Just like the excellent Eisner award-winning comic book series which gave it life, Telltale's The Wolf Among Us opens with a murder mystery. The game takes place within a community of misplaced fairytale characters, or Fables, trying to get by in our world after being run out of their own by an entity known only as The Adversary.
As in the comics, they do this by keeping to themselves - avoiding the normal folk, or 'mundies,' using expensive spells called glamours to maintain human form and sending any Fables who don't comply to The Farm, a holding facility in upstate New York. While this game holds closely to the rules of the canon, it is very much Telltale's story. The explosive first episode "Faith" culminates in a shocking turn of events that (avoiding spoilers) puts the game's plot quite at odds with that of the comic canon.
Prostitution, incest, a serial killer on the loose, drunken monkeys, marital discord and animals that crap gold - it's just another day in Fabletown. You control Bigby - the former Big Bad Wolf, who now acts as sheriff for the Fable community. Other characters treat him with both suspicion and fear, and you can't entirely blame them seeing as he used to spend his days eating their kin for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Bigby's a reformed character, for the most part at least. He tolerates one of the three little pigs, Colin (a chain-smoker, heavy drinker and couch surfer) staying at his apartment because of a certain incident long ago involving the words "huff" and "puff". He's vicious enough that he'll never shy away from a fight, yet he looks at the mayoral assistant, Snow White, with big brown puppy dog eyes. He's a bit of an enigma.
He's also a superb character for Telltale's purposes - a likeable, grizzled asshole who allows you to make tough decisions without worrying too much about the repercussions later on down the line. Bigby's good for either a sarcastic remark or a knockout punch when the time is right. It was with particular relish that I hammered down on the button prompt to snarl "f**k you" at one particular character as they walked away from me - a rather rash outburst that I probably would have thought twice about as The Walking Dead's Lee Everett.
If you aren't familiar with the comics, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the idea of fairytale characters hiding out in our universe sounds a little twee. But in The Wolf Among Us, half the intrigue comes from reconciling the characters from your favourite childhood tales to the pitiful, unpleasant or downright hateful individuals you meet in this dingy corner of Manhattan.
Snow White is a bitter divorcee, estranged from her dirt-bag husband Prince Charming ever since she caught him sleeping with her sister. The Woodsman, the hero who saved Little Red Riding Hood, is an alcoholic thug who can't cope with his faded fame. Embittered and angry, he never passes up the opportunity to remind Bigby of the day he slit his belly open and filled it with rocks.
Mr Toad of 'Wind in the Willows' is a put-upon landlord who can't afford the glamour spells necessary to keep his family disguised as humans. Everyone smokes, because everyone's miserable, and everyone knows that Fables can't die. Or at least, that was the case before someone started murdering Fables, leaving their remains on the doorstep of the Woodlands apartment complex.
The Wolf Among Us looks appropriately noir for a murder mystery; darkened alleyways and grimy studio blocks are offset by brilliant neon lights and streetlamps casting pools of light over yellow taxi cabs. It's a completely different setting to that of The Walking Dead, so it seems strange that the art style is so similar. The Walking Dead games resembled Charlie Adlard's original designs, whereas The Wolf Among Us seems just to ape Telltale's earlier title, with nary a nod to the comicbook's own artists. That's not an entirely bad thing - the world is incredibly striking - but it feels odd that the studio hasn't tried to avoid the obvious comparison. Perhaps that was the idea.