A good story requires a good storyteller at the helm - a bit of empathy for one's audience, the wisdom to know how much must be left unsaid, the wit to surprise and the confidence to see it through. So let's hear it for Telltale Games - a small, smart studio who can, with a five-dollar downloadable episode, spin a far more engaging, imaginative and involving yarn than Quantic Dream ever dreamed. One that keeps the player interested the whole way through, and itching for more when the curtain drops.
The Wolf Among Us is the latest effort from the studio that set the modern standard for the story-driven adventure game with last year's impactful, tearjerking The Walking Dead, and while Wolf's not as hard-hitting, one can't help but appreciate the elegance of their work.
Like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us is not born of an original property, set as it is in Bill Willingham's already-established Fables comic series, and one wonders if Telltale's tales would be so satisfying if they created their own world - but here as with TWD, they breath refreshing new life into an already interesting universe.
A bit of history : Fables concerns itself primarily, but not entirely, with Fabletown - a small section of New York enchanted to keep mundane folk like you and I out, home to fairy tale heroes and creatures exiled from "the Homelands" after the mysterious "Adversary" took out Oz and Narnia, and came for the rest. Snow White, though technically second fiddle to the Mayor, is the true leader of Fabletown and does her best to keep other fairy tale folk safe from "mundies" and each other. Assisting her is the town's sheriff, Bigby Wolf - the Big Bad Wolf of legend - granted clemency along with all the other classic villains after the Fables' escape from the Homelands, and permitted to turn his skills for sniffing out the guilty to the service of the community.
Where Telltale's The Walking Dead was just as gory as its namesake but lighter on the romance, The Wolf Among Us is actually a far darker look at the Fables universe than Willingham generally offers, and a more personal look at the character of Bigby. Telltale feel unbound, here, by the general restrictions of the Fables world - free to spin their own yarn - and, in a few scant hours, paint a reality of richer texture than you'll find in the first twenty issues of the comics.
Gameplay is largely identical to TWD - you drive Bigby Wolf around various scenes, interacting with the environment, sussing out clues and occasionally engaging in some fisticuffs with profoundly quicktimey yet weirdly satisfying action scenes, making choices that invariably involve some form of sacrifice.
And that's all I'll say about it. The Wolf Among Us doesn't explode on to the scene with the same shock as TWD did last year, but it's just as involving and perhaps an even better example of Telltale's mature, measured, intelligent storytelling.
Let's hear it for 'em. Bring on Episode 2.