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The Wolf Among Us Episode 1: Faith | Review

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When I was a kid I used to wonder if fairy tales were real; sometimes wondering that if they were real, where were they hiding? Many years later as an adult, Telltale games has given me an interesting answer. In The Wolf Among Us, the fairy tale characters of old are still around and living in a New York City block known as Fabletown. Based in a prequel setting to Bill Willingham’s Fables Comics, The Wolf Among Us is a film noir-esque take on everyone’s favorite childhood characters.

In The Wolf Among Us, I’ve run into quite a few familiar (yet different) faces from the stories I was told as a child. The main protagonist is the Fabletown Sheriff, known as Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf). Having turned over a new leaf from being the troublemaker in his past, Bigby now does his best to keep the peace in Fabletown.

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His job isn’t as simple as it may seem at first though. The many characters in Fabletown, in order to blend in with the rest of the New York populace, must by law wear special spells known as Glamors to make them appear to be a Mundie (Human). However good Glamors can be expensive, meaning that many characters must go without and have to be sent to an area known as the Farm. One of Bigby’s many jobs as the Town Sheriff is to make sure that this law is obeyed. It is this kind of work that Bigby is up to when we first meet him. He receives a call from Mister Toad (The Wind in the Willows) asking for him to come investigate a disturbance on the second floor of a slum apartment building that he is the superintendent of. Upon arrival Bigby can investigate the disturbance, or before he does that he can berate Mister Toad for being out in the open without wearing his Glamor. It serves as a great introduction to Bigby and shows us the grungy world that these characters live in, which is a far step from the fairy tales we are used to.

The story is very well written and I found myself playing from start to finish without breaks and without noticing the passage of time. Apparently, I was so engrossed in the details of this amazing fantasy-in-reality world that I didn’t even notice my pizza delivery had arrived until my wife handed me a slice. The dialogue was really great too, going from funny, to dark, to sincere and back again. All the characters are very well acted, making each of the characters feel alive and like they all had something to lose if the plot didn’t work out in their favor. Now without travelling too far into spoiler territory, the plot leads to a series of events involving multiple murders that are some of the first Fabletown had seen in a long time. Wolf teams up with the Mayors Assistant, Snow White to try to track down the killer.

Similar in style and narrative as Telltale’s The Walking Dead game series, the story in The Wolf Among Us is told based on the choices you make, and the consequences of those decisions. There are many points in the game where you’ll have to chose one thing or another. In my playthrough, one of these choices that I had to make, led to the death of a very important lead, leaving Bigby to figure out the puzzle based on evidence alone instead of by talking to the recently deceased. This will also port over to the following episodes. At the end of my playthrough, I was treated to a preview trailer of the next episode, tailored to my choices I’d made, and already I could see the consequences taking effect, such as characters being hostile to Bigby because I chose to lie to them or someone being terrified because I let a suspected killer roam free in favor of arresting a different suspect.

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The gameplay is similar to Telltale’s The Walking Dead Game as well. The character of Bixby is determined by how you act in the game. As in the Walking Dead, you can walk around your environment and interact with items and people of interest. When in conversation with other characters, you must select dialogue based on a four menu options, usually with a 10 second timer. Once you’ve made your decision, the game will often tell you what effect your choice has or how the person you are talking to perceives you, which will likely impact how they treat you down the road.

A gameplay feature I wasn’t prepared for was some pretty swift quicktime action moments. Now I know that the Walking Dead had some quicktime action sequences but they are not nearly as fast or as intense as these are. In one instance, I was attacked by a character in the game and suddenly had to respond very quickly to quicktime events using the WADS and Q keys and well as some precision mouse clicking. Once I got the hang on it, I found myself looking forward to these moments in game as they really helped me feel immersed in the action. As you play through the game and encounter characters from Fables, you will unlock entries that give a back story about who they were and how they came to be in Fabletown. It’s a really neat feature that feels like the icing on the cake of an already detailed story.

As with any game however, The Wolf Among Us does have its flaws. The character animations are greatly improved since The Walking Dead, but they still seem very stiff in comparison to other games on the market. The frame rate also slows down in some areas where it should be smooth. At one point, Bigby was walking towards his apartment building and the FPS just inexplicably and randomly dropped making his movements look like a really fast slideshow. I’m running a pretty decent gaming computer too so I was a little confused as to why this was happening. It wasn’t enough to jar me out of the game but it was a little distracting.

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Don’t let these minor hiccups deter you though. The Wolf Among Us is a great game that takes me back to my childhood and then violently rips me back into reality, dragging some beloved characters out with me. It is an interesting take on old childhood stories while giving a fresh take on the modern crime thriller. Telltale has outdone themselves once again with this game and with more episodes promised in the future, this is one game I will be keeping my eyes on.

Review copy supplied by TellTale Games. Thank you!

(Reviewed on PC)

ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE

Story – 10/10

Gameplay/Design – 9/10

Visuals – 8/10

Sound – 9/10

Lasting Appeal – 8.5/10

_______________________

Overall – 9/10

(Not an average)

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac

Developer: TellTale Games

Publisher: TellTale Games

Simon Squire lives in Nova Scotia Canada and is a member of the Canadian Army. He is a lifelong gamer, and proud owner of an Xbox One, a PS3 and a decent laptop for computer gaming.
Feel free to check out his Blog where he occasionally touches on life as a parent of a child with Autism and where he highlights stories of other special kids at http://g-monkey.livejournal.com/
You can also follow him on twitter @efcfrost or zap him a message on PSN or Xbox Live where his handles for both systems is FallenRAVEN47

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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