The Wolf Among Us: Smoke and Mirrors sees Bigby wolf entering the world of vice and black market Glamour, but does it stack up to the strong season opener? VG247’s Dave Cook offers his impressions.
It’s slightly ironic that Bigby Wolf has been entrusted with protecting the residents of Fabletown. Most of the fairytale characters dwelling in New York either despise every fibre of his being or at worst, want to see him killed, yet he’s the one they all turn to if they need help. Hypocrisy and oppression are so expertly weaved into the fabric of TellTale’s story that it made the series première ‘Faith’ a compelling piece of entertainment.
On one hand you have the Fables themselves; old fairytale characters once cherished by humanity for centuries, now hustling on street corners or whoring themselves out to pay for their next Glamour dose. There’s a real sense of sadness bleeding through every frame that burrows under the skin and drags the player down with it. Things simply get worse in this new episode; ‘Smoke and Mirrors.’
I’m going to start talking in LIGHT SPOILERS here; which is unavoidable given how ‘story-rich’ this series is. Stop reading now if you don’t want the plot ruined. Seriously.
At the end of ‘Faith’ Bigby was starting to piece together the movements of a serial killer in Fabletown while dealing with some pretty serious anger management issues. When investigative words failed players had the option to use violence to get what they wanted, often at a price. For example; the moment where TJ sees Bigby slapping around Mr. Toad was one of those ‘oh shit’ moments where you wish you could take back your actions. This is what TellTale does so well.
But ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ lacks these painful moral junction points – save for one tough decision that I won’t ruin here. There is, however, more scope to play the passive detective rather than a violent anti-hero. One scene sees Bigby investigating Fabletown’s vice ring by hitting its source; Georgie Porgie’s ‘Pudding & Pie’ strip joint. You can either trash the joint or quietly threaten the foul-mouthed Georgie for ages until he snaps. Such peaceful resolutions are hard-fought, but come with a greater sense of achievement.
This also plays into Bigby’s character progression as well. Back in Faith we saw him take a step away from anger and violence under the encouragement of Snow White, and it’s advice that has stuck with him in Smoke and Mirrors. Ultimately, this means there’s less fight scenes and more discussion, but the plot sees several dangling threads connected, starting with the autopsy of a hooker’s Glamoured body. It’s grim stuff; recalling some of L.A. Noire’s more gruesome investigations as you pry open the corpse’s locked knuckles to see what they’re holding.
Gamers who haven’t read the Fables graphic novels will start to get a better handle on the rules of Fabletown, and the grim reality of the streets. Beauty makes something of a come-back to help Bigby in a particularly chilling investigation, and it helps solidify just how maladjusted the Fables are as they attempt to adapt to the ‘Mundy’ way of life. They’re fish out of water, slowly tearing apart a world they don’t fully understand.
Smoke and Mirrors still does a great job of cementing this theme, but it’s shorter than Faith, lacking the same punch of that opening Woodsman scrap, and the grim revelation of its closing bar scene. You get the sense that Bigby is putting his mad bastardry behind him, but that it’s still in there, ready to bubble to the top and cause a lot of casualties. It’s going to be one hell of an explosion though, that much is clear.
I’m chalking the slower pace of this episode up to exposition; because it can’t all be action and stuff getting smashed up. There needs to be substance and if anything, Smoke and Mirrors helps flesh out the series’ starring character; Fabletown itself. We’re starting to see more of its seedy underbelly and the lengths its inhabitants are willing to go in order to survive. There’s even a brewing sub-plot about a black market Glamour trade rising to the surface. It’s dark, gripping but unfortunately a little on the slow side this time.
However, the episode’s crescendo builds up to the possible identity of Fabletown’s notorious serial killer and the revelation hits you in the gut after the lull before it. It’s a big reveal that allowed me to overlook the lethargic moments preceding it, but you might not feel the same. I’m still invested; that’s for sure.
Either way; the wait for episode three has just become rather brutal after seeing that ending. I’d like to tell you who Fabletown’s warped killer is, but as Georgie’s girls keep on saying, “these lips are sealed”.
Disclosure: to assist in writing this piece, TellTale Games sent Dave a Steam code for The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 – Smoke and Mirrors.