I loved Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead.” The contribution the game made to the landscape of comic book video games is undeniable — and it was incredibly exciting to see what the developer would do with its other major comic book license: Bill Willingham’s long-running Vertigo Comics series “Fables.” Telltale has a lot to live up to with “Faith,” the first episode of “The Wolf Among Us.” Expectations from fans were sky-high after the strong showing “The Walking Dead” had last year, and while “The Wolf Among Us” certainly has a differing tone from “The Walking Dead,” it is no less of a master class in how to adapt a comic with style and flair.
“The Wolf Among Us” casts players as Fabletown Sheriff Bigby Wolf, 20 years before “Fables” #1. The game shows fans a very different side of Fabletown, with sequences taking place in some of the seedier sides of Willingham’s world never shown in the comics. There’s a lot for longtime “Fables” fans to geek out over as well — during the play through of “Faith,” players encounter previously-established “Fables” characters Beauty, Beast, Ichabod Crane, Bufkin, the Magic Mirror and Snow White as well as newcomers The Woodsman, Mr. Toad and many others.
While the gameplay of “The Wolf Among Us” doesn’t differ much from “The Walking Dead,” there’s definitely a sense of, “If it’s not broken, don’t try and fix it.” However, the small tweaks Telltale made to the system are undeniably cool, with Bigby taking a more hands-on approach to action than “The Walking Dead” protagonist Lee Edwards. There are far more frenetic action sequences in “The Wolf Among Us,” which — combined with the concept of a murder investigation — gives the game more of a driving, rushing feel. Matching a reticule to a specific area during a fight sequence is done very well and does a great job of recreating struggle. Time is also much more of a force in “The Wolf Among Us,” with sequences at select locations playing out differently when undergone at different points in the game. The time allotted to respond to questions and make statements has also undergone minor tweaking, adding to the forward-motion feel of the episode.
That’s not to say players shouldn’t take their time with “Faith.” There are a vast number of “Fables” Easter Eggs and the dialogue is so spot-on with the comic that fans will think Willingham actually wrote it. (He didn’t — that compliment goes to Pierre Shorette.) Credit also goes to director Dennis Lenart, who really nailed the framing of “Fables” artist Mark Buckingham’s panels — but the biggest praise goes to the incredible voice cast that brings these characters to life in a believable way. Bigby’s voice is arguably the most important part of the game, and lead voice actor Adam Harrington pulls it off in an incredibly believable and nuanced performance. The Fabletown Sheriff always has an underlying dangerous rasp to his tone, even when kind or sympathetic. It’s exactly how many fans imagined the character would sound. While the other voices and characters are compelling and believable, it’s Harrington’s performance as Bigby that really sells the game as a full “Fables” experience.
The final scene of the episode left me with my jaw wide open, especially when considering that “The Wolf Among Us” is meant to fit in flawlessly with the “Fables” canon. This is a game that any “Fables” fan — indeed, any comics fan must play. Telltale has crafted a completely unparalleled system for comic book storytelling in video games that faithfully takes everything great about the source material — whether it’s art style, writing, tone or more — and puts a new spin on it for an experience that’s undeniably unique. While comparisons with “The Walking Dead” will likely persist, “The Wolf Among Us” is well on its way to matching — if not exceeding — the bar that Telltale set for itself.
“The Wolf Among Us” Episode One is currently available on the XBox Live marketplace, Playstation Network, PC and Mac.