After a long break the wolf is finally back among us. The second episode, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, is another solid instalment in this promising series, that takes the story in interesting directions even if it doesn’t match up to its predecessor. It’s a tad on the short side, and is much less eventful than the series’ debut, but what is there is highly enjoyable and very well done.
Once again, the best bit of the Wolf Among Us is the atmosphere. There’s a consistent tone to the whole episode which feels authentic to the characters and the setting. The world of the Wolf Among Us is pretty grim, it’s a universe where fairy tale characters exist but they exist in the seedy underbelly of 80’s New York. It’s not a happy place to be and there’s a consistent somber and desperate mood to everything that makes for an effective Noir setting.
This Noir setting makes the Wolf Among Us completely enthralling. It’s a borrowed universe (based on the long running fables series of comics), so it’s unsurprising that it feels very complete and fleshed out. However, Telltale should still be commended for bringing this world to life so effectively. So many games have shown that a good license doesn’t equal a good product, and a well fleshed out universe in the source material doesn’t always reflect in the game. The fables universe in Wolf Among Us is fascinating and feels fully fleshed out, which is a testament to the quality of the writing and design on this product.
Though it’s a licensed product, the story the Wolf Among Us is telling is completely original. It’s Telltale’s take on the franchise, and their take is excellent. ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ follows on directly from the first episode, continuing the story of Bigby the wolf’s investigation into the murder of a fable. ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ sends the sheriff further down the rabbit hole of this brutal crime, offering up new information and opening up further questions.
Episode one was an excellent opening to the story arc, it got things off to a flying start by quickly establishing the mood and introducing you to the world and the characters in a compelling way. Episode two is a continuation, and there’s much less to do here. It’s becoming clear that the series is going to be one grand story arc, meaning that subsequent episodes will be middle steps up until the conclusion. This makes them somewhat less exciting than the bookending episodes, but ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ shows that you can still make a middle chapter very compelling.
‘Smoke and Mirrors’ doesn’t progress things hugely, but this feels wholly appropriate. This is a slow moving and moody series where you want the time to soak things in and let things build up. The characters are interesting enough that you want to spend as much time as you can in their company, and the slow build of the Wolf Among Us works out perfectly. This episode introduces a couple of new interesting characters, has one or two stand out moments and continues the story in a satisfying way. There's not as much action as in episode one, and the action moments don't match up to the original episode's best, but there's a lot else to like.
One real detraction though is a feeling that not that much happens, episode two puts the story in a good place by the end of it, but it's a small step to a big revelation. Things come to a close earlier than you would think, and though the cliff-hanger ending is really well executed - its reveal comes a touch too early. After almost four months of waiting the episode just feels a bit too slight. What is in it is good, but it will leave you wanting more and somewhat unsatisfied.
However, a lot of the first episode's strengths carry over excellently. The visual presentation and art design is still fantastic, and the characters from the game's debut continue to impress. The standout is Bigby, as his character conflict plays excellently into the gameplay. This episode gives you a few opportunities to really unleash the wolf, lose composure and do the bad violent things you're known for. What makes these segments work is that there's always somewhat of a choice to keep the wolf caged, and this gameplay choice speaks perfectly to the character. You do get a sense that you are fighting against an animal instinct, as your options tie perfectly to how Bigby would react. In the more intense moments there's usually a choice of violent action or restraint, and this binary choice actually suits the character. This is complimented even further by the length of these scenes. One scene will give you multiple chances to cause some destruction or just stay calm, this keeps going on and every time the violent option pops up it feels more tempting. These moments really shine, however there is one slight miss-step in a combat scenario where you have to be more violent than you would like to be. You can practice restraint to a large extent, but at one point you have to fight back or get a game over. This is because the resulting violence gives a catalyst for the story to move on, but this set piece diminishes the feeling of role-playing a man keeping his inner monster at bay (especially when fighting back doesn't feel like the best thing to do).
'Smoke and Mirrors' doesn't match up to the previous episode in terms of content, or the quality of its content, but it's still another great instalment. It's a touch short but it puts the series in a really interesting place going forward. It's another show that telltale have a reverence and understanding for this universe, and that they know how to craft stories in it. The writing is top notch, the atmosphere is incredible and the gameplay is consistently fun. It's nothing intricate or complicated, but the pace never drops and adventure game tropes never pop in to irritate you. It all serves as an excellent way to tell an interesting story and it's well worth your time.