The Wolf Among Us “Smoke & Mirrors” Review
After four months, the second episode of The Wolf Among Us has finally arrived. “Smoke & Mirrors” builds on everything that was established in the first episode. If you’re unfamiliar with The Wolf Among Us or the comic book that it’s based on, I highly recommend you read my review of Episode One. As always, this review is completely spoiler free, even if you haven’t played the first episode.
“Smoke & Mirrors” is mostly payoff to the events of the previous episode. There’s a growing sense of escalation as the murder-mystery plot begins to thicken. The namesake of the episode is appropriate because the characters are all hiding something for their own reasons. Wading through this fog of lies is entertaining and how Bigby Wolf goes about uncovering these lies is up to the player.
After the shocking murder of a second Fable, Sheriff Bigby Wolf continues his investigation by interrogating one of two possible suspects (depending on your choices from the previous episode). Wolf’s interrogation leads him to a new chain of suspects and the episode ends with Wolf discovering evidence that leads to a shocking conclusion.
The theme of being feared versus being loved is continued and most of this episode is facing the consequences of the decisions the player made in the first episode as well as decisions made in this one. The Wolf Among Us has a quality that’s comparable to a good mystery TV show like BBC’s Sherlock. There’s even a shocking twist about 20 minutes into the episode and occurs right before the opening credits, which is reminiscent of the “cold open teaser” that’s prominent The Walking Dead (the TV show). “Faith” saved it’s best card for last, “Smoke & Mirrors” however, plays it’s best card early.
The noir sensibilities continue in this episode. The comic book aesthetic is absolutely stunning and the atmosphere is just as strong. All of the technical aspects such as voice acting, the soundtrack and the animation are consistent with the quality of “Faith.” At this point, it would be unrealistic to expect anything but high quality content from Telltale Games.
“Smoke & Mirrors” has a linear but focused structure. There’s only one action scene, no puzzles and very few scenes that allow the player to explore an area. Most of the episode consists of dialogue trees and going to an area to question a potential suspect. “Smoke & Mirrors” leans on it’s writing quality more than any episode of The Walking Dead (the game), but this isn’t an issue as the writing is top-notch, exactly what one would expect from Telltale Games.
The sense of paranoia is also less intense. The dramatic tension of “Faith” has been replaced with more emotional interactions with the characters. Every character is written with a distinct personality and none of their reactions are out-of-place. The one action scene in this episode isn’t well-integrated into the plot (it probably could have removed with little effect on the story) but it’s satisfying payoff to a plot point that was hinted at in the first episode.
There are more emotional moments that make for a unique experience and the player is given greater insight into how Bigby’s actions affect other people. Plenty of other games have included moral choices, but very few games have then gone on to question the player’s decisions. This makes “Smoke & Mirrors” unique in this regard.
The choices in this episode are very well written. There’s absolutely no black-and-white decisions; every option is supported by a well-reasoned justification. Like most games that offer moral choices, the player is mostly limited to two opposing decisions however “Smoke & Mirrors” gives the player several reasons to justify their decision. The reason the player makes a choice is more influential than the choice itself as it plays into the subtext when a character questions Bigby’s actions.
For example, the interrogation that opens the episode can approached one of two ways. The player can rough up the suspect, talk to them or do a mix of the two. When this choice is questioned, the player is given several dialogue choices to back up their decision.
The player’s decisions in “Smoke & Mirrors” have less of an effect on the “what’ of the story and more of an effect on the “why.” Some players may not agree with this approach but it’s the exact same approach of The Walking Dead. In that game, the player was tasked was building relationships with survivors and building up trust. The Wolf Among Us focuses on what the player considers justifiable in the process of investigating a murder. The Machiavellian debate of being feared vs being loved is at the core of The Wolf Among Us.
Overall, there’s nothing in “Smoke & Mirrors” that leaves the same impact as the ending to “Faith.” That doesn’t mean it’s a bad episode, on the contrary it lays every doubt I had about Telltale Games to rest. At two hours, this episode is about as same length as “Faith” though that’s not counting second playthroughs and believe me when I say you’ll want to play this episode again. The moment “Smoke & Mirrors” ended I immediately wished for it to continue. Considering The Wolf Among Us is an episodic game series, I would call that a success. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait four months until Episode Three.