‘The Wolf Among Us’ Episode 3, ‘A Crooked Mile,’ Honors A Different Genre [Review]
The first two episodes of Telltale Games' Fables prequel, The Wolf Among Us, had clearly served as homage to a very particular genre, neon noir. The third episode, "A Crooked Mile," which hit Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC and iOS this week, keeps the neon but seems to drop the noir.
What the developers and writers offer up instead is a bloodier, more aggressive story this time around. It feels pretty strongly like the a hat-tip to the gun-driven revenge and exploitation films of the 1970s, particularly by the end, and it gives the game a sense of welcome unpredictability.
The thing that the writers have done really well--and what's often the hallmark of a good mystery story--is they've moved the goalposts. What was initially a fairly straightforward murder mystery has become a grand conspiracy, with characters routinely telling Sheriff Bigby Wolf that he can't even begin to understand the magnitude of what's going on. That all contributes further to the 1970s feel, even with the game's 1980s setting.
This episode's story does a lot to blur what seemed to be some pretty well-established lines from the first two episodes, and it sends players into the fourth episode with an entirely different set of mysteries to consider. (Also a brand-new, eminently badass character who shows up at the end and that I can't wait to see more of.) It works as the middle of a story, but it also works as an episode of something serialized. It's beautifully done.
"A Crooked Mile" also probably has the best grasp the series has had yet on putting players through the gamut of emotions. The opening scenes are alternately sad and tense, but there's a lot of humor that kicks in by the middle portion. (One gag in particular, a meta-joke about the mechanics of the game that pops up as an in-game message, killed me.) Then by the end, the tension ratchets way, way up again.
That said, I do have to mention what I thought was the big downfall of this episode: I felt like I didn't have all that much control as a player. The big decision of this episode deals with having Bigby choose the order of three places where he wants to go investigate, and while those choices certainly have an effect on the scenes that follow, I absolutely got the sense that they were three divergent paths that were all leading to the same place. Sure, that's sort of been the case in other episodes, too, but here it felt a tad more telegraphed. Likewise, it seemed all but impossible to prevent two very violent scenes from occurring (the first of which doesn't really have any consequences anyway).
Perhaps that's by design. It's supposed to feel like Bigby's powerless in the face of this conspiracy that is far bigger than he could have thought, and when a story is closing its second act, that's often where the protagonist ought to be if you want to keep things interesting. But this is a video game, and when the player feels powerless, it creates some feelings of dissatisfaction. It's one of those places where story and gameplay can butt heads.
Speaking of gameplay, I didn't notice any big glitches this time around, but there wasn't a ton of action, comparatively. When quicktime events did happen, I got plenty of warning, which was good, considering that the first episode had a few that load times got in the way of.
This episode has a bit of a different visual feel than the previous ones, though there are still plenty of neon lights, and the character models are the same (and still look like they're ripped right out of the pages of a Fables comic). It's more about atmosphere. The lighting is dimmer, the settings more claustrophobic, and in a few scenes I noticed that the color palate was a little more stark. Again, that 1970s influence.
I find the shift in genre inspiration really exciting. Here's hoping they'll jump genres again by the final episodes and we'll get a 1980s action flick feel by the end of The Wolf Among Us. It's set in the '80s, isn't it? And who wouldn't want to see Bigby Wolf go full John Rambo?