Review: The Wolf Among Us: Smoke And Mirrors Is A Darker, Richer Experience
The Wolf Among Us: Smoke And Mirrors doesn't feel as energetic as Faith, but makes up for that with some of the best writing Telltale has produced yet.
- Worth The Time?An engrossing two hour experience that will keep you riveted from the start, Worth every second.
- Things LovedFantastic writing. Phenomenal voice acting brings all the characters alive. The freedom to craft Bigby into whatever you want him to be. More focused on actual detective work and conversation. An array of different characters to love and hate. Great final act with a good cliffhanger. Darker, more gruesome atmosphere.
- Things HatedDoesn't progress the story that much. Less action orientated sequences are missed.
- RecommendationIf the very first episode, Faith, hooked you, then there is no reason to stop now. Smoke and Mirrors is a fantastic episode that improves on Faith in more ways than one. Bigby is now free to be the Big Bad Sheriff you want him to be, and feels like a reflection of yourself rather than a predetermined character. The action sequences are missed, but Smoke and Mirrors is a tight, well written addition that will leave you wanting more. Don't miss out on it.
- Name: The Wolf Among Us: Smoke And Mirrors
- Genre: Point and Click Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iOS
- Developer: Telltale Games
- Publisher: Telltale Games
- Price: $25.00 (Season Pass)
- Reviewed On: PC
Last night Telltale finally brought a near four month wait to an end, releasing the second episode for The Wolf Among Us, titled Smoke and Mirrors. Picking up just minutes after the cliffhanger ending that had fans literally clawing at any information they could find during the wait, Smoke and Mirrors deviates somewhat from the noir styled setting of the first episode in favour of a more modern, brutal atmosphere. As a result, Smoke and Mirrors benefits from the shift, delivering a stellar tale that introduces some new and suspicious faces, while giving players even more dimensions of the Big Bad Wolf to explore.
Unlike Faith, Smoke and Mirrors really lets Bigby open up after the concluding events of the first episode. Bigby is pissed, hurt and about one wise crack away from going full wolf on everybody at any given time, and Telltale makes this easily apparent by some of the choices you are able to make playing as the Sheriff of Fabletown. What makes this so interesting is that you’re able to mould Bigby into a character more like you, rather than play out to what you expect him to be. There are more than enough moments to choose restraint over violence, either when smashing up a strip joint or pushing for the truth, or simply being the good cop over the bad cop with razor sharp teeth and intimidating yellow eyes. It adds to the entire experience tenfold, because Bigby is now a reflection of you and your persona, rather than a charter that you’re just guiding through the world.
Adding to this is just how organic and real the world feels around you, especially when reacting to the decisions you’ve made. Characters will change their perceptions about you, and whole scenes can have their tone altered based on a single line of dialogue. There’s no simple “good choice, bad choice” here, it’s all pretty ambiguous from the start. You’re dealing with a host of characters, most of which expect Bigby to be a rough, hardcore character that isn’t afraid to tear off a few limbs if things don’t go his way. That makes persuasion a bit easy when you’re dealing with the scum of Fabletown, but often situations such as questioning a witness to a crime or sweet talking your way into a locked area become exponentially tricky. The option of violence is always there, allowing you to pull the good cop, bad cop routine whenever you feel like, but the way in which characters remember your acts and adjust accordingly just takes the immersion to a whole new level, and achieves something that even Telltale hasn’t managed to in past ventures.
Smoke and Mirrors also benefits from the return of the most notable characters in the first episode, mixing them with a few, well written newcomers that immediately make an impact. A good example here would be Georgie, the owner of the Pudding and Pie strip club. This scene makes it evident that Telltale isn’t afraid of the content they’re pouring into The Wolf Among Us now, which goes a long way to making the entire experience richer. The Pudding and Pie acts as a social hub for some of the worst people in Fabletown, never mind the rest of the city, and having Georgie punctuate the role of a pimp is executed extremely well. Smoke and Mirrors is full of fantastic writing throughout, and having a slower, more thoughtful pacing allows you to properly analyse every line delivered, which makes the whole episode that much sweeter.
Of course, that comes at a cost too. For much of the opening sequence, Smoke and Mirrors feels like an on-rails experience. You’re not actively moving Bigby around rooms and searching for clues anymore. Instead you’re rotating the camera slightly and engaging in lots of conversation. Again, with the excellent wiring, this isn’t bad at all, but some of the more action filled moments present in Faith have disappeared. A fight with Beast rekindles that quick-time flair that opened up the very first episode of this series, but it’s too short and not as well choreographed to leave an impact such as the fight in Holly’s bar at the end of Faith. In the same vein, investigating a crime scene feels less impactful this time around, as evidence is far too easy to connect and the area you’re given to walk around in is small and confined. The moments that it leads up to are great, and connecting the dots reveals a gruesome ritual, but the journey to those conclusions doesn’t feels as great as say, proving that Toad was lying in Faith.
But while Smoke and Mirrors doesn’t exactly give you the freedom of Faith in some ways, the manner in which it transitions between scenarios is spot on. Tension filled encounters that allow you to be the Bigby you want to be are punctuated by slower, more emotionally intense moments, keeping the pacing flowing ever so smoothly throughout the roughly two hour play time. There are no “stop time” make or break moments here, but rather carefully thought out character interaction that feels tense while being rather slow at the same time. It’s another showcase of just how good the writing is, keeping you engaged with the characters on the screen despite the lack of gruesome violence and action packed QTE filled sections. Although the final act does somewhat change the pace a little bit in order to leave you with another, less shocking cliffhanger, which doesn’t exactly progress the overall tale as much as you might hope.
However the real hero of Smoke and Mirrors is Bigby, and the way Telltale has no given me the power to decide who he is. I felt in the first episode that Bigby was a character that was meant to be played in a specific way, but Smoke and Mirrors changes that completely. Bigby can be a violent, no questions asked type of Sheriff, who will force a confession out of a suspect or break down a witness no matter what the cost. Bigby can also be a caring, thoughtful and cunning sheriff, using his imposing nature to intimidate those who would only react to violence in most situations, and all while employing compassion and restraint in situations that require a more delicate touch sometimes. Better yet, The Wolf Among us never punishes me for using a mix of both, allowing me as a player to vent my frustration at a villain while also coming off as a caring figure to the characters I love.
It’s a powerful and rewarding feeling, and one that almost entices me to go back and reply the episode just to see who things turn out should I flip the roles. This type of progression isn’t something new for Telltale, especially when you take The Walking Dead into account, but even there it didn’t feel as free. It’s something Telltale can be proud of, and I really hope it continues with the next three episodes.
Telltale made us wait a long time for Smoke and Mirrors, but ultimately the four months were worth it. Although it lacks some of the more action oriented moments that made Faith so fantastic, it makes up for that with some of the best writing seen in a Telltale game to date, with brilliant voice acting bringing all the characters, old and new, to life. Fabletown is as gorgeous and engrossing as ever, and Telltale has finally managed to make Bigby feel like a representation of myself rather than a charter that I’m just thinking for. It makes me excited to see where the series is off to next considering not a lot of ground was covered this time around. But if the conclusion is any indication, things are about to change drastically in the next few instalments, and I don’t think you want to miss out just yet.