If you went by the character names alone, the chances are you'd be expecting The Wolf Among Us to be a rather different sort of game. With Mr. Toad, Snow White, and the Big Bad Wolf all present and correct (even if the latter does take the slightly more humanised name of Bigby), this may sound like it's a "Best of kid's nursery rhymes", but the truth is very different. Based on the Fables comics, The Wolf Among Us is the latest episodic point-and-click game from genre masters, Telltale Games, the makers of Sam & Max, Strongbad, and of course, The Walking Dead. And The Wolf Among Us isn't your average fairy tale.
Set amongst the neon signs and sprawling concrete jungle of New York City, the game follows the story of a cavalcade of escapee fairytale characters, known as Fables, who've been forced out of their fantastical homelands to lead a new life in the Big Apple. A Disney tale, this is not, as the game treads down some much darker roads than you'd imagine. Mr. Toad is no longer the posh owner of Toad Hall, but a foul mouthed father struggling to survive. Snow White is an assistant to the region's mayor, and part time detective alongside Bigby, while the Woodcutter, the hero from the Red Riding Hood story, is slowly going insane as no-one remembers his name.
In amongst the turmoil, caused by characters living in close proximity to those who they hate, comes Bigby Wolf, the town's Sheriff whose job it is to keep law and order - something easier said than done when almost every resident leads a double life. By law, the Fables are required to maintain a human form, so as not to arouse the interests of the normal folks - but the only way to do this is by buying an expensive mixture known as Glamour. Even then, it doesn't always work, as Bigby so readily proves. He's not the Sheriff for no reason - while he has a cool head, you wouldn't like to see him when he's angry, as he transforms into - you guessed it - a big bad wolf.
If you played the Walking Dead, you'll be in familiar territory here - but if you haven't, the game gets off to a slightly awkward start. Things actually kick off without anything in the way of a tutorial to explain what anything does - and while point and click veterans may be able to figure out how everything works pretty quickly, those new to the series, or games in general will no doubt struggle, in what seems like a large oversight.
Called to investigate an incident at Mr. Toad's house, almost as soon as you arrive, you're thrown into a quick time event, where giant buttons pop up on screen, and it's up to you to press them within a few seconds to continue the scene, whether you're dodging a punch, or throwing one of your own. The only problem is, one of the first things The Wolf Among Us does to present you with a quick time event that's anything but obvious. With two circles on the screen, and nothing indicating what you're supposed to do with them (and only a few seconds to figure it out), we almost guarantee you'll mess it up if you go in blind, because you don't have enough chance to figure it out otherwise. What you actually have to do is use the analogue stick to move the one circle, and hover it over the other, where a button will pop up that you then have to press. It's not easy - and even less so with a non-existent tutorial.
Luckily, though, like with the Walking Dead, things get a lot better from here on in, as the story really starts to pick up. With a murder to solve, you and your colleague Snow White have to get to the bottom of the mystery - and that involves a lot of talking. Heading around town, you'll grill the other Fables about what they know - but your choices matter a lot more here than they do in other games. Often presenting you with four options to choose from, you're able to steer your relationships with the characters in completely different directions, depending on how you handle the conversations. If you think Mr. Toad is hiding something, you can take the softly softly approach, or you can try and beat it out of him. Whatever you choose, he'll remember - and that'll have an effect on how the story plays out.
With as many twists and turns as you'd expect from a Telltale game, The Wolf Among Us will have you gripped until the end, even if it does only take 2-3 hours to play through. While certain scenes may be a bit gruesome for our liking (examining a decapitated head, for example), and the incessant swearing also seems overboard, it's a generally enjoyable ride that'll have you dying to see what happens next. Mercifully, there are only a few quick time event sections, too, with most of the game instead revolving around exploring crime scenes, and talking to witnesses. While the game does give you a pop-up telling you when characters will "remember" what you've done, as this is only episode one, it's not yet clear how that's actually going to feed back into the story. Any changes or revelations you'd imagine will come much further down the line - although the game does give you a nice summary at the end of the episode, to show how your major decisions compare with everyone else's.
Still, at less than £4, this is a great introduction to The Wolf Among Us, that sets the scene for a gripping episodic series. While no release date has been set for Episode 2, we're hoping it'll be here before too long. We have to find out what happens next.