The world of DC/Vertigo’s Fables opens its doors once again to players wishing to dive in and role play as Bigby Wolf in The Wolf Among Us: Smoke and Mirrors. The second chapter of Telltale’s latest adventure game epic is a bit more iterative than the first, building the mystery with steps instead of leaps and giving slight twists instead of head-severing turns.
The overall presentation of graphics and sound are essentially identical to chapter one, so I won’t spend a lot of time on them here. The beauty of the comic book inspired look carries through here, with a couple of new areas and visits to locales from the first chapter alike. Expert voice acting again immerses you in the story as if you were watching a film. It’s easy to sit back and enjoy the performances so much that you forget you’re playing a game, then suddenly having to grab the mouse or controller again for a conversation choice. The one change in this arena I have to note is the music, which was a much more noticeable part of the storytelling in chapter two. Music cues hint at some of the twists you can expect from various characters, and a particular use of music towards the end of the chapter is still haunting my thoughts a day later.
Likewise the gameplay is virtually identical here. There aren’t as many investigative sequences in this chapter, at least it seems, because they’re very seamless. There are only really three times you’ll be point-and-clicking your way through an area, if you play the game in a streamlined fashion. That will get you about an hour and twenty minutes of gameplay (although, admittedly, I skipped an entire optional area to explore, which should make it cap off at about 90-100 minutes for more meticulous players). The controls were tighter than the last go around, with no lag or “confused Bigby” as I liked to call him in the first chapter. It seems any bugs there were completely worked out. Overall, I’d say this one was a little on the easy side – there’s not a particularly high amount of tension to the two physical encounters this go-around – but the entertainment factor comes more from the story.
Picking up directly after the events of episode 1 (with a handy Telltale recap of the major moments and your choices from the first chapter), Smoke and Mirrors sees Bigby Wolf trying to solve a murder mystery, having just been presented with a second murder that looks a lot like the first, but this time is much more personal. It’s hard to talk too much about the particular twists this time around without spoilers, as most of your hour and a half hinge on something that happens in the first 10 minutes. Bigby’s mystery brings him back to the Fables business office, out to a strip club, and to a seedy hotel that holds more than one mystery of its own.
The surprising thing about this story is probably just how twisted it gets, and how much you’re able to empathize with characters that are literally magical, mystical fables. Despite the outrageousness of trolls, black market spells, and chatting up not-so-disney princesses, every step of the story feels like a real and natural progression. It’s like Telltale figured out how to tell a realistic crime thriller like L.A. Confidential while still having you interview a talking Toad and a magic Mirror. Granted, one of the possible twists is telegraphed pretty blatantly early on, but knowing Telltale, I can’t help but think that’s very much on purpose, and just setting up more craziness for the future. The story moves very quickly in this chapter, and pushes you along as you play. Some of those optional explorations are nearly impossible for you to sit and do when you just have to know the next major plot point, which is just down the hall through that door. Thankfully, there’s always playthrough number 2 for that. Be careful with your choices, though - they certainly feel much more important this time around. From deciding who to bring or not bring along for interrogations to going over-the-top or playing it cool when it comes to throwing a little wolfy muscle around, you'll be making several decisions that each carry the weight of what's usually your "one big one" per chapter.
While The Wolf Among Us: Smoke and Mirrors doesn’t have quite the “what the hell” moment that the first chapter of this episodic adventure did, it builds the world and the concept so steadily and expertly that you’ll hardly notice. Like ever recent Telltale game, the absolute worst part about this is when it’s over, and you realize you will have to wait several weeks for more. If that’s their biggest fault, making you desperately want to play the next chapter, then Telltale’s episodic formula is doing things very right. If you were a fan of the first episode, do not hesitate to pick up the second, and start your countdown clock for number three, because the story is just getting started.
Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The Wolf Among Us episode 2: Smoke and Mirrorsis available this week on PC/Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, and iOS.