
If you’ve purchased one or both of the next-gen consoles, and have yet to play The Wolf Among Us, you might as well check it out on PS4 or Xbox One. If you’ve already played the game on any other platform though, there’s absolutely zero reason to double-down on the next-gen versions. Like the two next-gen offerings in Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, The Wolf Among Us feels rushed and cheaply-produced for next-gen consoles, and doesn’t present any worthwhile improvements, even when it comes to fixing the bugs. Once again, the PS4 and Xbox One versions are a missed opportunity for Telltale that fall shy of their potential appeal.
Fortunately, The Wolf Among Us for PS Vita has benefited slightly from the increased development time in contrast to the more sluggish, poorly-performing PS Vita port of The Walking Dead: Season Two. The game is still noticeably more lo-res on PS Vita, and obviously this version doesn’t quite measure up to the graphics of playing on consoles or PC, but for a PS Vita game, The Wolf Among Us still looks sharp enough on Sony’s handheld, and thankfully keeps framerate issues to a minimum.
The advantage of trophies and the option of buttons give the PS Vita version a slight edge of added appeal over the iOS versions, though playing on a newer-gen iPad still feels like the best way to enjoy The Wolf Among Us on a portable device. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in playing The Wolf Among Us on your Vita, this is a solid handheld port that is worth the price, even if it obviously lacks some of the technical flair of the console and PC versions.
The Wolf Among Us probably won’t be another Game of the Year contender, particularly since the novelty of the formula from The Walking Dead has worn off now, but Telltale’s Fables prequel is still another great story-driven adventure that is well worth experiencing. Fables fans will definitely enjoy it, but even if you’ve never picked up a single issue of Fables, The Wolf Among Us still offers a fantastic introduction to the universe, particularly as a prequel that’s independent of the comics’ events.
You’re getting a good interactive narrative experience on any platform, though you do make some compromises if you want to take The Wolf Among Us on the go with the iOS version. The graphics and audio take a bit of a hit on an iPhone especially, and on either device, trying to move Bigby around in particular is not well-suited to a touch display. Tapping dialogue prompts and swiping for quick-time events works well, but iOS doesn’t appear to be the primary platform in mind for The Wolf Among Us.
On PC, Mac and PS3, you’ll get the best possible experience, though the PC and Mac versions can be a pain during quick-time events, since mashing your keyboard is often uncomfortable, as much as it’s easier to direct and move your cursor with a mouse in those builds. It’s a minor thing, but it does edge out the PS3 version of The Wolf Among Us as likely the most recommendable of the lot.
The Wolf Among Us is still perfectly playable on Xbox 360, but the lengthened loading times and frequent performance issues are difficult to ignore on that platform. For interested players limited to an Xbox 360, these problems aren’t dealbreakers, but they still drag down the Xbox 360 version of the game considerably in contrast to its PS3 counterpart.
In any case however, The Wolf Among Us proves that The Walking Dead was no fluke. Telltale are officially here to stay as some of the industry’s top interactive storytellers.
Here’s hoping that they revisit the neighbourhood of Bigby Wolf again some time in the near future!
- Excellent writing
- Looks and sounds great
- Highly immersive
- Reduced choice impact
- Book of Fables is redundant
- Episode 4 is weak