[No spoilers for the current episode will be mentioned, but some spoilers for the previous episode will be mentioned]
The Wolf Among Us(TWAU) started out with a strong and gripping opening last year, evolving from the already engaging Walking Dead series, the dialogue felt more mature, the artistic direction more resplendent and the choice system itself more sophisticated than ever before. It is without a doubt that this episode then is crippled by an overly lengthy wait between this episode and the previous one, which perhaps has stacked onto Telltale unrealistic expectations of the quality of this episode. Whilst this episode was overall an experience I enjoyed, it lacked the general sense of satisfaction it was hinted it would provide in the last episode, and moreover, the actual longevity of the episode itself is too short to truly justify the wait we had to endure.
Smoke and Mirrors starts out with an interesting start, and it is evident that TellTale have fine-tuned their craft of realistically shaping the responses of the characters in the world to protagonist, Detective Bigby’s own gruff and world-weary dialogue. Whereas previously, it felt like dialogue choices were half acknowledged by characters in the world, this time there seems to be a growing trend of different dialogue choices spiralling into mini forms of interaction and generally sustaining the atmosphere in a more vivid manner. This welcome attention to detail in terms of cultivating more interesting responses comes at a cost though, of the all important ‘major decisions’ which usually defines each episode of Telltale games. Whereas the overriding decision to either go for Lawrence or Toad defined a large part of the first episode, this episode doesn’t really present any significant choices at all that endowed the first episode such impact and a sense of suspense.
Still, whilst the capacity to make choices in this episode is severely lacking, I think that people have not fully given Telltale credit where it is due in terms of having choices front he last episode affect this one. Having gone back and played the interrogation scene two times with different choices(one with W and one with T), Telltale has subtly done something which people who have not played twice will not notice…actually given some effect to our choices in a meaningful way. The interrogation scenes actually offer different viewpoints on the case, and really feel more meaningful than saving Carley or Doug ever truly did in later episodes. Still, even this has its limits though, and things which seemed important such as literally tearing someone’s arm off in the previous episode still invites ridicule when they act as though nothing significant has happened.
Another thing to note with this episode is the lack of action sequences like the last episode, especially the final fight with Gren which certainly added to a level of tension and drama which this episode seems less focused on. Still, one part I did find quite interesting was the mixture between full out action and more subtle dialogue in the interrogation scene hinted at in the last episode. Suffice it to say, it was a nice addition to the series in which one can either play ‘good cop’ or ‘bad cop’ in terms of interrogation, with two characters behind Bigby serving to either scorn or praise Bigby’s approach to the interrogation. This form of interrogation showed up a few times later on and for me, showed the increasingly difficult moral choice for Bigby between ‘doing his job’ in solving the case, no matter how cruel that might be, and attempting to salvage some form of respect from an already distrustful Fable populace, and as the case becomes more intense, Telltale’s insistence on testing the player’s own moral convictions is to be applauded.
It was evident though that this unique fusion of dialogue and ‘action’ was still predominated by a focus on dialogue and on expanding the narrative rather than really allowing Bigby to partake in directing the narrative, as yet again shown by the paucity of major decisions present in the episode. For those who enjoy a more relaxed sense of pace and a trickle of information rather than the deluge of facts, opinions and revelations which the first episode offered, they might still enjoy this episode(which I certainly did) but still feel as though the fairly brisk momentum of the last episode which suddenly screeched to a halt this episode but then changes direction entirely 12 minutes into the episode is off-putting and shows some hesitation by the developer to really carry through the story which enticed us in the first place.
In conclusion, I did enjoy this episode, but I wasn’t satisfied by it. For the long wait we have been subjected to, it didn’t feel as though it justified the season pass and money spent,not to mention the fact that whereas the previous episode alluded to a lot more happening in this episode, it feels evident that whatever strange circumstances have plagued the developer so far didn’t even allow for the complete episode to be shipped out, and the ending to this episode feels as though it comes abruptly and without warning as opposed to the interesting increase in tension in the last episode as every suspect was methodically pursued. There is no doubt that in some aspects of this game, there are improvements, and the underlying essence is still fundamentally the ‘Wolf Among Us’ that we came to love and respect in the last episode, but at the same time, there is a feeling of a rushed product as the length of the story fails to capitalise on the frantic pace the last episode seemed to deliver and what we find is ultimately a more hollow experience than the previous one. I would personally say skip this one, pretend the Wolf Among Us is still suspended in a Half Life 3-esque uncertain state of development, and that the next episode delivers a more meaty product which makes the conclusion to this episode feel less frustrating. This is not because Telltale is a bad studio by any means, or that this is necessarily a bad story, but merely an INCOMPLETE one, and for some, that might be more infuriating than a further wait.