The long-awaited second episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, titled Smoke and Mirrors, continues gritty detective Bigby Wolf’s investigation within the fascinating universe of Fables. Episode 1, titled Faith, highlighted the intensity of Bigby, producing multiple, memorable, adrenaline-filled combat sequences. Cutting back on the action, Smoke and Mirrors chooses to explore deeper into the psyche of Bigby Wolf and the secret lives of your favorite childhood characters.
Who is Bigby Wolf? A renewed man, devoted to protecting the citizens of Fabletown, or does he remain ruthless, a beast that will stop at nothing to obtain what he wants? Upon completing Smoke and Mirrors, the answer to this question will be evident. The idea of violence vs. diplomacy can be found throughout the episode. Not only do these decisions shape Bigby, but also the world around him. Surrounding characters will react much differently to a violent Bigby than a peaceful one, making each dialogue decision feel that much more important. Regardless of which path you choose, Smoke and Mirrors will give you a greater understanding of how Bigby operates and what you can expect from him in the episodes to come.
TellTale Games are known for their thought provoking, stress-inducing decision-making games, and Smoke and Mirrors is no exception. I walked away from my playthrough contemplating whether or not I could have said something differently, something that would have gained my approval with another character. I was left thinking whether or not I was too harsh on Toad Jr. while asking for his help, or if I was too soft while interrogating Dee (or the Woodsman, depending on who you chose to arrest in Episode 1). Even when you feel confident in your decision, your actions could have unforeseen consequences that make you consider reloading the previous chapter and approaching the situation in a different way. Feeling as if the decisions you make or what you choose to say as Bigby Wolf have real-life consequences certainly makes this point-and-click adventure more intense than many true action games on the market today. Despite the vast amount of dialogue and decision-making, Episode 2 still lacks crucial decisions, such as the slow-mo sequences in Episode 1.
The variety of personalities within the Fables universe keeps each dialogue fresh and exciting. Mix this with Telltale’s first-class ability to develop characters and the result is something special. Seeing different sides of returning characters, such as the troll-turned-bartender Holly, made me reconsider my previous feelings towards them, while others, such as Grendel, solidified my first impression. Each new character that was introduced left a lasting impression, and left me hoping that they each have significant roles in upcoming episodes. The most memorable of the bunch being Georgie, the tattoo-covered owner of the Pudding and Pie strip club, and Fabletown’s premier pimp. Georgie’s defiance of the law and complete lack of respect for women makes for an interesting contrast to Bigby. Bigby’s dialogue with Georgie was one of the highlights of the episode. I was disappointed he didn’t have more time in the spotlight, but after the events of Episode 2, it’s safe to assume we haven’t seen the last of Georgie Porgie. Also worth noting, Dave Fennoy (voice of Lee Everett, Telltale’s The Walking Dead) gives a very solid performance as the voice of former serial killer, Bluebeard.
While the characters develop nicely in Episode 2, the overall story moves rather slowly. Smoke and Mirrors does a good job of answering some of the questions presented in Episode 1, such as revealing where Beauty has been sneaking off to. As far as the main plot is concerned, there are a few advancements, including a couple of rather large revelations that I enjoyed. Regardless, there are also a few setbacks. Episode 1 ends with a man in custody, and a few persons of interest. Episode 2, on the other end, ends with fewer men in custody and even more persons of interest. That being said, Episode 2 does a fantastic job of setting up what should be a more action-oriented episode, akin to Episode 1.
The slower pace of Episode 2 calls for much more investigative work. Bigby hangs up the gloves (well, for the most part), in exchange for a pen and pad. Instead of falling out of windows and ripping apart limbs, Bigby spends most of the episode piecing together information and following leads. I enjoy the idea of playing detective, but the episode lacks any truly challenging puzzles or dialogue trees. Addition of a tricky puzzle that’s capable of providing an “aha” moment would have gone a long way in adding depth to the overall gameplay of this second episode.
Visually, The Wolf Among Us remains stunning. The neon color palette, highlighted in the game’s beautifully orchestrated title sequence, stands out amongst the various browns and greys that have become increasingly prevalent in games today. The character models, voice acting and cel-shading work in harmony to create a walking, talking comic book. The Wolf Among Us is the epitome of how to bring a comic book to life.
Smoke and Mirrors releases with Telltale’s usual set of bugs and hiccups. The game often lags while coming out of loading screens, which is far from game breaking, but slightly annoying. Bugs such as this are becoming increasingly frustrating as they can be found in every Telltale release since Episode 1 of The Walking Dead. They have certainly had the time, and, after the success of The Walking Dead, the resources to work out these bugs. (Note:This game is reviewed for Xbox 360, but the game reportedly runs smoother on PC).
Episode 2 is rather short; I completed my first playthrough in just under two hours. Fortunately, this episode offers a fair amount of replayability. If you choose to be civil during the interrogation, going back to see how violence may have helped is rather enjoyable, and gives perspective on different characters. Despite its length, the quality of the content makes it well worth its $4.99 price tag.
Smoke and Mirrors does a fine job of letting players discover their version of Bigby while developing the supporting cast. The overall plot advances slightly while throwing in a couple of twists to keep us on our toes, all of which serves its purpose as a bridge to what should be an exciting Episode 3. The slower pace and focus on character development remind me less of the first episode of The Wolf Among Us that we were introduced to in October, and more of an episode from Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which is in no way, shape, or form a bad thing.