The penultimate episode of Telltale Games’ Fables adaptation gives players more chances than ever to decide what kind of person Bigby Wolf has become. That’s because nearly every conversation involves characters who have something to gain or lose from the big reveal of The Crooked Man, the series’ now-established main antagonist. He’s a clandestine crime lord, pulling all the strings though never seen or heard. My favorite faces–Toad, Snow White, and the Woodsman, especially–are suitably afraid and know things are about to reach a climax. Some have conflicting favors to ask of Bigby before the inevitable showdown, while others know well enough to just say their piece and get the heck out of dodge. Either way, I found myself making tough decisions about how to treat people in what very well could be my last interactions with them. Each decision of whose side to take and whose needs to be favored felt more and more urgent as the episode rocketed toward its all-too-quick conclusion, a cliffhanger ending that twists Telltale’s episodic conventions but left me wanting more.
Purely as a story, "In Sheep’s Clothing" is better than The Wolf Among Us has ever been. With most important characters firmly introduced, established, and contextualized next to Bigby, there’s nothing standing in the way of these characters playing off each other in a dizzying race to the finale. With each location visited, Bigby’s time remaining to find the Crooked Man dwindled. Each interrogation feels more urgent than the last, and the temptation to use violence against resistant accomplices has never felt higher. How you treat people in your desperate search for the man pulling all the strings doesn’t have much consequence in this episode; you still get where you’re going regardless. But I expect a few key treatments will come back to help or bite Bigby in Episode 5–especially the pivotal choice that dropped curtains on Episode 4.
There was ample opportunity to continue shaping Bigby into the character I wanted him to be, something that marks Telltale’s adventures as exceptional games for the role-playing inclined. In moment-to-moment gameplay, your choices are far less interesting. I still love the trend of giving Bigby two or more places to choose between exploring next in his investigations, but the areas themselves are incredibly linear. Objects to investigate are abound, and a few are optional, but there’s always one (or all) that triggers the next cutscene, with no chance for discovery in-between. Between recent developments with both this series and The Walking Dead, Telltale has made clear that it’s not interested in puzzles or having players build things anymore. The events of "In Sheep’s Clothing" are compelling and the gripping effect more powerful than ever. But I never felt like I was causing and pushing along those events myself, only participating in them.
One other complaint I could leverage against an otherwise outstanding episode is that we don’t get any time with Bloody Mary. Her introduction was a heart-stopping way to end Episode 3, and the promise of her antagonism had me excited for how her actions would tempt me to bring out the worst in Bigby. Those conflicts of character never came, but at least the Episode 5 teaser hints at serious face time with the unhinged villain. She’s still the series’ most intriguing, threatening wild card, more so than the Crooked Man himself.
Granted, there was less time than ever to squeeze her in–roughly 70 minutes, by my count. But I don’t think it’s useful to consider the length of each episode as an individual value proposition. Whether an episode is 70 minutes or three hours usually has no bearing on its narrative quality, and you’re really paying $20-25 for an eight- or nine-hour adventure in five parts. And it’s a highly polished adventure, besides. Environments are richly detailed and colored with graphic-novel contrast. The soundtrack’s soft noir vibes gave me a subtle unease that underscores the episode’s flow of intensity. Even the hitchy transitions between cutscenes and out of loads are (mostly) gone. From a technical standpoint, Telltale is on top of its game.
All this marks "In Sheep’s Clothing" as The Wolf Among Us’ best episode yet. Bigby’s race against time is interactive storytelling at its finest, if not highly player-dependent. But a dynamic adventure game is not what The Wolf Among Us is trying to be. I’m just along for the ride, but on this tightly controlled roller coaster, I can be any Bigby I want to be. In such a meticulously detailed, compelling world, that’s a beautiful thing.