TELL me a TALE...
I will listen, I will watch, I will enjoy, especially if it’s told with a twist and moved from the lush valleys of the old stories to a grim and dark haunted New York city look-a-like. But when your story was told, and I lean back and reflect upon it, please don’t ask me if it was actually a game.
Yes, I am talking about TellTale games in general, and especially about “The Wolf Among Us”, which is basically what I regard as their masterpiece – although most of my colleagues would disagree.
Just two days after being shocked that HubPages has deleted all my old articles (yes, I am still mad about that!) and publishing my Civ 6 article (which you should totally read here), I stumbled into a discussion of two games journalists, who argued over it. One claimed it’s Telltale’s best, the other claimed it’s their worst game. I can agree that The Walking Dead and the Monkey Island remake are a hard internal competition to beat, and I can understand why you could prefer one over the other, but in the end The Wolf Among Us is the game that does best what TellTale was incorporated for: Telling a tale.
Is that enough?
A good question. A good story alone doesn't carry a movie, and for sure not a video game. It has to be told in an excellent, convincing way, with believable characters and the right atmosphere. If this is done well, I can even enjoy games like Dear Esther or Gone Home, where the story is delivered in small bits you find during exploring an otherwise static scenery.
However, the big bad wolf is still an adventure – or at least it is sold as one. Not as point & click, which would make a huge difference in my judgement, but it is a game, were you have choices, dialogues and even some quick time events (I could live without them, to be honest).
So, what is a "game"?
If an exploration game with bit-wise storytelling spread across its location can be a great game, something that focusses on storytelling and appears as adventure should have a chance, too, right?
At least I think so, and this weekend I will sink my teeth (no wolf fangs, unfortunately) into the “Father’s Island” Beta, which promises to be something in-between. However, as it comes from Homegrown Games, I almost expect that all descriptions are some kind of bad joke, and in the end I will get jump scares, Nazi zombies and porn.
But back to the Wolf:
Based on Bill Willingham’s Vertigo comics “Fables”, it is a grim, dark, sinister twist on the classic fairy tales we grow up with here in Europe. And while our fairy tales are already grim, American readers (and players) who know only the Disney variations with singing wildlife and lush surroundings, will have a really tough time exploring the world of The Wolf Among Us.
To cut it short: You are the big bad wolf from the fairy tales. Just that he isn’t bad anymore. He is hardened, cynic, looks in his human-disguised form a little bit hairy and edged when it comes to his facial features, and most likely he has hair all over the rest of his body. But that also applies to most of the inhabitants of our Swiss mountain valleys, so no problem at all.
The point is, he is not evil. He isn’t even really grumpy; he has a big heart of gold beneath his furry appearance. Living in a small, dirty hole of an apartment, he still gives shelter to one of the three little pigs and shares his booze with him. He has this weird affection for Snow-white, and as Sheriff of this sub-world the fables have created for themselves, he really cares about all of them. So, when the murders begin, he gives all the bring justice to…
…wait. I won’t spoil the story for you here.
The gameplay is rather simple:
Choosing dialogue options, choosing where to go next. Encountering quick-time events in which you can actually die (don’t worry, there is always the autosave at the beginning of the scene!) and following the story.
Yes, you have choices, and TellTale-typically you get a nice presentation of your choices compared to those of other players, and don’t be too surprised when finding out that most of them had really played the wolf as a shiny knight who saves the day instead of acting like a jerk.
So, what’s your verdict?
Good question. Or rather a bad one, as I have already declared myself as a fan of this game. But to tell WHY, I have to go into details:
If you try to approach this game like the senior editor of a game magazine, you are having a hard time on judging it. The gameplay elements are rather simple, and those in which you can actually fail, are mediocre at best. More like really annoying.
The tech is also rather simple, TellTale games have never been polygon monsters with state-of-the-art textures, however, the art style is beyond any doubt – very convincing, grim, perfectly executed. You can’t hold the visuals against this one. What you can hold against the game is, that all the decisions have very little to no effect on the game itself. You are railroaded through the story anyway, only the reactions of the other fables alter slightly depending on how you approached or confronted them.
However, the story is hell of a film noir, a great crime thriller, and the voice actors are simply the best I have heard in a long, long time. Finishing this game, I felt greatly entertained, very satisfied and now, almost half a year later, I am still longing for season 2.
And, in the end, it is this “level of entertainment” one should judge for herself / himself, and therefore I have to call it masterpiece, again and again.