Telltale Games feel like the modern successors to the old point-and-click adventure games. They’re about story and character, guiding our protagonist through the tale and trying to figure things out as we go, but they avoid the randomly trying to combine objects and retracting your steps a hundred times that the old games required. Instead, our influence on the story is mostly about choices — what we say, how we judge people, what we think is the right way to proceed.
I already reviewed the Game of Thrones game, which I’ve been loving, and thanks to the recent Steam sale, I decided to try another Tell Tale story based on a property that I’m not familiar with — The Wolf Among Us. In The Wolf Among Us, you play Bigby, aka the Big Bad Wolf, the sheriff of a community of fairytale characters forced to leave their home world and live in New York City. The game has a hard-boiled crime feel, with Bigby as the much-mistrusted investigator who must solve the case of a girl’s beheading in a dangerous and crime-ridden town.
The result is excellent. In fact, it’s quickly become one of my favorite games of all time. With a gripping plotline, shocking twists and compelling, morally complex characters, The Wolf Among Us sucked me in and made me utterly invested in its world far before the first chapter was done. The Telltale game style of movies that you control — you make the choices, you click to throw that punch, you are responsible for what happens — makes the entire experience incredibly absorbing, and incredibly real.
There are several important female characters in the game, with the main one being Snow White, a brave, no-nonsense, work-by-the-books figure who wants to help everyone in Fabletown but doesn’t always go about it in quite the right way. She is, as this article in the LA Times suggests, a huge influence on the gameplay experience, as the player becomes absorbed in her and Bigby’s tension-filled relationship and has to constantly question whether a harsh or violent approach to crime-solving is really necessary, when it might destroy any goodwill Snow has for us. Snow is a tough character, and a sympathetic one, who both helps and impedes our protagonist, and who, refreshingly, isn’t always the gentle one either. She has issues of her own to deal with, and the clashes between her and Bigby drive some of the tensest moments of the story.
We also have a great, frightening villain in the form of Bloody Mary (of the “say it three times in the mirror” fame), and several other morally complicated female characters who help or hinder the case. But it should be noted that the case revolves around the murder of prostitutes, and the game doesn’t shy away from that — not a count against it, necessarily, but something players should be aware of.
Unfortunately, The Wolf Among Us does have a big problem with diversity. Unless I blinked and missed it, there’s absolutely no diversity in this sizeable cast of characters. Talking pigs and toads, sure. Trolls, yes. But non-straight, white characters? Not that I could see. Even without racebending, these characters clearly exist in the world — Aladdin’s lamp plays a minor part in the story, if only as a prop — but they’re nowhere to be found. And while this might be an adaptation problem, depending on the diversity found in the original graphic novels, it’s something that could and should have been addressed, with a bit more care and ingenuity.
But as a gameplay experience, The Wolf Among Us is absolutely stellar. It’s probably not a game for people who focus on strategy and care a lot about battle mechanics, but if you’re a gamer who plays for story, like me, then this is the perfect thing to immerse yourself in. Bring on Season Two.