Telltale really hit it big with The Walking Dead, didn't they? Enthusiastic reviews, huge sales, game of the year accolades... Even we got on board with the praises, albeit in a bitter, detached, Mojo-like manner.
Fables is in many ways a natural next step for Telltale, what with it too being an award winning series of dark comic-books. I personally haven't read any of them, but might just give them a shot after playing Faith. Is that an indication of how awesome this episode is? In a sense, but then, not quite.
At a first glance, Faith does look a lot like Walking Dead. You've seen the screenshots with the similar style of graphics, and trailers have revealed Walking Dead-esque gameplay. That simplified graphic adventure mechanism paired with Dragon's Lair-style reaction sequences is back, and that makes perfect sense; it worked pretty well in Walking Dead.
Yet Faith is still a little different. It's dark, but with a different tone and setting than Walking Dead. Here we have a semi-surreal noir story where fairytale characters have had to flee to our world, living amongst us, disguised as humans.
You take control of Bigby, formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf. He has been pardoned for his crimes and is now the sheriff of Fableland -- a secretive area of New York City where the titular "fables" live. Most of his job revolves around making sure the fables stay disguised in human form, but things of course quickly takes a turn for the worse. It's hard to go much further into the details, but expect a grizzly murder to set things in motion fairly early on in the game.
I have seen Faith compared to Coen brothers movies, which makes sense, but there's also a Lynchian feel to the game.
That's possibly the most important aspect of Faith: The atmosphere of the world truly is stellar, even a little bit better than what we saw in Walking Dead. The graphics quality has been souped up just a few notches, catching that dark comic look perfectly, flanked by top notch animation. Those who complained about the lack of details in Telltale's early games will be pleasantly surprised by Faith. Posters, street names, shops... You can study these things for minutes at the time, picking out fun little features.
And in case there was any doubt: Jared Emerson-Johnson nails the soundtrack once again. (Then there was no doubt, was there?)
The sum of it all is an immersive world in the style of what we used to see in the old LucasArts games. That's not something Telltale always has mastered, but here they've knocked it out of the park.
Which brings us to the gameplay mechanisms. These had their fair share of ups and downs in Walking Dead but the chasm is even a bit wider here. Sadly.
First, the action sequences's complexity has been turned up to eleven, making them more frustrating than they should be. Now granted, they're somewhat forgiving in the sense that you don't have to be 100% cursor-over-hotspot accurate, but lord... Moving the cursor to the right hotspot at the right time while pressing the right button... It can get infuriating, making it almost feels like Dragon's Lair on crack. (Side-note: This review pertains to the Xbox version; the computer versions might be simpler.)
It's not like there's death at every corner I suppose, but the frustration level is quite a bit higher than it ever was in Walking Dead. That's really too bad, and it gives Faith a black eye it frankly does not deserve.
As for the adventuring part, it starts off very, very (very) slowly. You'll be about an hour into a two and a half hour episode before you see some semi-challenging puzzles. Like with Walking Dead this isn't remotely as hard as the adventure games of the nineties, but you know what? That's OK. We're old now. We're playing these games for the stories, right? No? Maybe? I am actually fine with the simpler puzzles. I just wish they would have showed up earlier in the game.
But, this is a slow-paced game in general. That can be a bit worrisome with any story -- is it a slow, steady build, or is it just slow to the point of being dull? Luckily Faith falls firmly in the former category, and just a little bit of patience will soon pay off big time. Get past a couple of scenes, and you will get a taste of the first grizzly plot-twist slapped in your face.
And that's what really pulls me into this game, that noir feel. The story here is one of intrigue, filled with great dialogue -- and excellent voice acting -- all set in a captivating world. The niggles aren't related to the story at all; they're mostly a case of frustrating action scenes, and a slathering of bugs. Slow load times, occasionally jerky graphics...
Actually, the biggest technical issue is a big one related to the controls: After you click an action on an object, the cursor will jump away from it to another location. Having to move the cursor to pick up an object you just looked at gets old rather quickly.
So there are some ups and downs here, which brings me back to my original assertion. The world of The Wolf Among Us sucked me in to the point that I want more, and I want it now. I'd buy the comics to hold me over while waiting for the next episode. That's awesome. Subjectively I enjoyed Faith more than the first episode of Walking Dead.
Objectively? I'd say Walking Dead held a higher standard in the sense that the action sequences were less frustrating, and there were less technical issues. It was also a more accessible game for the general public, seeing many already were familiar with the TV series.
The Cult of Mojo is, of course, not the general public, and I'm curious to see how Faith resonates with it. I have an inkling the bizarre noir setting might be alluring to many of you. We'll see.
Either way, I liked the game a lot, and I'm excited to see how the series progresses. I think Faith could be the beginning of something very special.