The Wolf Among Us: Episode Two- Smoke and Mirrors Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Back in October (I know! It’s been that long already!) I reviewed the first episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us- an episodic game/story release based on the world of Bill Willingham’s Fables comics. You can find that particular review here. Like most people, I had some generally positive things to say about the game, and I tried my best not to ruin the story for prospective players as I went about my review, culminating in a pretty good score of an 8.5/10. Since it’s been a little while, allow me to mention a few of the things I enjoyed about the first episode, before moving onto the current one and the focus of this particular review.

Seeing the Fables world in action and living and breathing off of the paper is fantastic, even if it is a sort of new setting (or rather older one, what with the 1980s and such). Graphics wise, the same art style as The Walking Dead is made use of here, albeit with a decidedly more diverse arrangement of colors and a less grim setting- despite the story being pretty grim itself. Both the voice work and background music set the tone for the story and are played perfectly, both emotionally and harmonically. The controls are a step up from TWD’s first season of mixed controllability, and  the action is easier to get into because of the tweaking to controls.

Now, let’s start with the particular project at hand- Episode Two: Smoke and Mirrors. Although it is true that this episode has received more critical feedback than the first episode’s wide acceptance, and that I am also giving a lower score than my first review, Smoke and Mirrors is still a solid continuation of The Wolf Among Us’ story. Seeing as the first episode gave us a taste of what was to come and hinted at things we can only begin to speculate about, it seems only fair that (as annoying as it still is) Smoke and Mirrors begs more questions than it answers as well. While the full extent of our choices and consequences are yet to be seen and fully recognized, I do think that there will be some answers coming soon…hopefully in episodes three and four, before the conclusion.

Episode Two’s strongest point and biggest concern is its characters. It introduces several new characters altogether, builds upon the foundations set for ones from the first episode, and even brings back several others we didn’t think we’d be seeing again (*spoilers!). As you continue your investigation into the Fable-murdering maniac and his/her case, the world is opened up more than ever to you, and you should definitely start taking advantage of the time to find more details that enrich the story further. Even better, you’ll continually question who is on your side and who is trying to undermine your investigation, especially in a Game of Thrones kind of way- where not all legendarily or allegedly good characters are “good” anymore, and bad are bad (as well).

It is continually intriguing to see how the world of folklore and reality mix in a very dark way- from the gritty reality of making ends meet, Fables being forced into labor or prostitution, and several greedy figures actually profiting from it all. Trust me, there’s certainly a moral or two in here somewhere. As with any society, there’s as much a class and caste system mentality as there is an ‘American Dream’ and making ends meet one. There’s just more of an emphasis on the bad in this gritty noir fable. While many may complain about the lack of substance to some of the introduced characters, I’m pretty sure most of them will be further fleshed out in the coming episodes, and I actually enjoy the air of mystery attributed to some others as well.

Several familiar faces (from folklore) make appearances as well as familiar faces from the first episode- depending on who survived and what events transpired as well. Of the many characters tossed about in the sea of fables, Ichabod Crane is given the majority of the spotlight in terms of character appreciation, and is fleshed out a lot more- though a big conspiracy of sorts now holds his morality in question, adding yet another curve ball of a spiraling plot point to the mix. It’s certainly an interesting new twist, and I look forward to seeing similar ones with other characters- both already introduced and not yet met.

Compared to the several action sequences of the previous episode, Smoke and Mirrors’ gameplay is more nonexistent, as there is a decidedly larger focus on storytelling this time around- which I am perfectly fine with. It may be interesting to have periodic and episodic breaks in the action, such as every other episode- making Episodes 1, 3, and 5 more action-packed and 2 and 4 more thematic, so to speak. But that’s just a thought. One thing that is interesting, and I would consider bad taste if it were to continue (though I wouldn’t quarter Telltale for doing so, as it is well within the bounds of their choice), is the fact that this episode doesn’t feature many (any) ‘tough’, game-changing decisions. As in those slow-time left and right choices (of which there were two or three in the last episode).

This is not to say that your decisions in the first episode didn’t matter, as many of the smaller ones are played out (or at least hinted at), and characters will react appropriately to how you treated them. However, the larger decisions have repercussions not yet fully realized, and are therefore probably going to be more overarching than their counterparts that have already begun to be resolved. As miniscule as this episode’s decisions were and the resolving of one or two of the first episode’s decisions, there were some major ‘revelations’ (one in particular) that left me eagerly anticipating episode three.

Though it wasn’t in any way too difficult to discover crime scene clues in the previous episode, you could still miss one or more key clues and have the story progress quite differently than intended. However, in this second episode, it seems as if the already pretty simple point, click, and discover method of detective work has been simplified further. Though there was a larger emphasis on story, I am still more than a little disappointed that everything seems just so obviously one way or another, instead of there still being at least a little air of mystery in the first episode.

For all that it continues to do and refrains from doing, Smoke and Mirrors does have one new item of interest to bring to the table: relationships with characters. Through interrogative questioning and friendly gesturing, you can improve or destroy your relationship with certain characters- breaking the established friend/foe norms in the process. At almost every turn, there are opportunities to improve your standings with characters such as Blue Beard, Beauty, and Beast among others- depending on previous decisions and how you’ve handled things.

While some of the decisions associated with the whole ‘relationships’ concept are more of the moral choices provided in the first episode, there are numerous that seem semi obvious (in result) and you can almost feel the direction Telltale thinks most players will take. Of course, what they weren’t counting on was the fact that sometimes I’d purposely do the opposite just to see what dire result would occur in part because of my cynical Bigby Wolf’s decisions. He he he. While the repetition of such mundane decision-making can be taxing and downright annoying, several decisions shine and make the experience more believable and more evolved past the first episode’s choices alone, adding more to the story as a result.

Sure, Episode Two could’ve been a little bit more fleshed out in a few key aspects, however it hasn’t been overly detrimental to the established precedence of One, and is an excellent continuation of the story and universe Telltale has crafted it in. Just as the previous episode ended mysteriously, so to does this one- albeit with less bloodshed, at least at that time. Despite its lack of content action-wise and length-wise, I think this adds some more flavor to the story, and it should be interesting to see the further culmination of Bigby’s decisions in the coming episodes (hopefully sooner than the time it took to release this one).

Concept: Continue where the story and gameplay of episode one left off, in pursuit of the Fabletown Murderer who has yet to be apprehended.

Graphics: This episode is certainly scenically darker than the last, and the cell shaded art style works excellently as before.

Sound: Once again, the music sets the scene(s), and the voice acting- though familiar thanks to recurring voices from multiple characters across the TWD and TWAU game series’, is as phenomenal and captivating as before.

Playability: There is certainly less action in this installment, so that portion of the gameplay- short though it is, works like a charm as before. The point and click exploration and simple controls continue to please as well.

Entertainment: I’m definitely excited to see the story continue to unfold, and the whole ‘no holds barred’ mentality with both characters and revelations is truly keeping me on my toes and my head spinning to take in every new possible angle. If things keep up like this, we should have some more interesting cliffhangers ahead as well.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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