The ride to the end of Telltale Games’ compelling adaptation of Fables does justice to the series’ high caliber of storytelling.
It’s a credit to the entire five-episode arc’s treatment of player choice that a great deal of your emotionally charged decisions come back to alter the conversations and events of “Cry Wolf” in unpredictable ways. I came into “Cry Wolf” expecting contrived, black-and-white choices between justice and vengeance–Snow’s been the white-knight foil to Bigby’s dark brood since Day One. Instead, some of the finale’s most impactful decisions–like the one that outright determines, with some variance, how your story ends–asked me to finish defining Bigby’s complex personality, which I’ve been building all along.
To me, the ultimate escapism allowed by video games is a chance to explore the ramifications (outlandish or realistic) of hypothetical decisions. I’ll never find myself with the power to decide life or death for an accused. But given a chance, like what The Wolf Among Us offers, to weigh evidence, speculation, and realities, make an imperfect decision, and watch the aftermath play out, you get riveting moments–made more so here by the thoughtful, far-from-binary way Fabletown reacts to your choice.
Make no mistake: Fabletown is a character in its own right, for the setting of The Wolf Among Us drips with personality imbued by its rich colors, eccentric characters, and corruption that oozes from every seedy corner. Fabletown creates villains by necessity, perhaps to even greater degrees than series antagonist the Crooked Man himself. Living in our world in secret, on the dregs of a cramped New York neighborhood, is hard. By this episode’s (and the series’) end, we see outwardly innocuous people driven to the worst by the town’s culture, scarce resources, economy, and social ladder.
But the people and the way they’re written really sell both the narrative and its emphasis on grey morality. I was surprised to hear about half of the episode’s cast sympathize with my choice in the episode’s climax. I came to terms with this choice in the moments before I made it, but it still felt a bit left-field, like the radical options I tend to avoid in other games. And yet, some Fables agreed with me, vouching for and praising my actions while the opposing side touted strong, but similarly flawed, counterpoints. None of us were truly right here, but that’s the whole point–choices that greatly affect the people around us aren’t easy. All we can do is make our best judgment with the information we’re given and acknowledge the flawed humanity that will never allow us to be perfect, wholly objective arbiters.
I come to realize that Bigby has been something of a metaphor for the imperfection of choice when forced to make one. Time and time again, he is placed in situations that demand either violent or peacekeeping action. “Cry Wolf” speaks to the inherent pros and cons of each path louder than any prior episode. Events in the episode’s first half elegantly prep you for the ultimate choice, ramping up to the big moment with smaller, less impactful decisions that hinge on the same theme. By the time that big moment came, my mind was well made up and I was able to make my choice, mindful of its flaws, without a second’s hesitation.
To me, that’s what this series and its abundance of choices are saying: for each of us, there is only ever ONE choice: the one we were going to make all along. What’s invigorating and fulfilling, about The Wolf Among Us and life, are what we learn about ourselves and others in the reality that comes after. Never has a Telltale protagonist been so responsive to the whims of players and the qualms of fellow characters. As such, Bigby is a highly effective conduit for the player, a mirror of our own morality, and an excellent vehicle for the game’s message: the perfect choice does not exist, but we can make a "best" choice and have faith in it.
At times when “Cry Wolf” deviates from the storytelling, and for one overly long, contrived fight sequence in particular, all impact is lost. These sequences are slogs through action for action’s sake. QTEs have worked well for short bursts of urgency in the past, but extended fights highlight how detached from the physicality of the moment many of the engine’s mainstay prompts feel. The trademark glitches of Telltale Tool on PS3 have a devastating compound effect. They’re obnoxious in their own right, breaking immersion with long loads, stuttering audio, and poor framerate, but action-packed gameplay fares even worse. Some stutters actually interfered with my ability to hit prompts or move the reticle to a designated spot on time. I would try to move the reticle or press a button to no avail, or wait to see a prompt only to fail the moment because by the time rendering caught up, the moment had passed. Either necessary optimizations weren’t made for the platform, or the PS3 hardware simply can’t cope. Regardless, for the first time in Telltale’s episodic history, the technical problems were enough to significantly affect my overall experience.
The storytelling isn’t perfect, either. Bloody Mary, teased as a worthy adversary to Bigby with an enigmatic Episode 3 reveal, turns out to be a wasted character with very little depth or intrigue. In fact, she’s mostly a token inclusion to validate the aforementioned combat sequences. Meanwhile, an unfortunate cliffhanger wraps the story on a confusing note. I’m not alone on the internet for having no earthly idea what the rushed ending and its associated audio cues were implying about a character’s true nature, but it was a deflating way to end an otherwise stellar, thorough, and satisfying resolution.
Indeed, from beginning to end, and with "Cry Wolf" especially, The Wolf Among Us is a well-told, well-paced story dripping with vibrant, interesting characters and senses of place and atmosphere almost unmatched in video games. The entire series is absolutely worth your time on these merits alone; a captivating comic book aesthetic and memorable, haunting music are icing. Periodically, its gameplay ambitions are too much for the controls and engine to handle. These moments struck at my positive feelings throughout, but minutes later, I was always pulled back into one of recent gaming’s best murder mysteries. “Cry Wolf” is an exceptional wrap to that tale.