The Wolf Among Us – Episode 1: Faith

I had no familiarity with the source material The Wolf Among Us is based on. I like comic books, but I’m not into comic books. At least not anymore. It’s something I grew out of around age twelve, and back then, my parents certainly wouldn’t have let me read anything with this mature of subject matter. Not that they were prudes. Far from it. They wanted to make sure that I grew up with a good moral compass and not, say, rely on absurd allegories centered around farting and inappropriate sexual innuendos just to make it through a simple game critique. Well, mission accomplished there, parental units.

The Wolf Among Us is based on Fables, which in this case refers to a series of comic books and not a series of over-hyped and mediocre adventure games for Xbox. Within about five seconds, I fell in love with the concept. For those unfamiliar with it, think of it as a cross between ABC’s Once Upon a Time and Roger Rabbit, with strong emphasis on the latter. Then take that cross and douse it with the absolutely seediest, darkest aspects of society. That’s the world Wolf Among Us is set in. The idea is fairy tale characters are all real and all live in New York City, just trying to get by. Now, if you’re a human based fairy tale, great. But if you’re not, you have to buy a magic spell known as a Glamor to disguise yourself so that you blend in with society. If you don’t, or if you can’t pass as a human with or without the Glamor, you get sent to a place called “the Farm” in upstate New York that all the fairy tales bitch about like it’s a prison.

I swear, this isn't what it looks like.

I swear, this isn’t what it looks like.

Having played a lot of Telltale’s licensed fair, I figured I had a good idea what to expect from The Wolf Among Us: a good but vastly overrated by the general gaming populace adventure yarn where the main character is the only likable person in the group. I was wrong. The Wolf Among Us is easily Telltale’s best game yet. The only game they made where I am genuinely on the edge of my seat waiting for the next chapter. I certainly couldn’t say that about the Walking Dead. One of the problems with the video game community is you can’t just think something is alright without having people threaten to tar and feather you. I liked Walking Dead, but good lord were those games so not as good as everyone else says they are. People raved about the writing like it was some kind of transcendent moment in-game history. This is the same game where one of the sections centered around a main character who couldn’t figure out why a radio without batteries or any power source at all wouldn’t work. At that very moment it forfeited the right to ever claim to have good writing. But, Walking Dead is trendy right now and anything that is connected to the property would be better received than a pile of blow-job dispensing diamonds that you could then trade in for further blow jobs.

Right away, the characters of Wolf Among Us were far more interesting than the sleeping pill that was Lee or the utterly annoying Clementine. Here the main character is Bigby, other wise known as the Big Bad Mother Fuckin’ Wolf. He’s repented from his evil ways and is now acting as the sheriff of Fabletown.  he only problem is, all the other fairy tales are skeptical of his conversion and openly don’t trust him. The noir-like atmosphere is also very jarring, but exhilarating in its political incorrectness. The characters chain smoke, drink to excess, swear like sailors, engage in prostitution, beat women, and probably spit on little old ladies as they cross the street. Unlike the schizophrenic Walking Dead, the writing is consistently sharp throughout the first chapter. There’s a few technical hang-ups relating to the dialog-tree structure. I don’t know why after asking the Magic Mirror to view characters, backing out of the scene causes Bigby to say “never mind, I don’t want to see anyone” after he just watched scenes play out for three fucking characters. Stuff like that is definitely breaks the immersion, but not in a deal breaker sort of way.

"Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? Who's the coolest critic of all."  "Cathy Vice is the one, the Indie Gamer Chick.  If you send her a shitty game she'll rip off your dick."  Actual dialog from the game. True story. Okay, no, but it should be.

“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? Who’s the coolest critic of all?” “Cathy Vice is who you seek, the Indie Gamer Chick. If you send her a shitty game, she’ll rip off your dick.” Actual dialog from the game. True story. Okay, no, but it should be.

I found Bigby to be fascinating. Yea, it was annoying that he has the same video game tough guy voice that every fucking gruff male game character has. But, considering this guy goes through cigarettes like some people go through breath mints, I guess it makes sense. I also like how, upon completing the chapter, i found out that most of the players across the world made the same choices I did. It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who played Bigby as a nice guy that was genuinely looking for redemption. Yea, I admit, I lost my cool with Mr. Toad and started bitch slapping the ever-loving shit out of him. What can I say? I regret that I never got to bitch slap the shit out of Carley for the whole battery and radio thing in Walking Dead that I will never, ever get over.

