Playing Fables: The Wolf Among Us

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fablesThe Wolf Among Us, Telltale Games’ second adaptation of a hit comic book series, landed last week. Their previous work, an expansion on the Walking Dead mythos, won innumerable awards last years and was hailed as one of the greatest videogames of all time.

Expectations for their Fables-themed followup were high, but muted. Recent games like Grand Theft Auto 5 were greeted with a firestorm of hype; The Wolf Among Us quietly announced its release date a few days before offering its first chapter to the world.

And its first chapter, “Faith”, is worth the wait. It’s not The Walking Dead, and it has some serious issues, but it hits the same narrative sweet spot.

The Wolf Among Us stars Bigby Wolf, the closest person Fables has to a protagonist, a Wolverinesque adaptation of the Big, Bad Wolf. Like in the comics, Bigby’s the sheriff of the Fables community, walking a fine line between enforcing the law and ripping people’s arms off.

Here’s two points, before we continue: I love Fables, and I didn’t feel great about The Walking Dead because I’m a zombie-hater. I do have history with Telltale, too, having loved their three seasons of Sam and Max adaptations—the videogames equivalent of liking something before it was cool—so I was pretty hyped for The Wolf Among Us.

Wolf takes a lot of the best bits from The Walking Dead. There are choices, and they’re agonizing. The action sequences are violent and immediate, despite being sequences of quick time events. Bigby feels fast and powerful, and while his voice actor’s performance struck me as missing the point for the first thirty minutes, by thfablese end I really warmed to it. It’s not Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, a barely constrained violence. Bigby has his violence under control, and when he loses his cool the performance makes it all the more shocking. His calm makes his explosions all the more shocking.

It’s a shame, then, that the writing falls on the bad side of mediocre. The dialog hears like the comics with significantly more swearing. The whole game kind of feels like someone watched Drive and Pulp Fiction and then made a Fables game with those aesthetics, which I’ve never associated with the comics. The game captures a really great feeling, but not for Fables. It’s a dirty detective story, and while Fables has detectives it rarely feels too dirty.

And even taking it as it is, it’s not a great detective story. A lot of this comes from The Wolf Among Us being a prequel. We—the audience who’ve read the comics—know the status quo they have to achieve. Some people have to survive. Others get shuffled around in their roles. And other characters aren’t in the comics, which means that their odds of survival are incredibly shallow. We’re pretty sure nothing’s going to happen to Bigby or Snow White, no matter what the game tells us. More serious Fables aficionados know what happens to The Woodsman and Ichabod Crane, two major players in the game, and know what to expect from them. Meanwhile, other characters like Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum don’t appear in the comics, so we kind of know what’s up with them, too.

monkeyExcept I wish there were more unknown characters, because their portrayals of the main cast sometimes seem off. Snow White, in particular, feels a lot more like she does mid-run of the series than she did at the beginning. There’s a scene in a cab, midway through the episode, which will make Fables fans happy but reads like fanfiction, because it doesn’t ring true to the characters #1 existence. The game’s penultimate moment, meanwhile, makes me think the whole series is a deus ex machina away from nonexistence.

These are a lot of complaints, but in truth I had a lot of fun with The Wolf Among Us. As a Fables fan, I struggled with the game, but as someone who plays videogames I was enthralled. If I shut off the canon-obsessed portion of my brain—the kind that’s reread the comics twice, even the sorta miserable Jack spinoff series—I can appreciate The Wolf Among Us’ kinetic fight sequences, tense conversations, and intense, contrary style.

It’s a lovely game, and I wish it wasn’t wearing a Fables hat, because then it would just feel like a breath of fresh air instead of an unwelcome twist of canon.

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