I’ve been playing through Telltale’s A Wolf Among Us, since the first episode was released last fall. After my great experience with The Walking Dead, I was ready to continue my ride on the Telltale train.
A Wolf Among Us is a gorgeous game with the same, heavily-outlined, cell-shaded art as TWD. But it also has some of its own style, with an atmosphere that looks like a cross between Heavy Rain and Vice City. The story (based on the graphic novels Fables), what I’ve seen of it so far, is good. It’s filled with interesting characters and situations. I love the premise of having fairy tale characters living, in secret, in the real world.
The game is usually referred to as an adventure game but in reality it’s more of an interactive story, with quick time events. Ninety percent of the game requires no interaction at all; it’s mostly watching characters interact with each other. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, as the characters are very watchable and the writing is well done. When you do actually get to play the game, it mostly involves walking through a room and examining things, or making dialogue choices (plus the quick time events whenever you end up fighting someone). Really, the formula is identical to TWD. Heavy on narrative, light on game play.
So I’m left wondering… why did I love The Walking Dead, while my experience so far with A Wolf Among Us is only mediocre?
I think part of the problem is the episodic nature of the games. TWD fit into episodes very well. Though they were all part of the larger story about Lee and Clementine, each episode had a logical endpoint which wrapped up the smaller narrative. Episode 1 was about the characters dealing with the initial zombie outbreak and finding a safe (for now) place to stay. Episode 2 dealt with finding another group of survivors on a farm, etc. Episode 4 was the only one that ended with a real cliff-hanger, something that wasn’t wrapped up within the episode. Wolf, on the other hand, is not so neatly broken up. There are no smaller stories; it’s all about Bigby searching for a serial killer within Fabletown. So when an episode ends, I don’t feel as if I’ve really completed anything, I just feel frustrated that I’ll have to wait another 3 months to get the next part of the story.
Time between episodes is also a big problem. Whereas I didn’t start playing TWD until 4 episodes were already out, I’ve been playing Wolf as it’s released. With TWD I felt like a got a solid 8 hour game, followed by a short wait for the finale, while with Wolf the ratio of game time (episodes take about 90 minutes to finish) to waiting time seems insane. My interest level has gone down with each episode.
There’s also a problem with the characters. The Wolf story and characters aren’t gripping me like they should. This is odd, as the atmosphere and story of Wolf are way more appealing to me than TWD on a surface level. But for some reason it’s not grabbing me. With Lee in TWD I felt very close to his character – decisions he (I) made had an effect on me, and how the rest of the characters saw him was important. With Bigby, I’m just an observer. Whether the other characters respect the tactics he uses to get what he needs doesn’t really matter to me, I just want him to solve the mystery. TWD’s decisions felt like moral decisions. Wolf’s feel somewhat less than – is it really immoral for a wolf to rip out someone’s throat? TWD, for me, was a role-playing game. Wolf is a story, and one I could get through much faster if I just read the graphic novels.
Another aspect that makes Wolf feel more like a story than a game to me is that I’m not finding any of the decisions I make or conversations paths I choose make much of a difference. I know that in TWD the ending was set – your decisions didn’t change what ultimately happened; only who was with you in the end, but regardless of that, the choices felt important. I wanted to make decisions that would make Clem strong, so she would survive (side-note: having a child character so prominently featured in the game who I wanted to save rather than knock off was quite a writing feat). I wanted the other characters in my party to trust me. I wanted to save as many people as possible. In Wolf, I don’t feel any of these things. When the text pops up “Toad will remember that,” I think “so?” he’s going to give me the information I need whether or not I backed him up in the previous chapter. Choosing to visit one location over another makes me think I’m going to miss a small scene, but I don’t think it’s impacting the outcome in any meaningful way.
Even the quick time events aren’t as exciting to me. In TWD I was afraid that being slow meant that I (or someone else) would get eaten by a zombie. Wolf’s combat is much more prolonged and there’s a lot of spamming of the A button, which often doesn’t even feel like it’s doing anything. You also need to fail a number of actions before you face any consequence (i.e. death).
To make a long story short (too late), I’m disappointed. TWD was one of my best gaming experiences last year, I got totally immersed in it, and the end left me choking back sobs for a good 10 minutes. Wolf just isn’t doing it for me. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’ll finish the game – hopefully the final chapter will elevate my experience a bit since there will be some closure and no more waiting. Chapter 4 is out next week, so I’ll let you know if it changes my opinion at all.
Have you played both of these games? What do you think?
Footnote: As a life-long inverter of y-axes, I’d really appreciate the ability to do this in future Telltale games. My quick-time responses could be much quicker.