The Wolf Among Us: “Smoke and Mirrors” Review

Intro:

Telltale’s first episode of The Wolf Among Us quickly proved that the success of their Walking Dead series was no fluke. The decision to adapt Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series was a wise one as Telltale chose a property that is full of potential and uniqueness.

The first episode was heavy on the action and set up episode two by leaving things on a great cliffhanger. There’s been a sizable layover since the previous episode, which released last October. With that said, does episode two keep the story’s momentum going?

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Story:

Episode one ended with the death of a central character and “Smoke and Mirrors,” throws you into the immediate aftermath of that event.  As Sheriff Bigby Wolf, you are in charge of uncovering the sinister happenings going on in Fablestown. When Bigby finds time to sleep, is beyond me.

This episode gets into the nitty gritty of what a murder investigation entails and takes no time introducing a plot twist that most will not see coming. There’s more to the events that took place in “Faith” and diving deeper into this dark world, full of Black Market drugs and prostitution rings,  and its characters has made me even more invested in this story. Something episode one wasn’t fully able to do.

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Naturally, more characters are introduced and others are fleshed out. You’re given more insight into Ichabod Crane and you finally get to meet Bluebeard, voiced by Dave Fennoy (Lee from the Walking Dead games). Two episodes in and decisions you made are already having an impact on the narrative with an action scene that feels a bit too calculated but is still effective. 

Presentation:

Telltale’s visual aesthetic continues to impress, as this game is gorgeous. The episode revisits multiple locations that were used in episode one, so I’m eager to see more of Fablestown.

The technical issues that plague the Walking Dead franchise are just as present here, as Wolf runs on the same game engine. I had minor issues with the first episode and its framerate issues but this time around, things were a bit more noticeable. One would think the decision to hold back on action would benefit how the game runs. Unfortunately, that is not the case here as the game stutters repeatedly throughout the 2-hour episode. Frequent load screens are a bother, as well. I hate to beat a dead horse here, but it’s a shame to see such a gorgeous game held back by Telltale’s technical limitations. Especially give the 4-month gap between episodes. Thankfully, they’re fine storytellers.

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Gameplay:

The gameplay this time around is much more muted than the first episode. Whereas the first episode featured a number of action set pieces, “Smoke and Mirrors” is more interested in being a procedural. This is a welcome departure as you ‘re tasked with speaking to internal affairs, interrogating a potential suspect, interviewing a witness, exploring a crime scene and even doing an autopsy on a dead body. It definitely feels as if Telltale had a checklist when making this episode that methodically hits the fine points of how a murder case works.

Bigby is a man with a violent past, so working as a Sheriff definitely tests your patience. There’s ways to get the answers you need but it’s not as simple as asking the right questions. The options when dealing with these situations are clearly defined. You’re either going to be the nice guy or you’re going to opt to use force, even sometimes blatant violence. In the first episode, there were a few times when I made choices I didn’t intend to, which lead to some frustration. So it was nice to not have that ambiguity in your decision-making.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

The strong suit of this series and of Telltale’s games, in general, is their storytelling. The decision to emphasize on the many layers of an investigation played perfectly into Telltale’s strengths. Putting technical limitations aside, the story is really starting to pick up steam. Hopefully, players will not have to wait another four months to see the next chapter in this fable. 

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Jason Patrick a a freelance writer for MONG. You can follow him on Twitter here. 

 

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