What if fairy tales were real? What if wolves and demons and talking mice walked right up to the counter at the grocery store and swiped their milk across the scanners just like you do? What if your jerk neighbour who screams like a boar every time he fights with his wife actually was a boar?
Well then you'd probably be dreaming about (or playing, I guess) The Wolf Among Us, Telltale Games' latest comic-styled-and-inspired game. It's the video game version of Bill Willingham's Fables comics, where creatures based on fables and folklore attempt to hide their appearances from the "mundane" humans. Forced from their homes, their titles and fortunes stripped from them, all they can do now is avoid being caught. Avoid getting sent to the ominous Farm. If you can't manage to fit in, that's where you go.
You play as Bigby Wolf, whose responsibility it is to see to it that the Fable residents of New York City aren't misbehaving. That they aren't exposed as more than just a normal, two-legged human being. His haggard appearance is more than just a representation of the wolf inside of him; he also wears his stresses and bad habits in those wrinkles and dark circles.
Picking up the controller to play as this Bigby at PAX Prime, the first thing I do is confront the toad that's called me over for a disturbance a few floors up. I decide through dialogue options to hassle him about his appearance. He's putting his nomenclature -- Mr Toad -- to good use and it's been drawing some attention. Get the meds or get out, I tell him. I don't have the time or patience to coddle him about it either, I decide.
As I approach the top floor, I can already hear the commotion. I kick the door down and burst in on the ongoing argument to drop a few snarky lines before I'm preparing for a round of fisticuffs with the big bald guy. It's clear the big brute I'm about to go up against has some history with me. I guess he beat me in a fight before this or something. He goes by the name Woodsman.
If you were thinking that The Wolf Among Us sounds a lot like The Walking Dead — what with the art style, point-and-click narrative and dialogue-heavy gameplay -- you're not wrong. But based on my short 20 minutes or so with the game, it's obvious Telltale wants to give players a bit more control than just choosing how dismissive or empathetic you want to be. While I'm fighting, I can decide to throw this guy into a desk or onto the spring-exposed bed frame. I'm alternating tapping buttons repeatedly to punch the hell out of the Woodsman, and swiping the joystick side to side to avoid his hits. It still feels quick timey, but it certainly adds a sense of urgency in the heat of the moment.
After a lengthy yet successful fight in which I break this bastard's jaw, I turn to the woman he was arguing with. She's tight-lipped about the whole thing and I suspect she's not fully innocent in this situation either. I'm careful in choosing my words -- which is about the biggest impact you can have on a game like this -- while trying to connect the story together. She won't say much. Something about how she wanted something that was hers, to which the Woodsman replied by spitting blood while attempting to make any sound other than a mumble through his shifted jaw.
Fight's not over yet though. After shoving his jaw back into place, the big guy gets up and our tussle begins anew, finally ending with a fall on top of Mr Toad's car out on the street below. The Woodsman is strangling me as my eyes turn yellow and he's egging me on to change forms. I'm just about to sprout hairs when my new lady friend smacks the Woodsman in the head with an enchanted axe and... demo over.
It was a very small slice of a very thick world full of social struggles and internal wars and dynamics based on a segregated world. Even if you're not familiar with Fables, it's a universe that instantly pulls you in. It's based on creatures you've at least heard about, all thrown in a "what if" situation. What if your local sheriff was the Big Bad Wolf? What if you didn't have enough money to spend on a concealing glamour to cover up creature-like features? What if your life turned upside down?
The Wolf Among Us will eventually come out on PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3.