The Wolf Among Us is, in my opinion, Telltale’s best game. This is a controversial opinion because most people tend to point to The Walking Dead as the best game. It’s a close tie but I believe the adaptation of Bill Willingham’s Fables is the better of the two for a variety of reason. I also admit to personal bias as I am a huge fan of noir detective stories and sleazy, dark, and depraved stories of the Big City.
The premise is that Bigby Wolf is the Big Bad Wolf of nursery rhyme legend. Transformed into a human being by magic (at least to an extent–he’s closer to a werewolf or wolfwere in this case), he inhabits Fabletown in New York City. The very short version is that a lot of nursery rhyme characters have fled from fairyland to escape some disaster and live as refugees in our world while keeping themselves secret from the public at large. A good joke would be that New York City is the only place this could happen as a four-foot-tall toad man is something that will only draw the most cursory of stares.
Bigby is the Sheriff of Fabletown, and it is his job to keep all of the fables in glamour protecting their identities, sort out the various issues among them, and generally do the job that a policeman in a small town should do. It’s just it is a small town in a very large town. He answers to Snow White, Ichabod Crane, and the unseen Mayor of Fabletown. Theoretically, he also answers to the people that compromise the citizens but more often gets pressured to answer to the wealthy contributors to Fabletown’s government.
To give you a sense of the game’s tone and world-building, Bigby gets called to an apartment complex owned by Mr. Toad (of “Wind and the Willows” fame) to deal with a domestic disturbance. A fable prostitute of unknown origin but great beauty is getting knocked around by the Woodsman of Red Riding Hood fame. He and Bigby have bad blood dating back centuries that can influence the latter to beat the living crap out of the former. Bigby can be comforting to the victim or aloof as he also decides how he wants to handle the various crimes around him like the fact Mr. Toad spent his money on a new car versus an illusion to cover up his obviously inhuman appearance.
The resulting story involves money, sex, blackmail, the black market, and murder. You know, all the things that you absolutely love in noir and never knew you needed to be applied to the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle. Given the grim (pun intended) nature of most of the stories’ origins, this is less of a leap than you might think. Indeed, a plot point in the game is the fact that the stories that created the fables are damn bleak and Disney hasn’t really changed their fundamental nature so much as papered over the horror.
The art style is fantastic as the cell-shaded comic book style is something that doesn’t need to be photorealistic but works excellent on the television screen. This is the kind of game whose graphics won’t age because it looked like a comic book when it was released in 2013 and it’ll look like a comic ten years from now. The stylized character designs are nice to look at but also dark and gritty enough to bring out the game’s weird mix of children’s stories with the fact it’s 1970s New York.
Gameplaywise this is a choose your own adventure and while the choices in those games are always an illusion in terms of consequences, this actually does better than most. Some characters will live, and some characters will die based around what you choose to do. Your freedom isn’t absolute but the idea that Mr. Toad is going to screw up no matter how chances you give him isn’t out of character with film noir. Plus, unfortunately, this is a prequel so all the fairy tales in his comic have their fates preordained. I think it’s on my top ten games of all time really, at least in terms of storytelling. Still, don’t expect to play the game for anything other than choosing your responses in conversations and doing some cursory investigation alongside a few quicktime events. You’re here for the atmosphere, not the fights.
I’m familiar with the Fables series and it’s weird to say it, but I wish that Telltale had just done an original IP with the same basic plot and premise. Fables is not a noir detective story and much of what I love about this game isn’t related to Bill Willingham’s work. Not to knock it but everyone in the story owes more to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett than they do him. Their personalities are “off” and probably for the better of it. If you haven’t read Fables, you’ll be able to enjoy this, and if you must choose between Fables and this game then I’d probably recommend you play this game.