I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, fretting over a decision made late the night before. Had I really made the right choice? Months from now when I had to revisit the direction I took, would I look back and wish I'd gone right when I went left. Could I have protected those people that were counting on me better? And what happened at the end - was it all my fault?
Of course, this thankfully wasn't me worrying about something that happened to me personally. No, it was me waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the choices I made in a video game. This is something very few developers and even fewer games can do to me, and it's something that The Wolf Among Us from Telltale managed to do with my very first go-around with the game.
After winning basically every "Game of the Year" award with the downloadable episodic game based on The Walking Dead in 2012, expectations for Telltale's next point-and-click adventure based on a comic book were high. Unfortunately, I don't think they could have been high enough. The Wolf Among Us differs from TWD in that it uses established characters from the comic book it came from, Fables, rather than new chararcters in an expanded world the way the first game did. For fans of the comic book series, this means you'll be instantly pulled in; knowing you're playing the lives of characters you already know and love (but twenty years before the comic starts) gives an instant connection that can't be bought. The fact that the dialogue stays so true to creator Bill Willingham makes the characters truly come to life. From now on, when I read Fables I will hear the voice cast of The Wolf Among Us, and that's about the highest praise I can give to an adaptation.
For fans of Telltale, they'll find an accessible game with essentially the same controls as TWD, as well as a similar aesthetic, and the simultaneously dreaded and vaunted choice system. Every choice you make in the game, from your dialogue choices to actual events that make you choose to go after one character or another as you continue to unwind a developing mystery, gets remembered by the characters you interact with and changes the way the game plays out. The choices are timed, making you work much more off instinct, and that helps to reveal something about you the player, as much as it reveals possibilities for the characters, from Bigby Wolf (Yes, he's the Big Bad Wolf of all those stories), the character you control directly, to other famous Fables like Snow White, Ichabod Crane, and the Woodsman. Video games that reveal something new about yourself to yourself are a special experience, a true art form, and Telltale has it down to a science. The Wolf Among Us, with a two-hour episode, has already become something unique to video games that way. And if you're not a Fables fan yet, be prepared to hit comiXology or your local comic shop the second you're done playing this first episode and spend a lot of money on trades or hardcovers.
The story is accessible and rich, the characters have an incredible amount of emotional resonance and humanity (despite some being literally animals), and the gameplay helps it all unfold at just the right pace. There are some tiny control issues the occasionally crop up when you're just walking around exploring and looking for clues, but they're not so bad that they'll ever take you out of the game. If you can point, click, and hit five keys on the keyboard in timed moments, you'll be able to handle the game. The accessibility doesn't stop there, as the animation beautifully brings drawings that could be directly off a comic book page to life, and a stellar voice cast helps attach the aforementioned humanity to these larger-than-life characters.
The Wolf Among Us has started almost impossibly strong with Episode 1. A cliffhanger (naturally) closes this one out in such a way that only this gif of David Tennant as The Doctor repeatedly saying "What?" can express (especially for fans of the comic). Minor control issues aside, this is everything I could want out of a Fables game, everything I could want out of a point-and-click adventure, and does things I rarely get out of video games, period. The Wolf Among Us, like The Walking Dead before it, is an absolute must-play for gamers of all stripes. I cannot wait for Episode 2.
The Wolf Among Us is available worldwide Friday, October 11, 2013 for PC and Xbox 360 at $4.99 for the first episode (or a discounted rate for the season pass to automatically get future episodes), and for PlayStation 3 in North America on Tuesday, October 15, 2013. PS3 Europe/worldwide launch dates to be determined.