It would have been easy for Telltale Games to rest on its laurels after “The Walking Dead,” a game that revolutionized the approach to comic book video game adaptation and execution. With the announcement of “The Wolf Among Us,” an adventure game set in Bill Willingham’s “Fables” world using the same structure as “The Walking Dead,” fans wondered whether Telltale could capture that lightning in a bottle once again. If the hands-on demo at PAX Prime 2013 is any indication, Telltale is well on its way to becoming the premiere go-to studio for adapting any comic with an attention to detail and excellence unmatched by any other developer working on comic book games in the modern era.
“The Wolf Among Us” takes place prior to the events in “Fables” #1, casting players as Fabletown Sheriff Bigby Wolf. The demo opens with players smack in the middle of a district of Fabletown readers have never encountered — a rundown and ramshackle apartment building run by Mr. Toad. While Bigby chastises Mr. Toad for not properly maintaining his glamour, he discovers his old enemy The Woodsman in the midst of a domestic disturbance. The hero of “Little Red Riding Hood” was drunk, and had beaten a prostitute for not remembering who he was. Bigby’s involvement results in a massive struggle that ends with both Fables on the street, and in Bigby’s case, via a second-story window.
Gameplay is similar to “The Walking Dead,” with timed dialogue choices impacting other characters’ impressions of Bigby, and the feeling of playing as a familiar character from the “Fables” universe (as opposed to “Walking Dead” protagonist Lee Everett) is near flawless. Players get to choose whether to make Bigby a hard-ass, a stoic protector or something else. The writing for the demo is exactly what fans would expect from an issue of “Fables,” making it clear that Telltale spent a lot of time finding the right voice actors for every character. Mr. Toad’s cockney accent is hilariously effective, and the belligerent, drunken slurs of The Woodsman do the job in making players despise the traditional hero. However, the best voice casting is undoubtedly Bigby. His voice has just the right mixture of tough-as-nails grit and persuasive, inquisitive timbre: In short, exactly what a sheriff of Fabletown should sound like.
The level of interaction during the fight with The Woodsman goes far beyond any of the fight sequences in “The Walking Dead.” The Xbox 360 demo build has players using all four face buttons, the right thumbstick and both triggers to help bring a more tactile experience to the fight. The right thumbstick is used to direct a cursor to a possible area to throw the Woodsman (a bookshelf, bedframe or sink, for example) and when the cursor reaches the red-circled area, a button prompt is given. Push the button or squeeze the trigger, and it moves on to the next sequence of the fight. It felt a bit like the fight sequences in Quantum Dream’s “Heavy Rain” — organic button prompts with the frenetic and flowing nature of an actual scuffle.
Even if the demo’s gameplay wasn’t excellent — which, again, it is — it’s possible that for some fans the attention to detail in the game would more than make up for it. Every piece of the demo, from the game’s “Fables”-stylize logo and the design of the menu screen to the subtle shading and stubble on Bigby’s face, is deeply entrenched in the source material and handled with care and respect. New characters like Mr. Toad and The Woodsman feel like they could have easily appear in an issue of “Fables.” The design of a seedier part of Fabletown emphasizes the depth of the location. Every dialogue choice keeps in tone with Bigby’s character, while subtly altering his character for the purposes of an individual player’s game.
Indeed, if there’s any criticism that can be leveled at Telltale, it’s that the demo is too short to properly evaluate how it’s going to be able to reconcile a player’s choice to create a Bigby who may deviate too much from the “Fables” #1 version. Regardless, Telltale’s demo does its job, increasing the excitement for a game that’s already heavily anticipated by fans.
xBe sure to check back for CBR’s interview with “The Wolf Among Us” director Dennis Lenart later this week.