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The Wolf Among Us Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors | Review

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Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Xbox 360, PS3, IOS and PS Vita
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Rating: M (ESRB), M (ACB), 18 (PEGI)

So, after months of waiting, Episode Two of The Wolf Among us is finally here. I’ve spent the last hour or so playing it and all I have to say is…wow. Things sure escalated quickly, but man was that short!

For those of you who played Episode One of The Wolf Among Us, you’ll recall that our hero, Bigby Wolf, was tracking down suspects for a particularly nasty murder. Unfortunately, by the end of the previous episode, we ended up having more questions than answers. Thankfully things are a little bit clearer now, but there are plenty of questions that need answering, but we’ll leave that for a later date. First, we’ll get the obvious out of the way. As per Telltale Games’ usual methods, the storytelling in The Wolf Among Us Episode Two is fantastic. We played it start to finish in one go; no bathroom breaks, no snacks or anything. The episode is roughly an hour long but it answers plenty of questions that the previous instalment brought up.

Unfortunately, I can’t reveal too much about the story without spoiling it, but what I can tell you is that Bigby ends up finding connections from the prior murders to a missing persons case. This leads Bigby from a seedy bar, to a strip club, and ultimately, to an equally seedy motel where we finally get some solid information on what has been going on in Fabletown. I know this isn’t much to go on, but the story is definitely worth looking into, especially if you intend to go back and play again with different choices.

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One thing that Telltale Games is known for is episodic content that tells a strong story with plenty of choices for the player to make, along with the ability to interact with the world around you to get more information on the overall lore of the universe you are playing in. The first episode of The Wolf Among Us was filled with plenty of interactions all over every area and really made us feel like part of what was going on. The second episode…not so much. There were fewer interaction options in the areas, in fact for the most part the interactions were limited to less than ten in most instances, aside from the very end. There was very little action as well. We know action isn’t a priority in Telltale Games, but it just seemed like there was so much more going on in the previous episode.

Throughout Episode Two, there’s only one major confrontation and the rest is just interrogations where you can play the role of good or bad cop. All together for this episode, we felt more like an observer who occasionally tells Bigby how to treat people. And, as a side note, the consequences of the previous episode are already starting to show in Smoke and Mirrors which always makes things interesting.

Interacting with other characters is one thing that, as always, is quite entertaining. The interface is simple. When prompted, Bigby will have the option of up to four choices: positive, neutral, angry and sometimes humor, accompanying this is some terrific voice acting from the entire Wolf Among Us cast. Not once did the voices of the characters come off as sounding not quite right or awkward, and it’s quickly becoming one of our favourite examples of voice acting in video games today — in particular, Chuck Kourouklis for his top notch portrayal of Mister Toad.

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In terms of graphics, The Wolf Among Us continues its trend of terrific cell shaded goodness. Just like in The Walking Dead series, Telltale managed to create a game that looked like it came right off the pages of the popular graphic novels it’s based on. Everything looks like it’s lovingly drawn by hand before being plastered onto the character models. Unfortunately, that’s where Telltale Games is still working out the kinks. Don’t get me wrong, the character models look great and really fit the overall design of the world that Telltale Games is placing us in, however, the models are still very stiff and don’t always seem to move right, and the lip syncing seemed off during most of our playthrough.

So, is The Wolf Among Us Episode Two worth the months that we’ve been waiting to return to Fabletown? Yes and no, and here’s why. The episode is really short, there’s not much in terms of interaction compared to the previous episode and the character models are still a bit stiff. On the plus side, the story really moves along this time: player choices are starting to show their affects on the overall story arc, the voice acting is solid and the art style is something right out of the Fable comics that the series is based on. For those who have already bought a season pass for The Wolf Among Us, if you care about the story and want to know what happens next, Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors is a great, though a little short, continuation of the story.

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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