The middle part of a story is always the toughest. Lacking the oomph of the intro or the satisfaction of the conclusion, it must nevertheless keep events moving forward, stalwartly fulfilling its duty as the lynchpin keeping the entire narrative together. "A Crooked Mile," Episode 3 of Telltale's episodic whodunnit The Wolf Among Us, lacks the high drama of what's come before it and sets up the questions that will be answered in the Episodes to come. As a result, it's a good storytelling soldier, letting itself be bland and bleak so that the other chapters can shine.
Without spoiling the specific events of the first two episodes, Bigby and Snow have a promising lead into their investigation about the two murders, but it's one that hits uncomfortably close to home. No sooner have they started examining options as to how to follow up this lead than Bluebeard barges in and starts throwing his weight around. He has a large financial investment in Fabletown, and feels entitled to running whatever bits of it he feels like – so what if he's not actually an elected official or the Sheriff? He's rich and belligerent and it's going to take more than an ex-princess in a well-tailored suit to stop him.
Bluebeard's demand to be inserted into the investigation highlights Crooked Mile's most prominent feature – nebulous choices. Choice is a big part of every chapter in Wolf Among Us, but there's usually a strong indication one way or the other which way you should go, depending on your personal role-playing strategy or ultimate goal. In Crooked Mile, there are plenty of choices, but all of them seem equally likely to lead to failure – should you search the apartment or the office first? Should you let sleeping trolls lie, or wake them up? Does it really matter? Crooked Mile feels as though you fate is sealed the moment you begin, and that no matter what will you try to exert on the world around you, you are no more powerful than a child slamming her fists against the shins of a giant.
Perversely, it's also the Episode that I was most tempted to replay. In the first two chapters, I struggled with choices, but resolved to take ownership of my decisions and live with the fallout, but in Crooked Mile, I never felt like I had any chance of success and wanted to go back and try other options to make sure there was some measure of redemption to be had, hiding behind the right dialog option. I stuck to my guns and lived with my choices not so much because I think that's the true way to experience this kind of game, but rather because I don't honestly believe it would make all that much difference.
That's not a knock against Crooked Mile, by the way; Bigby's investigation has to head in certain directions and this is the chapter of the story where he's reminded that nothing is as easy as it seems, and trying to force creatures of myth and legend to adhere to arbitrary rules of decorum is a sucker's game. He is beaten down, both literally and figuratively, and as he lays there bleeding on the ground, you can see the crushing realization that not only will he never outrun his past sins, but that even if he does, brand new ones will be waiting, eager to draw his blood. It's a grim (even Grimm) moment that perfectly encapsulates the life these Fables lead in the new world, so while tonally it's the perfect centerpiece for the entire mystery, as a singular piece of game content, it's hard to call "fun."
The brightest spot of the two-hour excursion is the introduction of Bloody Mary, she who delightfully steps through the mirror to butcher you and your friends should you turn out the lights and whisper her name once too many times. She's notable not just for the pitch-perfect performance, but for how distressingly well she's adapted to the world of the Mundys (that's us). She's not busy pining for the castles and forests the Fables were forced to abandon so many years ago, she's getting down to business – though what exactly that business is and whose errands she's running is now part of the burgeoning mystery. The bloodthirsty Mary is almost out of place amongst the other Fables, so ordinary in her sociopathy that she seems cartoonish by comparison. Her ease to so closely resemble the worst of humanity puts the behavior of the other Fables into sharp contrast, reminding us as players just how bizarre this world we're visiting really is, and how impossible a task Bigby has set before him.
Crooked Mile raises more questions than it answers, taking the investigation in a new direction and hinting at powerful forces lurking in the darkened corners of Fabletown. It removes some of the intimacy that the first two Episodes created by welcoming us into this strange new world and letting us see the cracks in the paint and the frays at the edge of the carpet. By pulling back, however, it also makes us feel defensive, as though we are now one of the residents, trying to protect our own grubby little corner of things. Taken by itself, it's unsatisfying and half-missing, but of course it's not meant to be taken by itself. It's the centerpiece of a larger whole, the lock that will let everything eventually make sense. Crooked Mile has a hard job to do, and has the bruises to show it.
This review is based on review code of the Xbox 360 version of The Wolf Among Us: A Crooked Mile, provided by Telltale. Images: Telltale.
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