With a powerful opening on its belt, the expectations for The Wolf Among Us’ “Smoke and Mirrors” is rolling on a higher grade of storytelling for its second episode. As a licensed product of a comic series, the notion is doubled, which makes the meandering of the follow-up chapter appear to be more of a drop than it deserves to be seen.
It retains quality narrative, using both magical and realistic horrors, but it doesn’t take that skill anywhere, due to open writing. It’s close, but unlike all the detective’s smoking in this game, there is no cigar. Well, technically there is one.
Set in the Fables franchise of fairy tales living in the real world, the story follows Bigby, who is the Big Bad Wolf appointed to keep peace in the underground world of mythical creatures. Luckily, the job is easier when every character is disguised as a person.
Still, this humanity also invites the beings to be trapped in the seedy belly of mankind’s grimier actions. As such, this police work comes with crime investigations, visits to prostitution rings and so on. It’s not a fairy tale anymore.
Visuals reflect the best of both worlds. While models are kept self-colored and splattered in cel-shaded outlines to retain a comic book look, its saturation is doused mostly in neon. These intrusive colors both flare artificial lighting necessary to depict the surrounding void and jab at the focus to set in a certain uneasiness through their presence. It’s an eye sore, one needed to retain the harsh reality of the unwelcoming environment.
Barring that, the metropolis where this takes place usually runs through graffiti-stained walls, heavily littered roads and so on. An idyllic forest, it is not.
This world is real and that’s obvious once too often, certainly when pure characters get dethroned in the plot. It’s fitting, but ever so heartbreaking not to feel the same radiance for an idol, as they once possessed.
Through plentiful extended talks, more of this eerie vibe is laid out. As a detective, topics aren’t exactly going to be cheerful.
There is humor in the typical gruff remarks, but the undertone always has death in its breath. Social calls are rare, making everyone’s cadence shift once the Big Bad Wolf enters a scene. With old frenemies, this can be quite poignant. There’s nothing like a clear, hostile threat to make a greeting.
Aside from the bedaubed husky pitches, characters do portray a distinct personality through their excellent voice work. It’s overplayed in instances, but narrative uses a noir style and some tension requires the speech to do all the lead in, so it also doesn’t feel excessive.
Atmosphere is fully locked in by pinpointing the need for minimal background sounds or the clear omission of them isolating the event.
In full, The Wolf Among Us is mostly a setting first and only in minor instances an interactive affair. It’s this minimal interaction that also makes the impact of commitments more meaningful. There’s a clear line as to where the direction is taking the story. It’s its shaping that is up to volition, and that’s a big swerve.
For the most part, it’s possible to play the role through conversations. Each prompt gives a set of options from righteous to evil or distant, accompanied by a set timer.
This urgency makes choices a tougher balance, as there isn’t time to frame a scene just right. Decisions need to be made and that instantly, before things turn sour. Sometimes, this quick thinking will pay off and other times it will blow up, just like in the real world.
Plenty of actions also come with lasting consequences, resonating through several of the game’s episodic adventure even. Some people may recall earlier times, more so depending on how extremely they were acted out.
As the continuation of a previous chapter, this second serving leans heavily on the setup. Old acquaintances are immediately familiarized and stay the course of where they were mentally. There are a ton of personas to introduce in this investigation, so it can leave a shallow impression on some.
New characters liven up the story, as they require a recalibration in dynamic. There is no clear one-two progress in dialogue here; it’s all valid until their mindset is framed. With the sordid cast Bigby has to meet, this can lead to some highly entertaining tension, both comical and intense.
It’s these heightened acts that make the game inside. These are the pinpointed moments where the wrong decision will completely break the intention put behind it. A wrong move and a comforting one-liner can crush a creature and ruin the wanted impression forever.
Moreover, even triggers with clear prompts can subtly be swayed and that’s a leniency not many games have for their set pieces. It’s the player’s choice. It may continue the story with or without a click of the button, but it won’t unfold the same.
Again; consequences last in The Wolf Among Us. In particular, this episode does well to remind onlookers time and again that, despite its magical theme, evil is brutally real and pervasive. It destroys even the things that are still tangible.
It’s depressing and draining, but within the satisfaction of obtaining awareness. Yes, it’s hard to deal with, but it’s necessary. That connection it creates with the downtrodden; that’s what will have players yearning to know more; to do more.
Unfortunately, this pie doesn’t get its cherry on top, as the conclusion is set on an open-ended cliffhanger, where there are now more questions and no resolution to the previous events. It’s the worst kind of dangling carrot, where all that ambiguity of before is left wide open, making the people involved look more inconsequential.
Rather than scenes now having their place, they are just something that happened. Some vagueness is appreciated, but there needs to be a tightly knit plot around it, and this particular chapter doesn’t cash in on that at all. It’s an off-target swing that just feels like a passing between episodes.
There will be some lasting appeal to episode 2, Smoke and Mirrors, of The Wolf Among Us. It will have or do a unique thing that will be remembered here or there.
It won’t, however, create a craving in a reminiscent way. With the open ending leading to confusion, the third serving now becomes mandatory. It’s still a stellar story filled with meaningful interaction, but one that’s in-between bigger arcs.