Last year, Telltale Games did what many people thought would be impossible: they took the smash hit comic book The Walking Dead, and turned it into a point and click adventure game. It was a real triumph in video game storytelling, with much of the game contingent on conversation and player choices. But more than that, it channeled pure emotion into the hands of the gamer, and plenty of jaded, cynical naysayers were moved to tears while playing. On top of that, the game was released in an episodic format, although you can purchase the complete experience as one whole package now. Of course, the game came at a perfect time, with the white hot Walking Dead television show on AMC, which in turn spurred sales of the comic book and created an appetite for this game.
But based on the show and many issues of the comic, you would expect that the game would be Sheriff Rick’s Zombie Shooting Gallery, not a tearjerking piece driven by the characters. In fact, the game focused on new characters, without a Rick, Daryl, or Shane in sight, as it is set while Rick is in a coma. You will see several familiar faces, but what Telltale drives home is that this is not Rick’s story. There are plenty of other survivors out there, along with their own stories to tell, and the game went against the odds and blew everyone away in the process. If you haven’t played it yet, I highly recommend picking it up. You can get the entire series for under $30, and Telltale has DLC for the game called 400 Days coming out, and is already hard at work on season two.
But fresh on the heels of this game, which won plenty of “Game of the Year” accolades, Telltale has also been working on an adaptation of Bill Willingham’s Vertigo comic book series, Fables. Entitled The Wolf Among Us and set before the events of the comic book series (which you can jump into nicely with the first graphic novel, Fables: Legends in Exile), the game follows a similar path to The Walking Dead with an episodic release, and should be available later this year.
You will play protagonist Bigby Wolf (aka – the Big Bad Wolf) in the role of the sheriff of Fabletown, and this past weekend at PAX Prime in Seattle, I was able to play the game for the first time inside of a film noir themed, cartoonish booth built to resemble a dreary building in downtown NYC, complete with slapped on adverts and pink neon signs. The only thing missing was a lonely saxophone solo and some Humphrey Bogart narration.
In case you haven’t picked up a single issue of Fables (in which case: what is wrong with you?!), the premise is fairly simple. The characters of the fairy tale world have been driven out by someone mysteriously known as the Adversary, and they have fled to our world as refugees of fiction, yet very alive in our reality. The comic book series itself later explores who this Adversary is and the roots behind the conflict, but the game is concerned with the Fables living among us, with the a humanoid Wolf living among them. The Fables (as the characters are called) who look like us live in an area of New York City referred to as “Fabletown,” while those who look like animals are confined to an area in upstate New York known as “The Farm.” In Fabletown, Sheriff Bigby Wolf tries to keep order while maintaining his human form and keeping the Fables out of sight of the mundanes or “mundies” as regular folk are known.
That’s where you enter the game, trudging through NYC and struggling to maintain order among the Fables. As the story opens, you’ve been called to check out a domestic disturbance inside an apartment building by Mr. Toad. But Toad himself comes under scrutiny, as he is allowing himself to be seen in public and that doesn’t sit well with Bigby. He encourages him to visit a witch and get a glamour so as to appear human, but Toad in turn tells Bigby that the cost would bleed him and his family dry. You’re directing this entire conversation, and based on your decisions Toad will either be friendly towards Bigby, or hold a grudge if you act like a total prick. Characters throughout the game will respond the same way, and the story will unfold differently based on the attitude you take, giving you multiple options and paths to completion.
It isn’t long before things shift to the apartment where a ruckus is coming from, and Bigby busts in on the Woodsman, the same Woodsman from the fairy tales, along with an unnamed prostitute. He has become enraged when she doesn’t answer his questions asking if she knows who he is, and Bigby is smack dab in the middle of it. Even if you try to tiptoe through the conversation here, all roads lead to a major fistfight where every piece of the squalid apartment becomes a weapon to be used in the battle. It’s a real donnybrook, and despite a couple of conversational interludes, it leads to Bigby and the Woodsman plummeting to the roof of Toad’s car parked outside, crushing the roof. As Toad laments, the Woodsman looms over Bigby, and the fight continues. He tries to pummel the wolf out of him, and right when it seems like he’s about to fur-up, the unnamed girl buries the Woodsman’s axe in the back of his head. Although this doesn’t mean you should count a Fable out, as their health is directly tied to the popularity of their fictional stories.
That’s where the demo ends, with a lot of unanswered questions. Of course, that only leaves you wanting more, and we’ll have to wait until the game comes out to see where it takes us. With Bill Willingham working with the writers and approving the storyline, and the dangling carrot of more Fables characters appearing and filling in holes on the series’ backstory, there are a lot of reasons to put this game on the top of your radar.
Full disclosure: I spent several years working at Jim Henson Pictures, where we had optioned Fables from DC Comics. Sadly, it never got out of development hell, which is an all too familiar story in Hollywood. In my opinion, it was just a few years too early as the current popularly of fantasy in the form of Grimm, Once Upon A Time and Game of Thrones should attest.
At this point, a Fables movie may never materialize. But with Telltale providing episodic storytelling in the form of The Wolf Among Us, and more to come, the video game version will give us hours more storytelling than a film ever could, while keeping us encased in the art and style of the comic book. Plus, you’ll be in the driver’s seat.