Following its successful adaptation of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games is now surely your first call if you want a comic book turned into a game. And it’s immediately clear that The Wolf Among Us is cut from the same cloth as last year’s episodic triumph, blending dialogue choices, QTE set-pieces and point-and-click-style investigation of static scenes. Proceedings open with the same message about how your choices affect play, too. Despite the many obvious similarities, however, A Wolf Among Us is no mere The Walking Dead reskin.
The secret’s in the setting. Gone is The Walking Dead’s zombie-infested Alabama, replaced with a gorgeous, thickly inked, neon-flecked New York, and specifically Fabletown, a community of fairy-tale characters living amongst regular people thanks to Glamour, a spell which lets them take on human form – those that can afford it, anyway. It means these fantasy characters live fairly normal, boring lives: Snow White is a clerical assistant, Beauty and the Beast are having relationship trouble, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee are private investigators. And in the middle of it all is you, the Big Bad Wolf, the community’s sheriff.
Just as The Walking Dead’s Lee sought to atone for his crime of passion, so Bigby, as he’s known to the locals, is making up for his own dark past. He shares his apartment with Colin, one of the Three Little Pigs who feels Bigby owes him a bed because he blew his house down. And he’s got a feud spanning several hundred years with the Woodsman who once saved Little Red Riding Hood from his lupine clutches. The bald, bearded Woody plays a key role in this five-act adventure’s opening episode: Bigby breaks up an early fight between his old foe and a prostitute, who later turns up dead on his doorstep.
What transpires isn’t The Walking Dead’s balance of interpersonal relationships and surviving the apocalypse, but a police procedural more akin to LA Noire, with a fantastical setting that owes more to vampires than zombies. When Bigby and Snow White hit the books in the mayor’s office in a bid to match victim to fairytale you might as well be playing a Buffy The Vampire Slayer game, albeit one with a magic mirror showing you people’s locations and a winged monkey translating ancient texts. The fairytale stuff is played with a delightfully light touch, with the surly mirror refusing to give up the goods unless Bigby speaks to him in rhyme, and our protagonist chain-smoking Huff & Puff cigarettes. This is a vividly realised world, an intriguing blend of darkness and light, and every bit as well written and delivered as The Walking Dead.
Where The Wolf Among Us falls down is the lack – currently, at least – of a central emotional relationship. Snow White serves as a moral compass of sorts but she’s no Clem, who had such an effect not only on the player’s decision-making but did much to link together the standalone stories of its five episodes. And while The Walking Dead had its share of technical problems, here they’re even worse, with lengthy loading times on 360 fracturing the pace and some several-second freezes completely killing the tension during fight scenes. Such issues mattered little as The Walking Dead’s sketchy promise grew into something truly remarkable, though, and there is clear potential here for The Wolf Among Us’ noir murder mystery to hit those same heights.
The Wolf Among Us is out now on PC, 360 and PS3. 360 version tested.