The Wolf Among Us – The Most Promising Noir Since Hotel Dusk

By Ethan . November 3, 2013 . 2:00pm

Last year, Telltale Games released a remarkable product.  The Walking Dead was both a critical and commercial success, garnering praise both upon release and in end of year roundups.  It was a game that used an episodic structure in a way that actually enhanced the game, made the player’s choices more meaningful than role playing games developed with budgets many orders of magnitude larger, and most definitely did better credit to The Walking Dead source material than other multimedia adaptations.


It was the best sort of breakout success. A game that exceeded not just the expectations for Telltale’s next licensed adventure game (they had been churning out such titles to no particular recognition for years) but also the expectations for what was possible within the genre and format.


That was 2012, though, and Telltale has released the first episode of their next project.  The Wolf Among Us is another comic property licensed into an episodic adventure game.  Zombies are out and fantastic creatures of fairytale are in. That, aside the two games seem to share an awful lot in common.  Same developer, same genre, another comic property, same slick cel-shading that looks good on everything from Xbox to iOS… playtesting this seems as easy as running a checklist of feature comparisons making note of any particular additions or subtractions from the winning formula. It is to this game’s great credit that such a playtest would be absolutely inappropriate. That playtest would be able to tell you about changes in mechanics, graphics filters, the new audio… but those are the features that define iteration in games—Telltale has moved beyond that.


The one comparison it is fair to draw between The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead is that they are both stories. Legacy video game quirks like quick time prompts, menus, and clicking on everything that glows exist only in service of the narrative. There are no contortions to justify time spent between what just happened and what happens next. Because this game exists to be a vehicle for a story, it must be judged based on the quality of that story in the same way that an action game is judged for the quality of combat mechanics. That is why a comparison of features between Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is meaningless. It’s like comparing sim-racing and kart-racing.  Last year, Telltale released a dystopic horror fiction that effectively leveraged horror iconography, juxtaposition of innocence and death, and no win scenarios. The Wolf Among Us doesn’t do any of that and it doesn’t matter one bit.


That’s because The Wolf Among Us is a different beast entirely—it’s straight up noir.


So is it a good noir?  Well, it’s certainly a faithful one. Episode one is by necessity mostly laying ground work for plot twists yet to come and because of that most of the characters get a scene or two even if they aren’t yet relevant to the murder mystery at hand (because of course it’s a murder mystery). All standard genre archetypes are present and accounted for—a jaded and cynical protagonist, an ineffective authority, a girl in need of protection, a crooked enforcer… if you’ve seen much of the genre at all you know these characters not only by their name in this universe but also by several others. Whether these pieces come together in ways that are ultimately satisfying without being derivative we won’t know for many episodes yet but all the usual suspects have been rounded up.


It is not too early to take stock of the cinematography on display though. The distinctive use of shadow that originally earned noir the name is used expertly throughout and contrasts wonderfully with the oversaturated purples and yellows that fill this New York City. The stark cel shading used here wasn’t available in the 1940’s when the form originated but proves to be perfectly suited. Streetlights carve perfect colored circles on the pavement, the protagonist’s perpetually unkempt clothes always look like they’ve been slept in (and by the end of the episode they have).


I enjoyed episode one of The Wolf Among Us immensely and will absolutely be following up on future episodes. I’m a fan of film noir and I’m overjoyed at the rare opportunity to experience a modern genre entry. Does my enthusiasm mean that you should be enthusiastic too? Only if you come from a place of similar passion, I’m afraid. To most this story is simply a mystery and the merits of that mystery will remain unproven for several episodes yet. To some others this is an opportunity to experience a story set in their beloved Fables universe, and sadly I do not read the comics so cannot comment on how franchise fans are or are not served. However, for a select few this story is the most promising adaptation of noir into video games since Hotel Dusk on the Nintendo DS.  I speak to those people when I say that you can’t miss this game. I don’t expect The Maltese Falcon out of this, but it sure seems more promising than Key Largo!


Food for thought:


1. I struggled with “film noir” versus the more generic “noir” when writing this up.  Can we please just get a lot more games like this so we can comfortably establish “game noir”?  That would be great, thanks.


2. The totally meaningless features rundown that shouldn’t influence you at all:  online decision tracking is back from Walking Dead, cel shading is slightly improved (may just be because of the more distinct color palette), quick time fighting is back and more forgiving about inputs, front end of game is WAY slicker now.  Very cool title screen.


