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Suspending disbelief in The Wolf Among Us


There is a deliberate pace and procedure at the heart of any Telltale Games experience. The Wolf Among Us, the studio's next episodic adventure after last year's critically acclaimed The Walking Dead, doesn't stray from the adventure game formula, or the tendency to put players in gripping emotional conundrums flanked by brief segments of gameplay.

Fables follows a series of fairytale creatures, heroes and villains, hiding amongst the "mundies" (mundane normal folk) of modern day NYC in a neighborhood dubbed Fabletown. Based on what I saw in my demo, morality, demanding choices and QTEs form the majority of The Wolf Among Us' gameplay. But greater than The Walking Dead, there is more disbelief one must suspend when diving into The Wolf Among Us – especially if you've never read the Fables series of comics before.

There isn't much that can prepare you for seeing a cussing three foot tall toad in a sweater, after all.

The Wolf Among Us serves as a prequel. Taking place roughly a decade prior to the events of the first trade issue, it's centered around Bigby Wolf – formerly the Big Bad Wolf and current chain-smoking sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby Wolf isn't a bad guy, but he's not a terribly good guy either. He exists somewhere in the middle, showing empathy one moment yet later purposefully goading someone else the next. As sheriff, he's meant to uphold the law, but it's obvious that Bigby doesn't mind eschewing the rules.

Gameplay serves as a vehicle for reaching these moments of emotion. A large part of what I saw in the demo was the same poking and prodding with a cursor typical of most adventure games. The Wolf Among Us, running on an updated version of Telltale's proprietary engine, is every bit a Telltale Games production in its gameplay systems as it is in its emotional intensity and nail-biting choices.

One encounter, a scuffle where Bigby intervened between a drunken Huntsman refusing to pay a call girl, at least showed Telltale Games is more aware of static gameplay segments this time around. While the fight itself was a QTE session, the environment offered choice and interactivity. Bigby could slam the Huntsman's head onto a table or a bookshelf or a window, each choice then initiating a different sub-sequence within the overall fight.

The fight culminated in a fall out of a third-story window. Fables are apparently a lot harder to kill than your average mundane human being, evidenced by the fact that Bigby survived and that the Huntsman, who didn't have a car to cushion his fall, didn't seem like he had died at all. Then the call girl firmly planted the Huntsman's axe into the back of his skull ... and he kept talking. It was all so surreal.

And to tell the truth, that's a good way to describe the majority of my experience with The Wolf Among Us: moments of strong emotion preceded by moments of absolute surprising surrealism. It's a bit much to take in, this world of fairy tale creatures, magic and morality, but Telltale manages to instill an emotional weight that makes it easier to look past some of the out-there stuff – like a pig smoking a cigarette, only pausing to greedily lap up hooch from a highball glass.

If you've never read a single issue of Fables before (like myself) then it may be hard to suspend the disbelief of seeing a man with an axe in his head carry on a conversation. But, for me, this mingling of real adult themes of penance and redemption in the case of Bigby, mixed with fairy tale magic and superstitions in The Wolf Among Us made for quite the intoxicating cocktail. I was able to identify with these characters' grounded plights and, in the case of some, commiserate.

Here I was, watching a story unfold about mythical creatures hiding out in New York City and it's all so ridiculous and yet I didn't even question it – not once. The emotional impact and intensity of the storytelling drew me in immediately and I was hooked. Telltale Games has risen to provide a level of character development and narrative other studios would do well to dissect.

The Wolf Among Us is slated to launch either in late September or early October for Xbox 360, PS3, Mac and PC. Five episodes will be available in total, priced at $5 each. Season pass options will present themselves on all platforms closer to launch.

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