I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
Telltale Games will never escape the shadow of Lee Everett. For the rest of the studio’s existence they must either match or eclipse their greatest success with each new release. It’s an unenviable position, especially when people like me keep making that comparison. Plus, the bloated pointlessness of Smoke and Mirrors and the pale imitation that was A House Divided had me real worried about Telltale. What happens when ‘From the studio that brought you The Walking Dead’ no longer carries weight?
Thankfully, we don’t have to answer this question right away. The Wolf Among Us Episode 3: A Crooked Mile returns to what made the premiere so compelling, with a heavy dose of neon-drenched violence and compelling re-imaginings of perennial concepts. It’s still trapped under the seemingly inescapable thumb of A House Divided’s stiff animations, but the story is finally back on track.
In the final moments of Smoke and Mirrors, Fabletown Sheriff Bigby Wolf stumbled upon a major lead that changes everything, because this is a five-episode murder mystery and that’s just how things work. Thankfully, A Crooked Mile spends the entirety of its running time on said lead, as opposed to Smoke and Mirrors immediately dumping its cliffhanger within the first couple minutes.
An interactive investigation doesn’t quite work if you don’t have a goal in mind, which is the biggest reason why A Crooked Mile succeeds. You have a general idea of what the stakes are, who you’re looking into, and how long you’ve got. The big “choice” sequence is stylistically framed and feels like a genuine choice. Will you investigate this area first, or this area? Where do you think you’ll find the best leads? If you pick, say, the bar as your first stop, there’s a chance you could miss important clues in the other areas.
The game also keeps the introductions to a minimum, keeping to established locales and characters for most of the 2-hour running time. Fabletown is starting to feel like a real place, and I cannot precisely stress how important that is. When you go to investigate a location, you’ve got a general idea of what you’ll find there. It adds a level of familiarity to the proceedings, which gives context to your actions.
Returning Fables I once disliked got some really great moments, becoming actual characters instead of one-dimensional nods to stories you may have read as a child. Sadly, the animation has taken a major hit, especially during intense arguments. It’s the biggest issue with Telltale’s current games and needs to be fixed before The Walking Dead Season 2 and The Wolf Among Us reach their respective conclusions.
There is one really great new addition to the cast, whose identity and gimmick I won’t spoil here. All I’ll say is that we might have to put together a ‘Best Female Villain’ category for our end-year awards.
There’s also less action in A Crooked Mile, but that isn’t really a bad thing. Blood is certainly spilled in the climax, but the rest of the game is more about giving the player the opportunity to punch, not the act of punching itself. We’re finally getting some (frankly overdue) nuanced agency in Bigby’s investigation.
It’s good to see that I was right about Smoke and Mirrors getting all the dull foreshadowing out of the way, because I don’t know that I could’ve been able to sit through 3 more episodes of meandering exposition. The best moments in A Crooked Mile don’t quite hit the bar set by Faith, but the concepts it sets up are far more compelling than anything hinted at in Smoke and Mirrors. Telltale has my attention once more.