Imagine a neighborhood in New York City where finding a pig asleep on your couch is a common occurrence. Where Tweedle Dee and Dum carry out small jobs for crime lords, and Ichabod Crane is the mayor. This is Fabletown, an enclave that houses all of our favorite fairytale creatures after they have been exiled from their homelands. It is also where The Wolf Among Us, Telltale games' latest episodic adventure, takes place.
Players assume the role of the big bad wolf, Bigby. After eating Little Red Riding Hood's grandma and blowing down some pig's houses, Bigby becomes the town sheriff in an attempt to regain the trust of his fairytale brethren. Bigby's main duty is ensuring that more outlandish fairytale creatures (talking toads, for example) maintain their human appearance. That is, of course, until the first murder in Fabletown's recent history occurs on Bigby's doorstep.
Playing as Bigby was simultaneously my most and least favorite thing about The Wolf Among Us. On one hand, playing as a powerful, infamous authority figure in a small community presents intriguing roleplaying opportunities, but increased authoring of the player character comes at a steep price. In a game that focuses on player agency and choice, playing as such a defined character can feel constricting.
In Telltale's previous game, The Walking Dead, player character Lee Everett was a blank canvas. In the context of surviving the zombie apocalypse, players were free to reinvent Lee as they saw fit. Bigby, comparatively, offers a much more confined emotional palette. Most of the time, players can choose between a sarcastic remark, an outright accusation, shouting, or physical violence. I occasionally felt like I couldn't handle a situation on my own terms but, rather, Bigby's.
This isn't to say that Telltale's comic book noir experiment is a regression from their past work. Telltale continues to expand upon the ideas of player choice and consequence in The Wolf Among Us. Though Bigby’s one-note emotional tenor was occasionally frustrating, participating in conversations throughout the episode was more thrilling than, “I’ll just pick the blue option every time.” Bigby’s shorter temper allows players to cut off conversations with a punch to the face, or simply walk past a civilian calling for attention. It was refreshing to be able to exit a conversation in a natural way as soon as I had gathered all the necessary information. There are breathless action sequences in The Wolf Among Us that feel more essential to the plot than Telltale's other story or puzzle-focused output, in which violence may have felt out of place.
The increased scope of The Wolf Among Us also allows for more intriguing gameplay choices. Bigby, the all-important sheriff, can only be in one place at a time. This leads to multiple scenarios where, rather than just choosing what to say, players have to choose which call for help they respond to first. This lends a sense of urgency not just to the moment of the decision, but to the entire following scene. Even as I was absorbed in the detective story, I was aching to know what was going on at the other location I decided to leave behind.
In all, The Wolf Among Us has a superb introductory episode. A unique, yet accessible, setting hosts a colorful cast of characters, which gives way to a devastating cliffhanger ending. The neon-hued cityscapes, clean lines, and deep rumbling synths combine to create an intoxicating audiovisual experience. It's hard to say if the season as a whole will deliver on the promise of the first episode, or if Bigby's character will be expanded to allow for more emotional range, but it has gotten off to a great start.