Do they beat us because they love us? Are we in some bizarre Lifetime movie where Telltale is our abusive alcoholic spouse? I just don't know anymore…
One thing was the four months it took them to get this second episode of The Wolf Among Us out the door; another was the still ongoing Xbox debacle. Now, you can claim the latter isn't Telltale's fault, and I guess it isn't per se, but the company's lack of communication throughout has been downright embarrassing.
So why, Telltale, do you hate us so much for loving you?
That's the thing, really. The second episode of The Wolf Among Us, “Smoke & Mirrors,” is once again a truly excellent episode. It should have been released months ago, of course, and it's way too short (more about that in a bit), but the writing… The writing is stellar. You know you're in for something good when you see Dave Grossman's name sail past in the credits as lead writer, and his work, alongside the rest of the Telltale crew, does not disappoint.
Over the last few months I have dug into the Fables comics -- get them digitally from Comixology -- which gave me a newfound respect of how well “Faith” captured the source material. This is again the case with “Smoke & Mirrors,” with its neo-noir like feel and memorable fairy-tale characters.
Particularly the relationship between Toad and his son, TJ, is heartwarming, much in the same way as Clem and Lee's was in The Walking Dead. (Yes, I have a heart, damn it.) And Fables staples new to The Wolf Among Us, like Bluebeard and Jack, adds even more to a palette consisting of colorful characters. It's a lot of fun to see how your choices as Bigby can make these fables interact with each other.
And while I didn't see too many consequences of my actions from the previous episode, I have a feeling these might come back to play in future chapters. Or so I hope.
Which brings us to a myriad of small issues with this episode. None are showstoppers, but they are annoying in the sense that they are stark distractions.
See, I find the atmosphere here to be quite something. The use of lighting and animations, backed by the haunting soundtrack, it all pulls you into the world. Or at least it does until things slow down into jerky camera pans that perfectly ruin the moment. (This is the 360 version, for what it's worth.) It really is too bad these kind of issues made their way into the game; it's that famous lack of Telltale polish that should have been a thing of the past by now.
Probably more of a letdown for some is the length of the game. You can easily get through the episode in an hour and a half, even while interacting with anything you can find on screen. I mean, there's literally one puzzle in the whole game, and it will take you around twenty seconds to solve it.
I don't necessarily mind the whole move from traditional adventuring to more of an interactive movie style of a game -- and I don't mean the mid-90's style here -- but there needs to be a bit more to see and do for it to really work. Going through huge episodes might not be something I'm really longing for, mind you, but just a little more would have gone a long way.
For what is here is excellent. Anything from the thoughtful dialogues to getting into fights at strip clubs: it makes the world feel as real as a world like this can be.
Being slapped around by Telltale into a woefully short game should make me bitter, yet I can't quite bring myself to get into any kind of outrage over “Smoke & Mirrors.” This is a really well written game, and exploring its world is a lot of fun. One can also argue that you should play through the game at least twice to see the differences choices in the previous episode made. (In this case, not many, mind you.)
Hopefully this will just be a short chapter in a longer saga. As it stands, The Wolf Among Us is turning into something that, for me, overshadows The Walking Dead, and something that potentially could be up there with Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse as Telltale's best game.
So, please stop beating us, Telltale. All we are guilty of is loving you.