There isn’t a single character in this game whose motivations aren’t interesting. The murder-mystery plot is very well handled, and the character study of Bigby is just about the best example of a character study I’ve seen in a game in a long time. To put it in perspective, I’ve been playing games since I was seven years old. I’ve never once played a game based on a licensed property where I wanted to go out and get the licensed property. I did here. I ordered a few of Fables trade-paperbacks right before I started with this review. Oh, I’m not going to read them right away. I want to finish the game series first. But if there’s anything that is a testament to how strong the story of Wolf Among Us is, I dropped $50 getting the first five volumes off of Amazon. That’s over double what the games will ultimately cost. I think that’s an endorsement.

The quick-time event brawls are still clunky as shit.

The quick-time event brawls are still clunky as shit.

Which is not to say the actual gameplay is perfect. This being a Telltale Game on a console, there are all sorts of technical hiccups. At one point, you’re given two leads to the murder, and you have to choose which location you’ll go to first. Three mother fucking times I tried to select to go investigate a prince’s house and three times the game froze solid. The fourth time I instead selected to go investigate Mr. Toad’s house, and it didn’t freeze. Of course, I didn’t fucking want to go there first, but that was the hand the game dealt me. Also, Telltale’s signature unfair quick-time events that involve lining up a cursor and hitting a trigger button still annoy me to no end, but this time I didn’t care because I just wanted to get to more of the plot. The final scene as the chapter ended made me sit up in my chair and blurt out “HOLY FUCK!!” Do you know how many games have ever done that to me? Not one ever.

So that’s Wolf Among Us. Among the best games I’ve played in 2013. I can’t wait for the remaining chapters. I guess this is proof that Telltale can do better than fan services like Walking Dead, Back to the Future, or Monkey Island. Granted, as a licensed property, this is a fan service as well. Probably one that fans of Fables have been waiting a long time for. Well, at least they got a satisfactory one. Meanwhile, I can only cross my fingers and hope like hell that Telltale gets the license to do Veronica Mars next. If they don’t, well, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.

Wolf LogoThe Wolf Among Us was developed by Telltale Games

IGC_Approved$4.99 (ultimately $20 for the subscription cost) are everything a big bad wolf could want in the making of this review.

I swear to Christ, if any of you spoil the plot from the comics on here and I will fucking go stab happy on you. Oh, and Wolf Among Us is Chick-Approved but not leaderboard eligible.

Poker Night 2

Poker Night 2 is free with a PlayStation Plus subscription right now, presumably to drum up interest in Telltale’s latest offering, the Wolfing Dead. The concept is basically a normal game of cards, only you’re listening to the inane banter of four B-list-at-best pop culture characters. Yea yea, I know everyone and their mother just loves Army of Darkness and Ash Williams and would take a knife to my throat for besmirching the name of this iconic character. Meh, whatever. It must be a generational thing, because I don’t particularly find the character all that interesting. I suspected that having him outside of the fantastic settings of his movies would show a character that’s quite dull. Poker Night 2 proves me right. He’s just sort of there, like a catch-phrase spewing cartoon character. Then again, the writing is pretty boring. Maybe this is why they didn’t get Bruce Campbell to do the voice, though they found a very convincing sound-alike.

Speaking of which, I joked on Twitter about that, making a crack about the lack of Bruce and how he “couldn’t cost more than my lawn guy.” He got the joke and wise-cracked back at me. Some of his fans, on the other hand, so did not get the joke and swept in to protect him. Hell, they were doing that before he wise-cracked back. And I’m not talking about people who follow me. I’m talking people who refresh the search results for Bruce Campbell every ten seconds. I don’t have a joke to go along with that. I just found it to be fucking creepy.

Calling this a line-up of B-listers is probably being a bit generous.

Calling this a line-up of B-listers is probably being a bit generous.

