Episode 2, Smoke and Mirrors, of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us is finally upon us after a four month gap since Episode 1 – Faith. Unfortunately the delay hurts the story momentum for those who get episodes as they come out but in the end won’t matter much when played in the eventual final compilation for the game. There is an inherent difficulty in reviewing episodic games without spoilers after the first episode because all major elements are covered in the first review and plot points are off limits. With that said, there are a few high level things we can discus like flow and theme.
For those unfamiliar, The Wolf Among Us is based off the Fables comic series that follows all of our favorite fairy tale, fable, and nursery rhyme characters post expulsion from their homeland into the gritty city of New York. They must hide among the normal humans, known as mundies, with illusions so characters like the Big Bad Wolf can roam around in public as Bigby Wolf, the Dirty Harry style sheriff of their own little self styled borough Fabletown.
Episode 1, Faith, welcomed those familiar and unfamiliar to the series that takes these fictional characters and pushes them into a harsh reality as they struggle to hold on to their humanity. A beheading leads Bigby to investigate the murder across aspects of Fabletown showing players that a majority of the stories do not in fact end happily ever after. It was a great introduction with enough popular characters to get players excited.
Smoke and Mirrors takes us further into the seediness rabbit hole. After the twist ending to Faith, Bigby takes his investigation to a little strip club called Puddin And Pie ran by none other than Georgie Porgie of kiss the girls and make them cry fame. It truly puts Georgie’s nursery rhyme into a whole new perspective as prostitution, drug abuse, sex trafficking, and general exploitation make big appearances in the episode including some lovely partial nudity from the two legged woman formerly known as The Little Mermaid.
The writing for Episode 2 is top notch and it leaves a desire to want to help the downtrodden fables. The desire pushes players to want to be the Big Good Wolf but there are enough pokes and prods from the supporting cast that make both the player and Bigby want to let out a bit of ruthlessness from his earlier days. It is a test of character as players choose just how much Bigby is willing to endure just to keep his new found humanity before he sacrifices his principles to get the job done. Telltale has done well to push game into quite the opposite direction thematically from TWD (The Walking Dead Season 1 game) which has always been about the depths one will go and lose their humanity in order to survive.
The downside to Bigby is that it is downright hard to invest into his character. He has a known history and characterization that leaves him different shades of who he is. Lee Everett in TWD was more of a blank slate whose character was built by player choices. It is surprising how much of a difference that makes.
Episode 1 was action heavy affair while Episode 2 ramps up on the detective scenes with a majority of the episode investigating and questioning and very little action. For some this may be a blessing in disguise because there were quite a few issues with bugginess in those action sequences that still rear their head in Episode 2 including frame rate issues that leaves the transitions in scenes between QTE actions hanging up a bit in places. It gives a really jittery impression. The flip side though is that the poke around, question, move to the next area, rinse, and repeat flow made the episode feel much shorter than the first one.