Action and reaction.
When I studied acting, teachers hammered this phrase into my head over and over again until it became second nature. Acting is, after all, half learning how to take a specific viewpoint, and reacting using a visceral implementation of said viewpoint. At times, the viscera is completely unrelated to the real person, the actor. But more often than not, the actor reacts as he would in real life. Such reactions provide emotional catharsis and powerful moments within performance art, be it film, theatre, or voice over.
I say this all because Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us has, over the course of it’s current three episodes, created an environment that forces players to take on the role of Sheriff Bigby Wolf. Not just as a player avatar, but as a character we are forced to act and improvise as. Telltale has done an excellent job creating a character with an established viewpoint, and making us react from his perspective. This provides us with a type of storytelling that feels elevated above The Walking Dead‘s Lee Everett. As much as we provided our own reactions for Lee’s story, he was very much a tabula rasa, or blank slate. Yes, he had a prior history, and yes, he had sins to atone for. But for the most part, his paternal instincts and personality stemmed from player choices.
Bigby on the other hand, is an already established character with traits and flaws. Going into the first episode, one can see the struggles of the developer in forcing you to inhabit this mindset. Yes, the player can rip a dude’s arm off, but why would he? Doing so would make you a psychopath, not an animal. However, in Episode 3: The Crooked Mile, when the choice is offered to allow you to kill another character, it becomes harder to click the “no” option. There are reasons now to perform such terrible deeds.
Such aggressive acts aren’t only limited to the games branching choices, of which there are several this time around. Even in dialogue, choosing the more aggressive option now seems more in character for Bigby. The developer has clearly found it’s sweet spot with the character, and although he has shades of the same “atoner” storyline Lee went through, it feels fresh and new since he’s a more openly violent individual. Lee would not start throwing Kenny around at the drop of a hat, but leave Bigby in a room with Georgie for a while, and sparks may start flying.
And when the sparks fly in this episode, they go everywhere. The Crooked Mile is a noticeably more violent chapter than Smoke and Mirrors, and takes a few more risks with it’s characters. Early tense confrontations can be dispelled easily with the right word, but as a character says early on, trouble will always find Bigby. And when Trouble (with a capital T) finds him in the episode’s thrilling climax, he’s got just the skills to handle it.
If only the points before the climax wouldn’t alternate in pace so frequently. The main choice for the episode, a three-pronged decision of where to investigate in what order provides excellent replay bait, but certain sections felt a little two long, namely a few key conversations in each area, which could have been about half as long. The new characters are wonderful to see bounce off of Bigby, and some wonderful depth and humor are added to Bigby’s relationships with Jack, The Woodsman, Holly, Gren, Ichabod, and of course, Snow.
Snow and Bigby’s relationship has formed the backbone of the series so far, and though their banter is fun, the dynamic is beginning to wear a little thin. There’s only so many times Telltale can ask me whether or not to take her side in a fight. Not every conversation with her needs to be a team effort. If anything’s up to be changed in the coming episodes, I hope Snow and Bigby are given more time to breathe, so we can have more interesting moments, like the first episode’s cab ride.
In fact, this entire episode could use time to breathe. As soon as it begins, it steps on the gas, but it never feels quite as natural as when The Walking Dead: Season Two began doing it. If the episode intends to be fast-paced and time-based, it cannot have 5 to 10 minute long conversations or arguments that just get messy out of nowhere. If Telltale’s goal was to get the player in the mindset of Bigby by frustrating them, then they’ve done a great job. Not sure if that was a worthwhile goal, though.
Despite the pacing issues, The Wolf Among Us looks to be firing on all cylinders. Dialogue flows fluidly and provides interesting drama and humor, the voice-acting remains realistic and powerful across the board., and, most of all, the game continues to surprise and excite me. Who knows? If they keep this up, come this time next year, I may be reviewing Wolf Among Us: Season Two.