More crazy funtimes came to me this Christmas (thank you, Steam sale) in the form of The Wolf Among Us. Another immersive title from Telltale Games, the studio that brought us The Walking Dead, with that same comic book, episodic feel that they’ve well and truly mastered at this stage. This time their inspiration was Bill Willingham’s (what a name) Fables comics, of which I know absolutely nothing about but thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless.
This one is gritty, it’s dark, it’s full of fairytale characters you’ll recognise and it’s interesting. It’s certainly not The Walking Dead, but while the setting is not familiar, the story still takes you by surprise and flings you headfirst into a strange world where women’s heads are left on doorsteps and you can pull off an ogre’s (or was that a troll!?) arm with your bare hands. Naturally, this appealed to me. I felt like I was in Sin City, surrounded by freaks and babes alike. Though some of these freaks and babes had horns.
This is a play-by-play, walk-through of my own game. I wrote about my choices, the process behind making them, along with how I felt at various stages and a glimpse into my inner monologue throughout. It is a recap of my personal Wolf Among Us journey. If you ever plan on playing this game yourself please do not read it, as I would hate to be held responsible for ruining what could be a memorable Fables caper for you. So, SPOILERS AHEAD.
The game begins with splashes of purple as a rugged-looking figure rides along in the back of a cab. Before I can even stop myself I think of the beginning of The Walking Dead, with Lee stuck in the back of the squad car just as the poop hits the fan. This feels very different though; it’s dark, this guy is not in cuffs and there’s no annoying old dude yammering away in the front. I relax my fingers on the keyboard. I hadn’t even noticed I was tense, waiting for the inevitable car crash. Look at what you’ve done to me, Telltale Games. I trust no one.
The cab pulls up outside a rundown looking building, and our protagonist steps out onto the street, pausing only long enough to light his cigarette. Damn, he looks cool. I don’t mean because he’s smoking, because that’s not at all cool. Rather he has this self-possessed, “don’t **** with me” ‘tude that appeals to my inner teenager. He strides inside the building and comes face to face with… a frog.
Ah sorry, it’s a toad. With an English accent, no less. As our nonchalantly cigarette smoking dude begins to converse with said toad, some things begin to clear up. This is Mr. Toad. Of fairytale fame. Mr. Toad is referring to our guy as “Big B”, and I’m assuming this means he’s The Big Bad Wolf, and they’re discussing Mr. Toad’s need to see the witches about a suitable “glamour”. Or else “Big B” is going to have to take him down town. Or no, send him to the “farm”. That doesn’t sound good. Mr. Toad tells him so. But Wolfman is the law in these parts it would seem, so I have him let Toady off with a warning. There are noises and thumps and shouts coming from upstairs, so we declare (Wolfman and I) that we’re going to investigate. Mr. Toad makes a few disparaging furry-related comments that make me genuinely laugh out loud (we’re mere minutes into the game, this bodes well for my expected gigglesnort quota) and then starts yelling abuse at a mini-Toad who sounds remarkably like Clementine, but thankfully, looks nothing like her.
Up the stairs we go, and we pick up things like a book of matches and a telephone that’s off the hook. The sounds are coming from a room down the corridor; a man shouting obscenities at a woman and she’s yelling back about something she’s owed. I have Wolfman kick down the door (because, why not?) and he intrudes on a scene of domestic battery.
That’s right, some huge, burly dude is slapping around some chick who is dressed like a lady of the night. Neither Wolfman nor I take very kindly to this, because I’m the player and I’m a woman in wolf’s clothing, so we attempt to lay down the law here in this room of infinite no-nos. We find out that this guy is actually the “Woodsman”. Things are said, he insists that the girl had it coming and she insists that he just needs to give her what he owes her. Woody doesn’t take kindly to Wolfman’s interruption (they have history, I’m assuming it has something to do with Little Red Riding Hood) and all bloody hell breaks loose.
Woody tackles my Wolfman and gets a few lucky punches in as I come to grips with the controls, which are the same as those for Season 2 of The Walking Dead, in case you’re wondering. The fight scene that followed was awesome. We’re knocking seven shades of plop out of each other, but this dude is just not going down. At one stage I’m sure I even broke his leg. He was hit on the noggin several times with everyday items lying around the apartment that came to hand. Then, to top it all off, Wolfman tackles Woody and they both go through the window, falling two storeys to the street below.
Wolfman’s fall is broken by a car. Mr. Toad’s car to be exact, and he’s not all that pleased about it. We’re sure he has insurance. The Woodsman, whose fall was broken by the ground, rises and grabs Wolfy, intent on finishing him off. He has him held up against a busstop, goading him, wanting to see The Wolf. There’s nothing I can really do here; I’m mashing ‘Q’ but I’m beginning to think there’s no way out of this and my guy is going to wolf out. The eyes flash, the teeth elongate, but before I can see anything truly juicy the chick we saved from a fate of a broken face appears and buries an ax in Woody the Woodsman’s skull.