Anyway, along for the ride is Brock from Venture Bros. (never watched it), Claptrap from Borderlands, and Sam from Sam & Max. Well, there’s an all-star lineup if there ever was one. Rounding out the field is GLaDOS from Portal as the dealer, and man, is she slumming it here. The inherit problem with Poker Night 2 is what I already said about Ash: these characters work in their own settings, but out of them, they’re just boring. They have nothing in common, and nothing really interesting to talk about. Part of that is the writing is uninspired, but mostly it’s because you just can’t throw five random characters together and expect chemistry. It really feels like something that was rushed through production, with the characters included drawn out of a hat instead of carefully selected to mesh well. I get that it’s hip to be random, but randomness on its own isn’t funny. It’s just random. And then you get to the actual gameplay and find that it’s even worse.

I’ve been a PlayStation Plus subscriber since day one, and I’ve never played a freebie on that service as utterly broken as Poker Night 2 is. This shit is borderline unplayable, with frequent technical hiccups. The game saves between each hand, and if you move along to the next hand before the game finishes saving, the animation and dialog skip like a broken record. I counted the amount of times this happened over a full game: fourteen fucking times. That is absolutely inexcusable. Beyond that, sometimes the soundtrack gets ahead of the animation, or behind it. Like, a full minute ahead or behind it. Even Godzilla movies have better dubbing. Or, you’ll just have the game sometimes freeze for anywhere from 15 second to over a minute. Mind you, none of these problems are one-off things. They’re unavoidable and happen constantly through-out. I can’t speak for whether or not the XBLA version has these glitches. I’m told the PC port doesn’t, but that’s no comfort to PSN owners.

This mostly seems to be caused by the game saving between each and every hand. I’m not sure what it’s saving, exactly.  It sure isn’t done to prevent dialog from repeating. Over the course of a single tournament, Claptrap and GLaDOS repeated the same joke about “the cut of your jib” four times. Wasn’t funny the first time. Got progressively more irritating with every echo. Which is not to say Poker Night 2 is never funny. It’s just too often random chit-chat with no set-ups or punchlines. Any genuine laughs (and some are to be had) certainly aren’t worth slogging through the glitches to get through.

I like how they snuck a picture of GLaDOS into every promotional picture. "Portal is still popular, right?  Please love us!"  Really, if they needed a Portal reference, wouldn't Cave Johnson have been a better fit?

I like how they snuck GLaDOS into every promotional picture. “Portal is still popular, right? Please love us!” Really, if they needed a Portal reference, wouldn’t Cave Johnson have been a better fit? They could have dropped Ash from the game and saved on licensing rights, because his character didn’t have a single decent line of dialog.

Ignoring all of that, the actual game of poker is mediocre at best. There are only two options: no limit Hold-Em or no-limit Omaha. Poker Night 2 is single-player only, and the AI is utterly fucking brain-dead. There’s supposed to be a sophisticated system of tells and bluffing that you can manipulate by plying the characters with alcohol. BUT, what’s the fucking point with the way the AI plays? Get this: ClapTrap and Sam are the only two left in a hand. ClapTrap goes all-in. Sam does his bluff-routine, then calls the all-in. Then he lays down a 3-5-suited, before the flop. I shit you not. This happened frequently through-out the multiple tournaments I played in. Bluffing doesn’t work when you have nothing in your hand and the only player left has already bet everything he has. I swear to Christ, you find smarter players at 3AM playing free tables on PokerStars.

Maybe Poker Night 2 isn’t as bad on PC. I don’t know. I do know that Poker Night 2 might be a contender for the worst game ever to hit PlayStation Network. It’s glitchy, it’s slow, the AI is useless, and the writing comes across like a cross between terrible fan-fiction and awkward checkout-counter conversations. Telltale is capable of incredible things.  Wolf Among Us (next up for review) is fantastic. But, if five minutes with Wolf Among Us was enough to make me a believer in their potential, two hours with Poker Night 2 is an ominous warning that these guys are more than capable of totally phoning it in. If the aim of putting this worthless piece of shit of a game as a freebie was to get players excited for Wolf, Telltale and Sony couldn’t have done worse if they had hired someone to knock on each subscriber’s door and shoot their dogs.

Poker Night 2Poker Night 2 was developed by Telltale Games

Available for free right now with a PlayStation Plus (normally priced $9.99).

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