The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us was a great game, with very interesting characters and dilemmas, but as with earlier Telltale games, I feel that the nuances behind my choices were often lost, and the resulting issues were more critical here. I’m unwilling to avoid talking about these choices, and so I can’t avoid spoiling a thing or two.

For example, I told Snow I would send the pig to The Farm, but told the pig that “she’d come around”. I wasn’t intending that to be my actual choice in the matter, but I was also hoping I would actually get a look at this place everyone was afraid of going to before sending a person to live there. When the frog confronted me about whether the pig was going to The Farm, I was a little vexed that the game had apparently made up its mind and that I had no option to say, “Don’t worry, the pig’s getting the exact same treatment as you.”

Here’s another one: I let Beast kick the shit out of me when he was misunderstanding things, thinking it might help our relationship in the long term if he felt guilty about beating me up, instead of giving him a new reason to resent me. It didn’t stop him from being a huge jerk later, and I never got to make a point of it.

The game touches upon some more complex problems than the immediate life and death threats of The Walking Dead, but in gaining this complexity it is sometimes harder for the game to accurately represent my thoughts and ideas in its multiple choice dialogue. For example, Snow was very clear in her belief that she believed that Crane was innocent of murder, and my responses seemed overly concerned with my own opinion of his guilt. I didn’t think he did it either, but I was more concerned with the process: you don’t just clear a person of suspicion because he’s pathetic-looking. When Snow was reading out the charges against Crane, I added “And suspicion of murder,” which prompted an argument I wanted to take neither side of. To me it seemed tactically useful to keep pressuring Crane under a crime he had no responsibility to take the fall for. Snow instead thought it was a good time to argue in front of our leverage.

Crane “acts” like he isn’t to blame, and in fact the game is generally pretty heavy-handed about how people act when innocent or guilty–the Woodsman, like Crane, is a complete asshole right until he starts crying feebly, and I (correctly) believed Vivian was involved just because she was being a little stoic in one scene.

Also: when a man has been actively trying to kill you by shooting you with a shotgun, and doesn’t die from lesser injuries, and you appear to be a society of a few dozen people without the capacity to enforce more civilized forms of keeping the peace, like exile or imprisonment, I think killing him and eliminating the threat forever is a foregone conclusion. Even if I felt like I was in control of the situation and didn’t “have to do it”, it seemed like a good idea, for either five minutes down the line, or a month down the line. But this was another nuance never communicated. The game touches upon very interesting themes I care about, in systemic problems and the difficulties of justice, but no character really points out that their whole society is like some tiny Old West frontier town without any real capacity to prove guilt in the first place beyond mob opinion, so the trial is a farce, in ways that do seem intended, but also in ways that feel unintended. It seemed obvious to me that Nerissa’s testimony was a lie, but this was an epilogue revelation that came as a shock to Bigby. I saw the trial as a way to make a couple people (mainly Snow) feel good about themselves before things invariably came down to crude mob justice no matter what was said.

The ending was a bit confusing, but mostly in a good way. Was Kaiser Soze lying even in her explanation at the end, when she said she came clean to Georgie out of fear? Did she deliberately orchestrate the deaths of her friends to bring the Crooked Man’s entire operation to Bigby’s attention? That seems somewhat unlikely, but I don’t know. I was unfortunately unclear on some of the specific points, like whether the Magic Mirror itself had been cursed somehow, or if it was just incapable of sharing the details of those cursed to others–different, for some reason, from how Bigby was able to tell Snow about Nerissa’s curse.

I only played the game one time through, but while I wouldn’t expect the end results to change much, there are times where Bigby has a choice of two or three places to go, and while these would probably be more like alternate scenes rather than changes to the big picture, they might make a replay more tolerable, and perhaps I’ll go back and take a look before a Season Two is released.

Overall it didn’t have the emotional payoff of The Walking Dead’s Season One. Still, I see more promise in a Wolf Among Us Season Two than TWD S2 showed. As long as they continue to write great stories, preferably focus-testing the dialogue responses a bit more for nuance, I’ll keep playing the games.

This game was thoroughly enjoyed by the reviewer. It is an excellent game that may be too simple or not ambitious enough to be a 5, or there are design flaws meaningful enough to prevent it from enduring as something truly beloved. Highly recommended.
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