Episode one of The Wolf Among Us was packed to the gills with content, character, action, and subtext. It ended on the kind of cliffhanger TV shows sometimes spend years earning, and Telltale Games managed to pull it off in less than two hours. Despite a holy mountain of accolades, even before the independent digital publisher hit mainstream pay dirt with The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us felt like a series with something to prove. Episode two, Smoke and Mirrors, picks up minutes after the previous installment, and settles into something more procedural, which doesn’t necessarily make it any lesser of an experience, but there’s a feeling of “on with the show” that requires a mild tempering of expectations more than anything else.
The opening scene is as close to the constant tension of Faith as it gets. Whoever the player decided to take down in Holly’s bar in the last episode is being held for interrogation. It can and will turn ugly, but how ugly is up to the player, and the game has the good sense to keep it out of Grand Theft Auto V Azerbaijani pliers-and-a-blowtorch torture mission territory. From there, it’s all investigation all the time, and Telltale’s older style of adventure gaming from the Sam & Max days peeks out again. There are items you may miss, puzzles to solve, more questioning to perform, all draped in a layer of perfect urban grit.
The through line carrying over from episode one has more to do with both the character of Bigby, who’s now given more chance than ever to let his Fable flag fly. Given what we know about how the old timers in Fabletown perceive their sheriff, deciding to play good cop or bad cop has far-reaching consequences on the tone of every conversation you have going forward, and it’s a hard tightrope to walk, especially faced with the (in)human ugliness of the murder at the core of this episode. The true challenge here isn’t in whether one can solve a puzzle to proceed, but in the player finding the inner strength to not completely lose their cool at the interrogation or the game’s complete scumbag version of Georgie Porgie. You don’t fail if you do, but the game’s timbre definitely changes, and not necessarily for the better as far as Bigby’s life is concerned.
Fabletown’s sense of loss and dread is far more palpable the more we learn about episode one’s second victim, and as fast as it takes for the word to spread around, the game calls its next shots, and the final picture that closes the episode is unsettling in every way. The world of The Wolf Among Us is headed into some distressing times, and Smoke and Mirrors’s greatest success is in giving the player a lot more license in where to steer its future, as well as dragging them kicking and screaming into something even more tonally murky than Faith let on.
The Wolf Among Us Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors is now available from Telltale Games.