Ooh, ooh! Can I once again spend the first few paragraphs of this review complaining that episodic games are a bitch to review, because after the first episode you’ve basically covered everything mechanically so all you’re left with is story, and you can’t talk about that without spoiling it? No? Dammit.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem I think I’ll have much with The Wolf Among Us Episode 3. While the above holds true to a degree, there’s enough I can mention without actually going into specific spoilers that we should be just about alright. As ever, though, a brief warning: while I’m not going to go out of my way to spoil specific elements of previous episodes (although by necessity I will mention the ending to the previous episode), I am going to be talking a bit about the narrative arc. If you don’t want to know anything about the plot and story of the series, you should probably just skip to the score.
So! Episode 3 – subtitled A Crooked Mile – opens pretty much where the last one left off: with the identification of a prime suspect in the serial murder case. Most of the episode revolves around trying to track down said suspect before he or she completely vanishes off the grid, which leads to a lovely little 24 homage as a clock ticks down whenever you visit a location, showing how long remains until the deadline elapses and you’ve lost your chance at finding them.
This episode also sees the return of actual choice. The Wolf Among Us Episode 2 focused on simply going through the story and almost entirely removed any semblance of game events (QTE fights aside), but here, you’re going to have to make a few rather tricky decisions.
When you’re trying to track down your suspect you’ll have a number of locations you can search for clues, and you simply won’t have enough time to check them all. Your friends (and enemies) will ask questions that will actually make you pause to think. There are even a few decisions, particularly towards the end, which – while they may not matter a great deal in terms of how the plot proceeds – might influence the way characters look at Bigby, and will certainly influence the way you look at him. Is he reformed, and longing for a peaceful Fabletown? Is he a monster who keeps himself under control, but secretly enjoys it when things go horribly wrong and he can really let loose? Or is he a bit of both? Which side is the more dominant? How far is he willing to go when pushed to his emotional limits? It’s up to you, and managing to balance out player choice while leaving him as the character we know from the comic is… well, it’s a hell of a trick.
Which is a neat way of saying “yes, the writing is still really good.” With anything as story-heavy as this that’s obviously of paramount importance, and it’s important to stress just how good it is. A few villainous types sink to some moral lows of abyssal proportions, and these actions – and the associated dialogue – are incredibly emotive. You’re almost certainly going to resent and hate a few characters, get angry on behalf of others, and generally feel things. Which is a good sign when it comes to writing, really.
The pacing of the episode is pretty much spot on, too. Nothing within really feels like filler, as everything is tied to chasing down your suspect. Pretty much every scene and location gives you new leads or clues, or expands on characters and events in interesting ways. The Wolf Among Us Episode 3 is pretty much one long series of high points. There are also a number of nice little nods to comic book canon, like when you can optionally come across a file on Cinderella. Knowing exactly who Cinderella is and what she’s up to, this little nod was a pleasant surprise.
I’m a little sad that a few characters have yet to turn up, though. It’s not entirely surprising – for the most part, The Wolf Among Us has been focusing on characters who didn’t really appear in the comics, because the game’s prequel status means that it’s harder to explore (and impossible to kill) established characters – but I’m disappointed that we still haven’t seen, say, Frau Totenkinder, particularly because one part of this episode does revolve around witches and magic. (Although who knows; she might turn up if you make a different choice.) Still, Flycatcher (might) make an appearance this time around and proves rather useful to the investigation; yet again, he’s a character whose voice and mannerisms seem pretty much perfectly drawn from his comic book incarnation, particularly if you know his arc. There is one rather massive inconsistency, but… well, maybe that’ll be a plot point in a future episode.
My path led me to no actual puzzles, but there was one entirely laughable part in which I had to pick up a key and then use that key on a lock… after the game heavily signposted the lock, fixed the camera on it, and had a character tell me that maybe I should try the key I’d just found. So no, you’re not going to get stuck, but you might feel your intelligence being insulted. Considering this is all about the story, though, it’s hard to be particularly upset by this.
And that, I think, is about all I can say without going into a few guarded specifics on the story. So: I like the way it’s evolving, although I pretty much saw this episode’s twists coming, not least because we’re only halfway through the season so there was no way this was going to wrap everything up. There are yet more mentions of something darker going on, and a few hints at who might be pulling the strings behind all of these events. And the fun thing is, because every character is from fables and fairy tales, even those not familiar with the series can likely take a guess at who might be involved!
So yeah, I like this episode. I like it a lot. It provides a fair bit of pay-off for what’s been building up in the series so far, its “fugitive hunt” provides a nice little self-contained section of the story that has an appropriate start and finish, it expands on the characters already present and lets us make some rather large decisions for Bigby as to how his personality is evolving, it’s well-paced, and it’s extremely well-written.
The one thing that might upset you is the length – or rather, the lack of it. This is easily the shortest episode yet, with my playthrough clocking in at under two hours. Again: I don’t actually mind this too much considering how good those two hours are, and this episode is certainly one that can be replayed to make different choices, but you should probably be warned that it won’t even keep you occupied for an evening.
The Wolf Among Us continues to be my favourite Telltale product, and in terms of character, tension, narrative, and pacing, this episode is probably the best yet. With the way the plot’s evolving there’s a chance that the final couple of episodes won’t quite live up to what’s been built up, but I’m more than willing to give Telltale the benefit of the doubt. They haven’t disappointed yet.
There’s a whole lot more I want to say about The Wolf Among Us, but that can wait until the season finishes I can really review the whole thing in-depth. For now, then: if you haven’t bought into The Wolf Among Us then you still shouldn’t feel you have to do so before the season’s finished, but if you’ve picked up the entire season already, then you’ve got another enjoyable couple of hours in Bigby’s company ahead.