I'm staying as far away from spoilers on this one as I can, but let's just say this second episode of The Wolf Among Us comes with a rather apt title. Things aren't quite what they initially seemed in Fabletown, and Telltale does love to pull the rug out from under you just when you think you've got it all figured out.
Update - If you're a Season Pass owner and you're having trouble downloading The Wolf Among Us Episode 2, be of good cheer -Telltale has announced that it will send all Season Pass owners a free download code while it works on a title update for the game.
In Smoke and Mirrors, there are fewer seedy bar brawls and more crime scene investigations. The pace is slower, and yet it feels as though far more is at stake, particularly after the gut-punch of the opening revelation. This is more about role-playing than the usual line of decision-making. There are none of Telltale's trademark split-second-to-make-a-major-plot-branching-choice moments, and instead the subtler interactions on offer throughout its two hour run-time allow you to really get to know both your own Bad Wolf Bigby and the supporting cast.
And my, what a big scope for personality our protagonist has. My own Bigby, fully-formed as he is now in my head, is pretty much a gruff asshole; he's got a nasty temper, zero tolerance for perceived insults and doesn't suffer fools lightly. But he's also, secretly, a doomed romantic, with an overwhelming need to protect those more vulnerable than himself. He'll silence aggressors with a snarl rather than a swipe, if he can, but isn't afraid of getting his hands dirty.
The game's many dialogue options give enough scope to allow for a dozen different variations on the character, although at points I did yearn for the opportunity to launch myself into a real - and justified - ruckus. The main antagonists of Smoke and Mirrors are small-fry crooks; detestable pimps and low-lifes, for sure, but none worthy of my Bigby fully losing his temper and unleashing the big bad beast within. He has no time for that, especially since this tale's real villains still stalk Fabletown's neon-tinged shadows.
One thing becomes abundantly clear as you get a better sense of this world and its inhabitants: the politics of this game are nothing like The Walking Dead. There, your choices hinged on basic survival in an uncaring world where everyone, more or less, was on a level pegging. In Fabletown, Bigby and his closest cohorts already have a fair bit of clout over other inhabitants. You can exploit Bigby's position of power and reputation for easy brutality to get what you want without actually lifting a finger. You can choose whether or not to step in on behalf of a horribly mistreated exotic dancer, or to go easy on the husband who, quite understandably given the circumstances, suspects you of seducing his wife. You can also choose to show uncharacteristic compassion for a frightened child, even if he flinches at the very prospect of your touch and breaks your heart in the process.
You can always throw your weight around and go down a more violent route if you want to - but you're the one who has to live with the guilt, the extensive damage to property and, worse, the look of hatred or fear in the eyes of those you're sworn to protect. We're starting to get a better idea of how Fabletown is actually run in this second episode, and it turns out Bigby is probably one of its luckier citizens. For many other Fables, prostitution, drug use and theft is the only way they can make it through another miserable day.
You'll probably arrive at the episode's final creeptastic conclusion long before Bigby does, but it won't dull your appetite for the next instalment. This is still gorgeously atmospheric stuff, and though the wolf lies dormant for now, I'm guessing it won't be long before we're forced to fully unleash the beast.
As a side note, apparently some people are having trouble with the episode showing up as part of the game's season pass - rest assured Telltale are hot on the case. There's also a day one patch which will address some framerate issues that the game may be prone to otherwise, so make sure to get that downloaded.
Whilst missing some of the violent intensity of the opening episode, Smoke and Mirrors keeps things interesting with a deepening mystery and plenty of nice character beats.
- Fabletown's sights and sounds are a real delight
- Who's kissed the girls and made them cry?
- Pretend you're in a really surreal episode of CSI
- Not quite as exciting as the series opener
- Some dialogue options are a bit unclear