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Friday, 11 July 2014

The Wolf Among Us.

The Wolf Among Us. 

 Had I the presence of mind, I might have reviewed this one episode at a time as it came out. Alas, I did not have that presence of mind when the series started. Or this blog.

So, like, I think, a fair amount of people, my introduction to Telltale Games was The Walking Dead, an excellent episodic video game that came out roughly around the general time that a much, much worse The Walking Dead video game by professional failures Terminal Reality was also shuffling its way labouriously onto shelves in order to die a protracted and quiet death that would take many of its players with it just through sheer heart-stopping dullness. Metacritic gave it an average of about 33% across all the various consoles it was polluting, which is the Metacritic equivalent of wrapping a Furby in about eighty different towels and stuffing it in the airing cupboard. 

Enjoy this picture, a rant is going to start in a paragraph or two.

Telltale's The Walking Dead, though, was excellent! Visually interesting, full of fascinating choices to make (and choices were the meat of the game, the bits that everyone played through) strung through an interesting story that took The Walking Dead's monumentally and repulsively cliché premise and turned it into something that wasn't just bearable, but actually really good.

(I'd say I'm sorry, fans of The Walking Dead comics and television series, but I'm not sorry. I'm just not. I'm so painfully bored of zombie apocalypses, they are one of the least interesting kinds of apocalypses. If somebody, anybody, tried to mix up the formula once in a while, they might be interesting, but they're not.

I'm saying this in large part because I have literally seen people hailing zombie apocalypses as the greatest storytelling device ever created, and – wow. Good god, wow.

A storytelling tradition thousands upon thousands of years in the making, spanning from oral tradition to the written word, through Ovid and Omar Khayyan and Shakespeare, through Brecht and Chikamatsu Monzaemon, to the screen, to comic books, to video games that you can interact with, through people like Terry Pratchett, Roald Dahl, Gen Urobuchi, Marjane Satrapi, Sylvia Plath, Mary Shelley, Yasuko Kobayashi, Rhianna Pratchett, Jane Austen, Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone, Tolkien, to an era where the entertainment and storytelling industry is larger and more diverse than it has ever been in history, and out of all that, I've seen multiple people say that dead people wandering around (which is not a new concept, by any stretch of the imagination) is the culmination of that tradition.

… Okay, then, if you say so.) 

You have endured the rant, enjoy a picture.

But Telltale's take on it was very good, that much I can't deny. I adored it, and once Season 2 is done I intend to buy and play and most likely review that, as well. So I was looking forward to The Wolf Among Us, in which Telltale takes a considerably more interesting source material – the comic series Fables – and adapts that into video game form.

The Wolf Among Us places you into the shoes of Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown, a section of New York that the fables – fairytale characters fleeing from their world – have decided to live in. Various rules govern it: Animals have to wear glamours to appear as humans or be sent to 'the Farm', for example. The whole thing is ruled over by Ichabod Crane and his assistant Snow White, with the sometimes-aid of Bluebeard, which seems like a terrible idea. 

Pictured, not the best judges of characters.

Bigby's world is turned upside down when a woman he saved from the violent proclivities of the Huntsman, Faith, has her head left at his door while her body remains unfortunately elsewhere. It isn't long before another murder takes place, and Bigby finds himself tracking down a double killer – a search that takes him into Fabletown's dark underbelly and brings him into conflict with the Crooked Man and his enforcers the Tweedles, Jersey Devil, and Bloody Mary.

The game's gameplay is quite similar to that of The Walking Dead's, with a few minor differences. First: Branching quicktime events! That really should annoy me! It doesn't! Okay, I'll be honest, quicktime events have never annoyed me. I understand exactly why they do annoy people, and those people are completely correct about quicktime events being combined work of the laziest developers known to man and Satan himself, but I am fine with them. I always have been. The quicktime events in The Wolf Among Us are fairly well done anyway, because they often take the form of short fight sequences or chase sequences where failure and/or the choices you make in the quicktime events will actually affect the story, so like Asura's Wrath and Vanquish, although for different reasons than either of them, I'd call them exceptions to the rule.

The other thing is that the interface is a lot smoother, although I would not have called The Walking Dead's interface difficult. Everything is just marked out a lot more clearly on The Wolf Among Us, and it feels easier.

I want to make a pun on 'beast', but I can't think of one.

The graphics are – well, I presume they're beautiful. On my computer, large chunks of the screen were covered by jagged expanses of black that obscured the background, so it was surprisingly difficult to tell. What I could see, I liked. I'm a sucker for good use of colour theory, and the use of colour in this game is absolutely gorgeous, with an emphasis on pinks, purples, blues, reds and oranges. It works well with Telltales' er … telltale ... thick-lined, comic book style (which is a good choice for them, given that both The Walking Dead and Fables are comics), and it's very striking.

As for the story, I – am divided. It was good. I downloaded the episodes when they came out and enjoyed them. I admit, I never really felt that invested in the mystery, and I never really felt the stakes, but the choices were masterfully done. I spent much of the game's epilogue, where you can see the various results of your choices, going 'Oh god, I'm a corrupt cop. My desire to please Snow's desire for order and rule of law has conflicted with my desire to be liked and turned me into the kind of law enforcement officer who selectively punishes people depending on how much they can sweet talk him. I'm not even the kind of corrupt cop that does it for money, I'll sell out my moral authority as an upholder of the law for a smile.' It's not even as if I didn't spend time before that contemplating my choices, but there's really no right answer.

The game has a feeling of trying to walk through waist-high concrete, because you can never seem to gain any traction in making things better. Everything you do hurts somebody, either in the short term or the long term, and you can't keep everyone happy. Hell, it seemed like I couldn't keep anyone happy, they all hated my guts by the end. I was the ultimate screw-up, terrible at my job and equally terrible at my social life, and I don't think any way I played it would have had me feeling any differently. 

Nobody appreciated me leaping out of windows with them.

I probably won't replay it for a while, but I probably will replay it, because I'm interested to see how the different paths turn out, and especially how the end would turn out if I'd played it differently. The Crooked Man makes an excellent villain, by the way. He only shows up at the end, but he's calm, dapper, amicable, gentlemanly, and unnervingly good at turning any situation to his advantage. I suspect he wasn't what anybody was expecting.

Telltale has a few more projects coming up soon in this style: Tales of the Borderlands, which I'm not too interested in but will play at some point, and Game of Thrones, which I am gigantically interested in, and probably will do episodic reviews for, because god, I love Game of Thrones. 

That's just some pretty artwork.

One last thing: Does anyone know what was up with the last thirty seconds of The Wolf Among Us? Anybody? Anybody at all? Theories? Speculation? Something? It left me very, very confused, and I dislike being confused. I dislike being confused a lot. 

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