3. Yes, I made multiple decisions that I regretted (sometimes immediately).  No, I did not allow myself to change any of them.  That would be cheating.


4. Don’t even get on my case. I know what you’re about to say.  I understand Key Largo is a classic… it does not deserve that rep.  It’s okay at best.

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  • JustThisOne

    Game noir needs to be a thing.

    • Ethan_Twain

      Really? The Big Sleep? FAULKNER? I mean, it’s okay if you don’t mind watching a movie four times before it makes sense…

      Nah, I’m just bitter about The Sound and the Fury. It’s a good film.

      I playtested this on PC and didn’t notice any performance issues, but I’m afraid I can’t comment on console performance.

      • M’iau M’iaut

        Don’t go dissin the Big Sleep now ya hear me! Watching the later version is always the best for understanding things and even Faulkner admitted he didn’t know if the murder of the driver was done by one of the sister or was a total red herring.

        There’s a story that when he was either writing that or one of his other movies, he told the studio he wasn’t feeling well and needed to ‘go home’.

        A few days later they tracked him down in Mississippi.

      • JustThisOne

        Alright, alright, hold your horses here… I have no idea what you’re talking about. xD Maybe I just kept jumping to conclusions within the film or something, because I personally felt like I had no trouble following it. There were a lot of questions, mid-movie, but I felt like a lot of it resolved itself later. :X

        But I digress, what I really wanted to say was that the PC version of the Walking Dead had no problems either, from what I had heard. It’s just the console versions. Here’s to hoping it’ll be different this time.

    • Exkaiser

      I believe it was in The Big Sleep, the novel, that is, that Chandler entirely forgot about one of the murders halfway through because he was generally too drunk to remember. Good stuff!

  • chroma816

    Definitely gonna check this out. Fables is great, the Walking Dead game was great, and I’m a big fan of Noir as well.

  • Impressionnant

    It’s a very good game. Actually feels more like a game than Walking Dead (which I still enjoyed). Hopefully, my choices in this series actually matter, unlike TWD, but I ain’t getting my hopes up.

  • Aoshi00

    I have become a huge fan of Telltales from all their point and click adventures in recent years..Sam and Max was pretty funny but was quite frustrating to play at times (too many backtracking), but I did like Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, The Walking Dead, and now The Wolf Among Us. I thought the cel-shaded graphics looked good in TWD, but this looks even better just like an animated graphic novel and very colorful too. Unfortunately I haven’t read the Fables comics either, but I heard this game is only a prequel.

    Alrdy bought the Season Pass after finishing episode 1.. I was thinking of getting the disc version later if there is one, but I don’t think I could wait playing each new ep after seeing the preview :) For those who think Jpn VNs is mostly just reading and not much interaction, I think TTG really strikes a balance and makes the story intriguing..

    To me I liked Heavy Rain for the same reason, it’s still more or less a point a click adventure that tells a story like a movie, except w/ a higher budget.. still waiting for my copy of Beyond: Two Souls..

    I wouldn’t mind TTG handling other movie properties in this kind of ~2-hour episodic format as well, even for Terminator or Aliens, just like they did BTTF and Jurassic Park.. the stories really suck the players in..

  • disgaea36

    A Great game tell tales does it again. The best part is that they are using fairy tale characters and you get to see a whole new side of them like in that tv show once upon a time but more darker and as close to real as possible can’t wait for the rest of the episodes.

  • landlock

    Thankfully the wolf among us is more exciting then Hotel Dusk. I enjoyed HD for the story and characters but it was painfully slow in that the coversations were needlessly drawn out and things were repeated many times throughout the game that really didn’t need to be.

  • James Enk

    “The Most Promising Noir Since Hotel Dusk
    Read” now that is how you convince me to buy the game:)

    and yes game noir need to be a thing

  • XiaomuArisu

    Played it
    Loved it
    Episode 2 cant come soon enough!

  • Ryudo9

    Love Noir but the demo did nothing for me,QTE fight fest that went on so long it felt like the fight scene from they live and just as overacted.I also was not a fan of the Walking Dead ep1 I got free on 360. Hotel Dusk I loved. Still upset we lost Cing. Noir films really like the naked city

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