The second episode of The Wolf Among Us is called “Smoke and Mirrors,” a title more fitting for Telltale’s pointless The Walking Dead series. With choices that actually matter, The Wolf Among Us fully reveals its superiority to Walking Dead.
Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us was trashy stuff, but it hinted at redemption through moral judgment. Episode 2 makes good on this promise and allows you to either confirm Bigby Wolf’s bad reputation or create a decent cop in a corrupt world. This choice of narrative is much more compelling and fair than the “Whoya gonna save or kill?” routine in The Walking Dead, where you’re either picking favorites or likely to feel bad no matter what you do.
Finally, Telltale’s post-game statistics reveal some insight: this latest episode of The Wolf Among Us has compelled gamers to consider the possibilities of a non-violent, considerate approach. Games like Fallout also allow such consideration, but very often one’s morality in games can be defined by the material rewards of good or bad behavior rather than by principles. With no need to worry about experience points or equipment, the moral rewards of The Wolf Among Us feel less materialistic. Compare this also to the on-cue hopelessness of The Walking Dead, the gimmicky moral stances in Knights of the Old Republic, and the lack of free will in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Perhaps The Wolf Among Us has the most sophisticated understanding of moral choice in gaming.
The game still has issues. I suppose Telltale will never give up its dumb quick-time fight sequences, though Episode 1 was worse in this regard. Glitchy loading makes a return. The art continues to suffer from rigid lines and heavy inking (for example, the wrinkles in Bigby’s shirt look like weird ridges on his back). The tone is as trashy as it was in the first game: the Little Mermaid as a full-blown sex worker is more tasteless wallowing in victimization and misogyny (not to mention dull as dishwater compared to her character in the Disney movie). And the Beauty and the Beast subplot could be the basis for a new reality television show: Dumbass Marriages.
But all in all, The Wolf Among Us could’ve been far more careless and made money anyway. Rather than relying on eerie style or trendy nihilism and violence, The Wolf Among Us seems intent on exploring player empathy and politics. Like Episode 1 and its hints of redemption, Episode 2 touches on class differences. Maybe Telltale could be the Samuel Fuller or Abel Ferrara of video games: trash with substance.