The Wolf Among Us - Episode 4: In Sheep's Clothing Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Apple Mac, PC, Sony PS Vita, Sony PlayStation 3, iPad, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
[Please note - this review may contain spoilers for Episodes 1 - 3]
Bigby’s in a bad way. After a run-in with Bloody Mary at the end of A Crooked Mile, he’s lost Crane and taken a bullet for his troubles - silver, naturally - which has laid him up. Oh, and his arm has been snapped. Fortunately, Snow has again enlisted Doctor Swineheart’s services, who soon has him back on the trail of The Crooked Man faster than you can mutter “Wolverine” under your breath. It isn’t totally without interaction though, and this scene mirrors that of Clem’s stitching “minigame” in an earlier Walking Dead episode - consider that a warning.
So begins the penultimate episode of The Wolf Among Us, a series which has flirted with greatness but has thus far been frustratingly uneven with its narrative threads and uneasy mix of exposition and action; something which the superior Walking Dead managed to balance out. Whilst there are some interesting reveals in this fourth chapter, In Sheep’s Clothing offers more of the same, with a significant focus on dialogue - it’s possibly Telltale’s most verbose instalment to date.
The key tasks at hand are two-fold: recover the shard of Magic Mirror stolen by Crane in order to restore it to its former divining glory, and use it to track down the Crooked Man. The little mermaid Nerissa could possibly help, except a curse has stopped her from revealing too much - and what is the link between this particular curse and the deaths of Faith and Lily? There are plenty of loose ends to tie up, which this chapter does a reasonable job of doing.
Amongst the bone-snapping savagery, there are some wonderful moments to be found: the choreography of Bigby’s fight with a new antagonist is almost balletic, a wander through a meat locker in search of a lead instils a sense of apprehension which hasn’t been felt until now, and even as the events to date begin to take their toll on Bigby, his resolve has hardened to form a character that you really root for. It’s fair to say that In Sheep’s Clothing is the episode which finally had us caring - not only about Mr. Wolf, but about his companions.
There are parallels to be drawn between Bigby’s plight and the other residents of Fabletown. Beauty and Beast’s arc takes an interesting turn which lays bare their motivations and somewhat unsavoury personalities. This episode gives you a glimpse of the seedy underbelly of the Fables’ lives, their forced placement in a land not their own, and their desperate attempts to cling to their idyllic past. As they try to build an analog of the world they came from in the world they now inhabit, Beauty and Beast’s struggle to adapt resonates with Bigby’s barely restrained descent into uncontrolled rage, and the writing subtly emphasises the comparisons. Shades of grey are what make the best Telltale games work well, so it’s nice to finally see some nuance with these characters, even if it does highlight what has been lacking in the series. A splurge of colour on a number of crudely drawn characters this late in the day highlights the dearth of decent characterisation for the main players until now.
There are also nice interactions between Bigby and everyone’s favourite living bacon, Colin. His refusal to adhere to mundy form has him marked down for a trip to The Farm, and he isn’t alone. Toad also makes an appearance and events seem to be shaping up to some sort of revolt against the barriers put in place by the Fables, against the Fables. Hints of Orwellian angst abound, and whilst it’s unlikely that they will take any sort of significant form for the finale - which is shaping up to be a standard good vs. evil trope - there are plenty of opportunities to develop this thread in a future season.
Unfortunately, whilst the writing provides some interesting twists, In Sheep’s Clothing feels like the most stagnant episode to date in terms of the overall plot. Very little happens in barely ninety minutes to progress the story - in fact, aside from the last scene, you’ll struggle to recall anything of import about what actually happened. Gameplay itself is also stifled, even more so than normal for this type of game. One forked decision about the order of a location visit is the most input you’ll provide into Bigby’s journey here, with very little impact to be felt from any of the branching conversations you’ll engage in. It feels like a resounding step backwards for The Wolf Among Us on the back of the promising direction which A Crooked Mile felt like it was taking.
The music, graphics and voice-acting are all stellar, as you would expect by now from a Telltale production. The new locations are interesting enough, and there are enough recurring characters making a reappearance to sate fans of both previous episodes and the Fables comic-book series alike. However, the meat of the game is lacking in flavour, with even the obligatory quick time events offering little in the way of excitement from an interactive standpoint, as flashy and technically accomplished as they may be.
The dilemma with this genre from a development perspective is making a game which fulfils the obligations of driving narrative whilst simultaneously offering choice - or at least the illusion of choice - to promote player agency in the face of an obviously planned endgame. The quality comes from making that illusion appear seamless and making those choices feel like they count, even if they are ultimately window dressing in the larger plot. This is where the episode falls down, with muted conversational branches that rarely make you wonder if an alternative choice would have lead to a different conclusion - at times it seemed that your decisions felt at odds to the reaction of the character you were talking to, resulting in an unsatisfactory experience overall.
Exposition-heavy, yet light on actual plot development, In Sheep’s Clothing is perhaps the weakest episode of The Wolf Among Us to date. That said, it redeems itself in the closing moments with one of the coolest fade-to-blacks seen in an interactive story to date. With the promise of a final epic confrontation on the cards, there may yet be time to determine whether the series’ storyline does enough to justify its existence, or if it’s another unfortunate case of mutton dressed as lamb.