That still doesn’t completely put him down. With an ill-concealed malice, the chick starts to lean on the ax with her foot, embedding it further into Woody’s cranium. We let her. We chat with her then for a bit, trying to get to the bottom of things. She gives up no goods and all we know is that Woody owed her one hundred smackaroons, and she needed it. Being the good Samaritans that we are, we give her all of the cash that Wolfy has in his pockets, which amounts to a paltry fifty-eight dollars that we insist she take.
We light her cigarette and try to push for more scandal. She won’t tell who she’s working for, or if her beef with Woody was anything more complicated than him owing her for something as simple as an old-fashioned. She utters the phrase, “these lips are sealed”. Wolfy says he’ll still need her statement, so she suggests that she call over to his place later. Ooh, thinks I, hanky panky. Wolfman seems perturbed that she knows where he lives, considering he knows nothing about her, but she whispers that everyone knows where he lives, and that he’s not really as bad as people say he is.
This Little Piggy
Wolfman gets home, but on his way to the front door he encounters another lady, who is hiding behind a tree and walking on the grass, which is apparently forbidden as per the sign that “Snow” placed. It turns out to be no other than Beauty (or Belle, I suppose) who is acting shifty and is sneaking out. She asks Wolfy not to tell her husband, Beast, that he’d seen her. Something is definitely up here but we promise not to mention it all the same.
In we go, and in the lobby I notice a building directory. From the attached names I note that our protagonist is actually called “Bigby”, which makes me chuckle. We’re about to step into the elevator when another fine, large specimen of a man appears, inquiring after the whereabouts of his wife. This is Beast, we tell him nothing.
We head on up to Bigby’s place where we find a pig on his sofa.
A pig! And it talks! The pig’s name is Colin (of course) and he’s supposed to be at this “farm” place but he has a bit of a bone to pick with Bigby since he blew down his house and owes him a new one. They chat, Colin bums a smoke and a beverage off Bigby, tells him that people are scared of him and that he needs to stop being such an asshole, then he lets Bigby get some shut eye, because apparently he hasn’t slept in two days.
Doesn’t look like he’ll get much now either. A short time later he awakens to pounding on the door. We’re assuming it’s our lady friend returning to “chat”, so we hurry to open up. It’s not our girl from earlier though, this one is different. She’s dressed all respectably. This lady turns out to be Snow White, and she needs Bigby Wolf to come with her immediately, as there has been some sort of emergency.
Don’t Lose Your Head
Outside, on the steps leading up to the building, there’s a security jacket. Underneath that security jacket is the severed head of the woman we’d met earlier.
Holy Jaysis. After some sleuthing around the scene we discover some blood and some torn fabric. Oh, and there’s something stuck in the severed head’s mouth. We pull it out to reveal the ribbon she’d been wearing around her neck (I recall she’d asked if Wolfman had liked her ribbon, since she couldn’t talk about anything important), with a ring attached to it. The ring has an emblem on it. It’s a clooo.
Snow insists that they have to tell someone called “Crane” what has happened. I gather that this guy is running the Fables show here in Fabletown, but from Bigby’s reaction he doesn’t seem to be the most reasonable person. We stride back inside nonetheless and after a brief altercation with a blue-haired arsehole who took umbrage to Bigby skipping the queue (official police biz, yo) we enter the domain of Crane’s office, where he’s tearing Snow a new one. Now I understand why Bigby didn’t want to tell him; this guy is a total douchenugget.
Bigby interjects, telling who I now recognise to be Ichabod Crane, that finding a severed head on the steps outside isn’t technically anyone’s fault. At least, it’s not the fault of Snow or Bigby. He doesn’t seem interested, he orders Snow to organise his morning “massage” and tells them to sort out the mess they’ve made. As soon as he leaves a flying green monkey appears with a bottle of booze.
This is so weird! The monkey’s name is Bufkin and Snow asks him to get the Fables books, so they can attempt to identify the lady whose head was chopped off. Together they investigate. Bigby and I look through a pretty picture book that holds all of the main characters who moved from their fairytale land and into ours, and eventually, with the flying green monkey’s assistance, we identify the symbol on the ring we’d found earlier.
Once Upon A Time…
The woman’s name was Faith, and hers is not a story I’d ever heard before, but it’s a bit of a gruesome one. Well, it was in the beginning at least. She was known as “Donkey skin”, which sent the green monkey into gales of uproarious laughter (which I echoed, if I’m honest). The tale goes that the Queen of her land, while on her deathbed, forced her husband the King to promise that when she passed he would marry the most beautiful girl in the kingdom. After a search no woman was found that could match her beauty, no woman, that is, accept for their own daughter, Faith. In order to escape Faith fashioned a cloak out of her father the King’s prized donkey that would hide her beauty beneath. She fled to another land where she met a prince called Lawrence, who could see through the magic cloak and spy the true form that it hid. They married and lived happily ever after.
