The Wolf Among Us - Episode 3: A Crooked Mile Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PS Vita, Sony PlayStation 3 and iPad
[Please note - this review contains spoilers for Episodes 1 and 2]
We’re halfway through Telltale’s 1980s New York fairytale, and events are escalating rapidly. If Smoke and Mirrors offered little more than an amuse-bouche to complement the welcome starter of Faith, then A Crooked Mile serves as an ample main to fill out the story in a more satisfying manner.
This latest story focuses on Bigby and Snow’s search for Ichabod Crane, the slimy deputy mayor who we last saw in an incriminating photo with a Snow lookalike - a glamoured Lily - shortly before she lost her head. Tracking down this potential murderer isn’t as easy as it could be, since the scoundrel has smashed the Magic Mirror and left Snow’s librarian monkey Bufkin with one hell of a jigsaw puzzle to solve.
A Crooked Mile wastes no time in getting you on the case, after a poignant funeral for Lily is interrupted, and sets you on a course to track down the elusive mayor. The game gives you a number of paths to take in any order you choose, and although the consequences of the specific order you pick don’t appear to matter as much as the game would have you believe, they do result in a different journey to the ultimate end point. A time element is inserted to instil a sense of urgency, but dissipates the moment you realise that you’re able to do whatever you want, without worrying about making a deadline. This is an unfortunate piece of illusory baggage inherited from the first two episodes, where the pretense of choice - in most cases, but not all - ultimately has little outcome as the final reel plays out.
That said, Adam Hines and Ryan Kaufman’s script brims with both nuance and substance, making this chapter a far deeper experience. Characters who are now well established have been fleshed out from the caricatures they were in danger of becoming. Holly in particular is a stand-out, articulating her grief and the loss of her sister and eliciting sympathy for someone who was previously drawn as a tetchy barkeeper. Bluebeard unfortunately remains a pantomime hard-ass, whose dialogue and delivery is so on the nose that it will make you wince. Thankfully, he is an anomaly in an otherwise richly drawn cast.
As well as old faces, there are some important new additions to the cast this time around. As you run Bigby through the usual procession of signposted environmental investigations and conversation choices on your search for Crane, the sense of urgency around the hunt builds up to an interesting denouement which introduces not one, but two major antagonists. After two chapters of chasing shadows, the appearance (of sorts) of a potential Big Bad feels like excellent timing, and serves to sustain our interest for the upcoming chapters. Certainly, Bigby has never felt as vulnerable up to this point, and whilst the quick time events offer little other than button-bashing this time around, the realisation that the character you’re playing may not be an invincible uber-detective after all makes us curious to see how he will approach this new nemesis.
The aesthetic hasn’t changed much from Smoke and Mirrors, which is far from a criticism. Indeed, the combination of cel-shading and neon-blasted architecture remains as fresh as before and the camera swoops and dives around as if held by a wannabe David Fincher, adding an element of cinematic flair to the ninety minute running time. Accompanied by punchy electronic beats, there is an appropriately Eighties feel permeating proceedings which somehow manages to feel at home with the fantastical subject matter.
We also get the answers to some dangling threads, dependent on which choices you made in earlier episodes. Woody has mellowed into a far more sympathetic character, and his reasons for his previous actions make a lot more sense now. Conversely, Snow appears to be drifting further away from Bigby, unsure of how much she wants to be around a barely corked bottle of pure rage.
At this point, it’s nice to see Telltale playing around with the elements which have become staples of their gaming history. A neat twist on “Character X will remember that” appears during a memorable bar scene, whilst the ending serves up a final decision which could have significant repercussions for Bigby’s morality. Technical glitches which plagued the first game, and the second to a lesser extent, are not as abundant here. On both Xbox 360 and PS3 the main bugbear was the loading times between scenes, but the graphical hiccups have all but been eliminated. It also helps that this chapter was released in half the time of its predecessor, meaning that characters should have remained relatively fresh in the player’s mind when they come to boot up.
A Crooked Mile continues the Fabletown tale in fine form, elevating it above the weaker second chapter and putting it on a par with the first. We have high hopes for a Whedonesque ramp-up to the ultimate showdown in the finale, and if Telltale can sustain the much-improved characterisation, it has the potential to be a corker. Anyone looking for a head-scratcher or even a modicum of challenge won’t be sated here - there are zero puzzles to solve and the QTE element is barely even acknowledged until the end. Then again, they’d be missing the point. This is pure interactive storytelling, and if you’re reading this then it’s highly likely you’ve played the first two chapters and have already made the decision to buy this one. It won’t be one you regret.