Creator Bill Willingham's Eisner award-winning comic book series gets transformed into an episodic interactive adventure in The Wolf Among Us (Telltale Games, rated Mature, reviewed for Xbox 360, $4.99 for first episode).
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Willingham's sequential-art epic Fables, published by DC Comics' imprint Vertigo since 2002, readers are taken to a magical location in the Upper West Side of New York City around Bullfinch Street (aka Fabletown) that harbors legendary characters of famous fairy tales trying to eek out a more human existence.
This Telltale game offers a prequel to the comics, and the initial XboxLive Arcade download is the first part of a five-episode story arc ($4.99 each) featuring the quick-to-anger Sheriff of Fabletown, Bigby Wolf.
In the episode "Faith," a solo player takes control of Bigby, who happens to be the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding lore in human form, and finds him on a murder investigation that leads to the revelation of a potential serial killer running loose in Fabletown.
As with all Telltale games, most recently the award-winning homage to The Walking Dead, action is about choices, often moral choices defining everything from abusing a suspect to determining the fate of some famous characters.
When not deciding a reaction, for example, what to say or do to one of the Three Little Pigs smoking on Bigby's couch, a player taps hotspots for exploration and limited combat choices, such as do I punch first or defuse a situation with words?
He also engages in timed dialogue responses while talking to the citizens of Fabletown. Particularly cool was Bigby asking the Magic Mirror (from Snow White) to locate suspects.
The Wolf Among Us not only shines through its hard-boiled, murder-mystery drama but through a gorgeous visual presentation that looks even better than Mr. Willingham's book illustrations.
Designed in a cell-shaded format to look like a three-dimensional comic book, it often highlights the story's noirish moments and pokes in neon patches of brilliance to really make the design pop around characters. It reminded me of a mature Dick Tracy strip.
Acting as a prequel to the Fables comics, it introduces plenty of the characters and their dire, too-human existences.
Bigby interacts with such stars as the Tweedles (Alice in Wonderland's girth pests) working as mob muscle, Snow White as an assistant to the Deputy Mayor Ichabod Crane, Bufkin (a monkey from the Land of Oz) as the Fabletown librarian, Mr. Toad as a slumlord, with the gruesome, alcoholic loner Grendel from Beowulf making an unwelcome appearance.
A helpful text-based resource slowly unlocks as the story unravels to learn about the character's reimagined lives.
A player can expect about two hours of focused action within this first episode of The Wolf Among Us, and he will be as rabid as Bigby in the midst of a battle waiting for the next intense episode to become available.
I'll note one disappointment that has nothing to do with the game. DC Entertainment's fantastic digital comic book app does not offer any issues or trade paperbacks of Fables. Reading Mr. Willingham's work on an iPad would have been a perfect complement to Telltale's evolving masterpiece.
Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), after watching a prostitute stomp and twist an ax into the back of the Woodsman's head, decided to label this game in "M" and that stands for mature — gamers only 17 years and older need be a part of The Wolf Among Us: Faith. Parents should note that just because the game is about some famous fairy tales, it is a very mature, profanity-riddled tale. This is not an interactive storybook for bedtime, and even some adults will be stunned by the occasional gratuitous violence.
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