Review: The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4
By Nick Olsen
The Wolf Among Us is Telltale Games’ latest episodic adventure and follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Walking Dead. The game is based on the Fables comic book series created by Bill Willingham, in which a group of fairy tale and folklore creatures reside in an area of Manhattan known as Fabletown and (mostly) take the form of humans to blend in. To take human form they must use a magical substance known as “glamour.” Any creature who is unable, or refuses to blend in is sent to “the Farm” in upstate New York as punishment. The creatures are policed by Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf), whom we play as.
Because the game is being released in episodes, the review will updated with each release. A copy of The Wolf Among Us was provided for review. Warning, out of necessity, this review will contain certain spoilers. Here’s our review of Episode 1: Faith, Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors and Episode 3: A Crooked Mile.
Episode 4: In Sheep’s Clothing
In Episode 9 of the Theory of Gaming Podcast, we discussed how The Wolf Among Us Episode 3 was an emotional pinnacle, leaving broke barriers and crossed lines in it’s wake. For better or worse, a series of events pushed me to the brink, and when I broke, I realized that Telltale had transformed me into Bigby Wolf. Here’s what I wrote in my review of Episode 3 about my transformation:
“A surprise to me, I decided to kill him; not because I had reached Bigby’s breaking point, but because I had reached my own. Of course by now, while I hadn’t yet realized it, they had become the same thing. No, in real life I wouldn’t advocate ripping anyone’s throat out, but when the scene was over, it became obvious to me that I had become Bigby Wolf, and damnit, I’d had enough of the bullshit being dished out in Fabletown.“
Of course, when the pinnacle comes in the middle episode of a series, questions naturally arise about what comes next. Would Telltale be able to sustain the action, interest and emotional investment in the final two episodes? For Episode 4 at least, the answer is no. But I’m OK with that, as honestly, I needed the breather.
A time for reflection
After an episode which left me emotionally spent, it was a welcome relief to dial back the intensity a bit and take stock of who I, Bigby Wolf, had become and what my role would be in the world of Fabletown moving forward. I had crossed a line I vowed that I would not cross – I had killed a Fable by ripping his throat out in the heat of battle. I had been brutalized physically and I knew I would take an emotional batter from the altruistic Snow White for my actions.
In fact, Episode 4 opens with this exact scenario. As soon as my severe wounds were treated by the doctor, and Snow White expressed her care for me, our violent actions were at the center of a philosophical tug of war between Snow White, Bigby’s boss and love interest, and Collin, a friend and member of the three little pigs clan. The debate serves as a period of reflection for the player to examine their actions (in this case, ripping out a Fable’s throat) and a chance to sort out what type of enforcer they will be moving forward. Siding with Snow provides a moral high ground but limits Bigby’s effectiveness by limiting his violent tendencies. Siding with Collin leaves hyper-violence in Bigby’s tool box, but muddies the line between the good guys and the bad guys. This decision sets the tone for the player moving forward and helps to re-establish which lines the player will be willing to cross in the face of mounting odds.
In his review of The Walking Dead: Episode 3, author Josh Snyder faced a similar moment, and came to realize the value of these moments of reflection:
“It didn’t occur to me until about three-quarters of the way through the episode that this story progressed slowly on purpose. Not only do the characters get some time to breath, but the player gets a mental break. I knew I hated Carver, but that doesn’t take much focus or concentration to sustain. But it was clear that the characters, and myself included, still had to work out the tragedy that happened at the ski lodge in episode two. Being given that opportunity almost feels like a gift we don’t deserve, which says plenty of how bleak this world has become.”
Episode 4: In Sheep’s Clothing follows a similar path as its Telltale brethren, spending the episode deliberately pacing the story, and giving the player a chance to reacclimate, and Bibgy’s body a chance to heal. With the exception of a fight in a pawn shop with Jersey Devil, most of the episode is spent talking to Fables and attempting to gather the clues necessary to unraveling the mystery that is The Crooked Man. Interestingly, even the brawl with Jersey Devil is mellow by the standards of The Wolf Among Us, as for the first time Bigby is assisted in battle, curiously by his long-time enemy The Woodsman. With the assist, the fight never seems in doubt, even though Jersey Devil is an unnerving monster, even by the standards of Fabletown.
It’s all but disappeared
Episodes 1 and 2 left me wondering about the potential impact a sea of female-targeted violence would have. Episode 3 shifted the power dynamic by introducing Bloody Mary as an aggressor. But in Episode 4, both elements are conspicuously absent. Of course the murders, victims and Bloody Mary are constantly referenced, and it’s obvious that Telltale is building to a major conflict between Bigby and Mary, but for a brief moment we’re given a respite from both hyper-violence against and hyper-violent women.
The combination of debating which lines Bigby will cross in his pursuit, and the building drama of the showdown between Bigby and Bloody Mary, intuitively draws the player’s attention to a potentially toxic questions: in a world littered with female-focused brutality, can Bigby resolve this conflict without adding to it? Where does the player draw the line if he can’t? And if Bloody Mary is as ruthless as she’s believed to be, should her gender even matter?
At the end of my review of Episode 3, I said the following:
“But regardless, the hyper violence against women in previous entries, combined with my emotional merger with Bigby, has me a little tentative about what is likely to be an intense moment. But at this point, Telltale has earned my trust, and so I’ll continue to put my faith in their storytelling hands.”
To this point, Telltale has no doubt proven their worth as story craftsmen, but they’ve painted themselves, and by extension the player, into a potentially very uncomfortable corner, and I have to admit that I’m already feeling a little skittish about the fifth and final episode. I suppose it’s a testament to the world that Telltale has built, that even after a full episode of reflection and a reprieve from the brutality that tensions are still running high. While I’m curious to see how Telltale handles the resolution, my trepidation is equally abundant.