With this new information in hand, Bigby consults with the Mirror. Yes, the Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who speaks in riddles and is also quite funny. When I have Bigby ask the Mirror to show us Faith, he replies with the enigmatic line, “these lips are sealed”. When we ask him to show us Lawrence he provides a startling image of what appears to be a dead body, lots of blood and a dagger. Snow deduces where Lawrence lives quickly (apparently Fables royalty reside in the Bronx, makes sense!) and they prepare to leave to suss out the Mirror’s scene.
Before they reach the door though, and freedom from that strange office, the telephone rings. It’s for Bigby. Mr. Toad is on the other end, cursing and stuff in his Cockney accent, telling us that there’s someone messing around in the Woodsman’s place. And so we have our choice; check out Mr. Toad’s tip, or go to Lawrence’s digs.
I make the decision to go to Lawrence’s, because he’s Faith’s husband, if he’s alive he’ll give us some answers, surely.
While You Were Sleeping
Snow and Bigby roll up to Prince Larry’s place but find the door locked and nobody answering. Bigby climbs in through a window and we find a dead body, sprawled out over a chair, multiple wounds, lots of blood, some disregarded pill bottles and a LOT of flies. It’s kind of gross but we must investigate.
We find a note of apology addressed to Faith from Lawrence. Just as I’m thinking this was a dead end and we should have gone to Toad’s, Prince Larry the Lazarus comes back to life and starts crying and talking about how much better off Faith is without him, blah blah blah.
We tell him his missus is dead and we want answers. I figure there’s no point in lying to the dude, he needs to know the urgency of the sitch. Just when I’m hoping that we’re about to get some juicy details, someone starts to pick the lock. Snow, in a rather clever move I thought, tells Lawrence just to continue playing dead, that she and Bigby would hide until they can figure out what this stranger wants. We secret ourselves in a closet as a round-looking individual with a bald head and a visage quite unappealing to the eye enters the room and starts barking at Lawrence.
I seize the moment and have Bigby jump out of the closet and run at him. Unfortunately things don’t go according to plan and Roundy gets away, but we give chase. Through windows, down fire-escapes, death-defying jumps and blind corners and alleyways. Eventually we catch up and corner this shifty cat. We’re trying to get him to talk but the only useful thing he blubbers is, “dumb.” No wait, that’s not “dumb” he said, but “Dum”. He’s Tweedledee, and his bro, Tweedledum, was sneaking up behind us.
After receiving a beating, Bigby awakes to Snow’s visage, which is much more appealing to the eye than Tweedledee’s, admittedly, and we realise we’re at a bit of a back to square one scenario, so we head over to Toad’s, rather belatedly.
Mr. Toad is acting all kinds of shifty. He’s maintaining now that he shouldn’t have called Bigby, that he’d made a mistake or something, nothing was wrong. When we’d arrived though we’d heard Toad Junior crying, so, smelling a rat, Wolfy must investigate. Snow, living up to her fabled kindness, takes little Toad Junior into his bedroom in attempt to perhaps get him to open up about why he was sad, but under the clever guise of seeing his insect collection. This leaves Bigby to snoop, under the watchful eye of Mr. Toad who isn’t only watching, but telling several lies about why his gaff is in a state. There’s a knocked over, broken lamp, a shattered lock on the door, marks on the window frame. Not to mention spatter on the wall and a bloody poker from the fire.
Faced with such ridiculously over the top evidence, Mr. Toad eventually spills his beans. One of the Tweedles had been by and had insisted that Toad keep his visit a secret, under threat of harm to his boy, Toad Junior, who at this point has returned with Snow. Also at this point I made a mental note to find out who is voicing the miniature toad, because it sounds so much like Clementine, it’s weird.*
So Toad Junior lets something about a coat slip (his dad sometimes “borrows” things from his neighbours) which leads our intrepid duo of Bigby and Snow to locate Faith’s “donkey skin”. Attached is a letter addressed to Lawrence, which I have Bigby open because nothing is sacred anymore. I can’t remember exactly what it said but it was something along the lines of, “Dear Larry, I’m sorry I became a hooker, here’s my coat. Love, Faith.” Nothing is said at this point but I ponder to myself that if Toad found this in the building, then it quite possibly could have been among the Woodsman’s possessions.
Anyway, Mr. Toad finally makes himself useful and suggests that they might find the Woodsman in some place called The Trip Trap Bar. Snow and Bigby share a cab there and have a rather candid chat on the way. She seems pretty down on herself, frustrated at her lack of ability to do anything to help their people under the rule of Crane and the current system, which appears to be extremely flawed. She believes that things need to change but it’s an impossible task. I have Bigby tell her that she can do it, he has faith in her. She seems nice and I’m beginning to like her, which also makes me fearful because when I like people, as we all know, the Game takes them away from me.
Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
We pull up outside of this Trip Trap establishment and it looks like a dive, so Snow suggests she give this one a miss and they hook up back at the office. Bigby agrees that that’s probably the best idea, she tells him to be careful. Careful is Bigby’s middle name. But not really!
In he walks, like he’s a wanted cowboy walking into a saloon, looking for some bourbon. The reception he receives from the woman behind the bar and her single, Surly Customer at the counter is cold, to say the least. When we inquire as to the whereabouts of Woody the Woodsman it becomes fairly obvious fairly quickly that this wolf is barking up the wrong tree. After some witty banter and stellar repartee, we hear a toilet flush. And out walks the Woodsman himself.
At first he seems fearful at the sight of Bigby, but then his expression turns to one of defeat. He declares that after so many years of being enemies, he’s sick of fighting Bigby. He also confesses that he’d been meaning to rob Red Riding Hood’s house that night (he’d been staking out the place) when he broke in and just happened to stumble upon Bigby the Wolf going about his murdering business. He’d saved Red in the hopes of some reward, but all he got was a hero moniker. Our Bigby has no interest in this sudden truth diarrohea, and neither have I, so we get to the point and ask some pointed questions about Faith.
This pisses off Surly Customer to no end, who stands up and calls Bigby a “lapdog”. Then he says something offensive about Snow and Bigby doesn’t like this, so I have him punch Surly Customer in his smart mouth. His retaliation to this comes as the biggest surprise of this game for me, as Surly Customer spazzes out and morphs into a giant ogre-type creature that looks like a mutant rock pokemon with needle-sharp teeth. To confound matters further, the bartender lady then morphs into the female version and I wonder to myself, what they feck are these things!? Someone please tell me, I’m afraid to Google them in case I spoil something for myself.
So the Ogre grabs Bigby and starts flinging him around the place and I think, this is the end, goodbye cruel world. He does a serious number on our Wolf, eventually incapacitating him, even after we stab him with stuff. He’s dragging Bigby across the floor though when suddenly the camera zooms, and we see scratch marks.
It’s the return of The Big Bad Wolf. Bigby totally wolfs the **** out. It was AWESOME. We knock the snot out of Ogre and pound and pound until he’s a writhing, crying mess on the floor. To make things even more awesomer (is that even possible!?) we then get the option to either leave him and walk away, or RIP HIS ARM OFF.
Of course, I chose to rip his arm off. This was disgusting. But kind of cool. Mash, mash ‘Q’ ‘Q’, as Bigby, with his super wolfy strength, tears the Ogre’s limb from its socket. The sinews stretch in a graphic scene and eventually pull apart, leaving Bigby holding this guy’s arm. Then he throws it and tells him to fetch. HAHA!
Ripping off people’s arms with one’s bare hands is thirsty work, so Bigby orders a drink from the now very, very quiet bar Ogre lady. He tells her to bill the damage to Crane’s office. Big B is a badass.
Over the din of the armless Ogre’s (armless again, Telltalle Games?) moans in walks one of the Tweedles (no idea which one), who declares as he enters, “A hundred for the guy who tells me where this chick is…” I’m paraphrasing there but he got cut short as the idiot takes in the carnage before him and turns to run. At the same time, seizing his chance with the distraction, the Woodsman is gunning for the backdoor. Our next choice; do we chase Tweedle, or do we chase Woody. Because I think the game is nudging me toward the Woodsman, and because I believe he knows more than he’s letting on and that I’ll no doubt encounter one of the Tweedles again, I plump for Woody. Tweedle escapes but I nab the Woodsman.
Home is where the head is.
Now in cuffs, we frog-march him back to the office. When we reach the corner though, we note the flashing lights of cop cars and a surging crowd outside the apartment building that houses Bigby’s crib and the Fables’ offices. We leave Woody secured to a pole and go in for a closer look. The whole area is cordoned off with that “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape, but we duck underneath and venture inside the grounds. A small crowd of uniformed policemen have gathered at the steps and I think, no, oh no, another one, and as I get closer and the camera finally grants me clarity I see what I’ve been half-expecting, half-dreading.
Snow White’s severed head.
There we have my first experience of The Wolf Among Us, and it was a fun one. It’s not The Walking Dead, but it’s still Telltale, with their excellent writing and engrossing stories. I had no idea what Fables was specifically, but I’m quite keen to find out more now, and I’m even more excited to learn more about this studio’s upcoming projects.
That’s all from me for now, have a heady night, my creatures!* Toad Junior is indeed voiced by the same lady who brought Clementine to life for us.
** Bit of Cockney rhyming slang there for you, see if you can figure out what it means!