The Wolf Among Us - Episode 5: Cry Wolf
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Apple Mac, PC, Sony PlayStation 3, iPad, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
(Warning - Spoilers for the previous four episodes of The Wolf Among Us may lie within...)
Oh Telltale, you tricksy devils. You teased us with the possibility of a finale to remember at the end of In Sheep’s Clothing, but we couldn’t have even attempted to predict the way things would turn out in this final chapter. Like the best rug-pulling moments in films most memorable because of those twists, Cry Wolf assumes the mantle of saviour of The Wolf Among Us, escalating it from a good game to a great one and making you question exactly what you’ve been playing over the previous seven hours.
Let’s backtrack a little. We last left Bigby in the den of The Crooked Man, nonchalantly lighting up a Huff ‘n’ Puff whilst facing off against his nemesis and other assorted antagonists from the previous chapters. Cry Wolf starts up exactly where we left off, and like the best Bond bad guys, the Crooked Man is a bit of a talker. This is where the comparison ends though, as in the Crooked Man Telltale have crafted a wonderfully complex character whose calm reasoning and assured logic flesh out what could easily have been another cartoonish caricature of a villain. The fact that his impact is so great despite appearing in only one episode (discounting what is essentially a cameo in the last episode) is testament to both the character’s writing and Philip Banks’ superior voice acting, which lends a hypnotic quality to the Crooked Man’s timbre.
Things escalate quickly, and a series of spectacular setpieces pepper the finale as we’re re-acquainted with pretty much every enemy Bigby has made to date. The chase and fight sequences are simply superb, ranging from a mass brawl to a frenetic car chase. The highlight of the QTE-riddled scenes is without doubt the much-anticipated showdown with Bloody Mary in a metalworks, who undergoes a truly terrifying transformation which is among the most disturbing seen in a Telltale game yet. The ensuing battle channels equal parts Silent Hill and The Matrix in an elaborate and inventive use of both camera angles and lore. This encounter undoubtedly deserves a place in the list of all-time great boss fights - and this in a point-and-click, of all genres.
Given that this is the final chapter, expectations were high that the outstanding plot threads would be tied up. Cry Wolf doesn’t disappoint, delivering a barnstorming array of callbacks to choices made in previous episodes and making those choices count at a crucial point in the game. In a genuinely tense scene where Bigby attempts to justify his actions to half of Fabletown, your past deeds or misdeeds are held up as examples of your nature and judgement in a manner not unlike Chrono Trigger’s trial, forcing you to recall the way that you have played Bigby throughout and making you account for your actions. All of those decisions which felt so throwaway at the time resonate here, for better or worse.
The morality of the series has always been its highlight, and no more so than here. On numerous occasions, you’ll question the motivations of your companions, your enemies and even yourself. When you find yourself agreeing with some of the arguments of your opponent - especially within the context of the moral framework that you have imbued Bigby with - you know you’re playing something special. As one character succinctly puts it: "You know, you're not as bad as everyone says." Or are you? Thematically, this has been the crux of the game’s core, even more so than in The Walking Dead, and could easily be applied not just to Bigby, but to the entire cast.
Whilst the artwork and music are as strong as they have ever been in this episode, the glitches inherent throughout The Wolf Among Us are still present: the jerky scene transitions; the inexorable loading times; the infrequently staccato QTEs. However, this time, the main criticisms are aimed at Telltale’s editing. One major example is during a car chase where you have to make a decision around which of the antagonists’ cars to jump onto. The choice you make here significantly affects whether you get to see a hugely important piece of the next scene. Choose wrongly, and you’ll enter three-quarters of the way through the same scene, but with no idea of why events have transpired in the manner they have. Unlike previous episodes where big choices often led to events occurring in a different order, or some superficial but ultimately unimportant dialogue or action being carried out, here it’s different. The game simply penalises you for making the wrong decision in a situation where you have no idea what the “correct” choice is, and that penalty is to miss out on some key story elements. It’s infuriating, unfair, but most of all odd, as if you’re being punished on the developer’s whim and almost being forced to replay the episode again just to understand the implications. For an interactive story, this is almost unforgivable. Furthermore, a couple of key characters who have been around since the beginning, have been excised - the fate of one of these was handled in an optional piece of dialogue in the previous chapter which isn’t touched upon here, so if you missed that scene, you’ll be scratching your head. It would have been preferable if this had been catered for in the same manner as other choices, but their absence doesn’t harm the story as much as it could have done.
Fortunately, the cunningly concealed ace up Telltale’s sleeve is the denouement, a staggeringly audacious climax which will either offer huge rewards to the patiently observant, or completely infuriate those players who want the narrative’s purpose and meaning spelled out in glowing neon. Without going into any kind of detail, it’s sufficient to say that it’s the kind of jaw-dropping bombshell which, after you allow sufficient time to reflect on its impact, can only lead you to applaud the writers’ combination of brazenness and craftsmanship. The clues were all there in plain sight from the beginning, and as the semi-cryptic reveal festers in your cogitating brain, your immediate response is to replay the entire series again.
Whilst the season as a whole has been an uneven hotchpotch, Telltale were clearly playing the long game. The fantastical nature of the characters juxtaposed with eighties’ New York might jar with those unfamiliar with the source material, but those willing to look past the fairytale neon will be rewarded with a mature story of murder, corruption and a look into the very nature of being human, from the perspective of a character who is still learning. It may have stumbled on occasion, but as Cry Wolf interlaces the straggling parts of what has come before, Telltale have once again given a lesson to writers of other story-driven games in how an ending should be done. If that isn’t enough to recommend this episode - and indeed, the series - then nothing will be.