After several years of honing its skills on properties like Back to the Future and Sam & Max, Telltale Games nailed its episodic storytelling approach with 2012's brilliant The Walking Dead. It forced you to make moral and strategic choices while trying to survive the undead uprising, and then made you second-guess all of them as those around you suffered miserable outcomes. It was utterly gripping.
Who better, then, to adapt another dark comic book favorite? The Wolf Among Us (First episode free, $15 for a season pass) sees Telltale in top form again, using a similar formula to bring DC/Vertigo's modern comic classic Fables to life. As a murderer stalks displaced fairy tale characters hiding out in New York City, your every interaction twists and contorts the story across the five episodes. It's an awesome fit for a smartphone screen, and you don't even need to know the source material to get hooked.
Like The Walking Dead before it, The Wolf Among Us comes off like an interactive graphic novel. It's not heavy on active gameplay; rather it focuses on telling a really interesting story and lets you shape it along the way. As Fabletown sheriff Bigby Wolf—once the Big Bad Wolf, before the fairy tale characters disguised themselves as humans—you're tasked with solving the first murder to befall the uprooted community of literary leads. But these aren't cutesy fantasy heroes: they're sad, damaged beings, by and large, and the game is laced with profanity and violence.
Where The Wolf Among Us gets its claws in you is with its myriad of choice prompts, all of which shape how characters view and respond to you, lead to different story paths, and even determine the fates of other characters. You'll guide conversations via dialogue options, seek out clues in the environments, and even engage in the occasional frantic, tap-based action sequence.
As the story progresses, the consequences of your decisions build and coalesce, and you realize there's quite a bit more to it than simply conversing with a caustic toad or a magic mirror.
Who's afraid of Bigby Wolf?
When not chatting up the fantastical locals, you'll spend a fair amount of time exploring locations and examining items for clues. An object found in one area might even play a key role elsewhere, so consult your inventory.
As sheriff, Bigby Wolf is tasked with seeking out truth—especially when it's not provided to him. Closely following conversations is key, as inconsistent responses can expose lies that you'll need to call out to push the story forward.
Most of the creatures in The Wolf Among Us use a spell called "glamour" to disguise themselves as human and hide in plain sight. Bufkin, this flying monkey, instead hides out in the mayor's office with an array of fantastical relics from the old world.
Major decisions pop up from time to time, such as whether you should investigate one lead or another, or choose which suspect to chase. In this case, the destination you select first makes a huge impact on multiple characters in the world.
Why it's worth your money
The first episode of The Wolf Among Us is included with the free app download—seriously, no strings attached. It sets the table for later episodes by establishing the conflict and the universe, and does so convincingly. Even before the big cliffhanger at the end of the couple-hour debut, I was ready to snag the season pass for the four remaining installments and take in the whole twisted fairy tale narrative.
It's a really smart approach: if you like the first episode, you can pay $15 to unlock the entire game at once, giving you about a dozen hours of rich storytelling to savor on your phone or tablet. Or you can simply buy the later episodes for $5 a pop as desired.
But if you start this journey, you'll surely want to finish it; I'm only partway through myself, but I've heard raves about the season's conclusion from its release on other platforms.
While I primarily played The Walking Dead on console, The Wolf Among Us has me convinced that this type of game is best suited for a portable touch device. Scenes typically last 10-15 minutes, so it's solid commute or lunch break material, and the simple interactions are ideally suited for taps and swipes. I love being able to pull a great graphic adventure out of my pocket at any time, and I'm well on my way to seeing this colorful murder mystery to the end. With the strong initial taste totally free of charge, there's little reason not to give it a shot.
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