The Wolf Among Us “A Crooked Mile” Review
Over halfway into the season it’s difficult to predict where the story in The Wolf Among Us is headed. The only question is whether that’s a good thing. Telltale Games has delivered an episode that doesn’t hit as hard as previous outings yet holds back almost as much as it gives. As result, “A Crooked Mile” warrants multiple playthroughs more than any episode thus far in either The Wolf Among Us or The Walking Dead. “A Crooked Mile” is closer than ever before to delivering on the promise of a story that is tailored to the way that you play.
My initial reaction to completing this episode wasn’t the same as the overwhelming praise that I’ve given to the first two episodes of The Wolf Among Us (which are near perfect in my opinion). I felt that in the 90 minutes or so that it takes to finish the episode, not much had happened. Unlike previous episodes, there wasn’t that shocking moment that warrants a reaction video YouTube.
On paper, “A Crooked Mile” might seem a tad inferior to its predecessors. “Faith” began with a riveting fight scene and ended with one the best cliffhangers in recent memory. “Smoke & Mirrors” began with an interrogation scene and concludes with a twist reveal. This third episode, which marks the mid-point in the five episode season begins with an urgent dash to a funeral that leads a brief skirmish and concludes with a brutal fight scene that leaves the player uncertain of what will happen next.
The flaw in this design is that in comparison to previous episodes, it doesn’t give the player something specific to look forward to. Previously episodes left me immediately wanting to see what would happen next but “A Crooked Mile” ends with a notion of uncertainty. The rest of the episode however, more than makes up for this shortcoming.
“A Crooked Mile” begins right after the previous episode ends just like “Smoke & Mirrors”, which seems to indicate that the future episodes will follow suit. This is in stark contrast with The Walking Dead in which some episodes are set months apart. Though with the way that this episode ends, there may be a small time jump between this episode and the next.
Sheriff Bigby Wolf has discovered a promising lead regarding the identity of the killer and rushes to warn Snow White, who is attending a funeral of the most recent victim. Mischief ensues with a brief fight scene; afterwards Snow and Bigby head back to the Mayor’s office to plot their next move.
The pair discover that the prime suspect (who will remain nameless for the sake of anyone who hasn’t completed “Smoke & Mirrors”) is meeting with a witch. Bigby has a limited amount of time to track down the witch’s location and this is where player dictates the experience.
There are three potential leads but Bigby will only have time to visit two of the locations. Unfortunately the time-limit is story-controlled meaning the player can take as much time as they want which alleviates the urgency from the player and results in a completely unnecessary segregation of story and gameplay.
The player won’t experience everything that “A Crooked Mile” has to offer in a single playthrough and this applies beyond a single-line of dialogue referring to a past decision as is common in choice-driven games like Mass Effect. While the outcome of the episode is always the same, there are entire conversations that can differ depending on a player’s responses and some can be avoided entirely.
For example, there’s an intense argument between Bigby and Snow at the end of the episode that can be missed depending on a single dialogue choice. It’s quite notable when one of the best written moments in the entire episode can be completely avoided; most developers wouldn’t dare hold back something of such quality.
As always the episode is well-written but the narrative in particular is well-paced. This is especially impressive considering that the player decides the order of the scenes which in any other game would throw the pacing askew. There’s an excellent balance of suspicion, drama and paranoia that nudges the player to see what’s around every corner.
Another great aspect is the art style which once again shines. “A Crooked Mile” takes place entirely at night and mostly indoors and as a result the colour palette is filled with contrasting colours in every scene. One scene has Bigby searching an apartment for clues with the purple and yellow New York skyline visible form the window. The lighting in particular is outstanding, evoking that nuanced atmosphere common in noir stories.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of “A Crooked Mile” is the expert use of reoccuring characters. Previous episodes have been burdened with introducing several new characters all at once. While Mr. Toad and his relationship with his son has been given much attention in the first two episodes, his absence allows the exploration of other characters such as Grendel, Holly and most importantly Snow White.
Snow White takes on an authoritative role in “A Crooked Mile” which throws a potential wrench in her relationship with Bibgy, it all depends on how the player responds. One particular highlight, that can once again be avoided, is when Snow chews out Ichabod Crane for his mismanagement of Fabletown. Crane eventually offers White his affection and she cynically and unsympathetically rejects him, it’s a startlingly cold exchange from a character who’s been friendly and caring up to this point.
Snow is beginning to develop into a different person and even though it’s been well documented in forums that she’s a stuck-up bitch in the comics, I remain curious as to how much of this development Telltale Games plans to show. There are constant hints in this episode that Snow has been through a lot more than she lets on and though I’m a Google search away from spoiling her backstory ,which has certainly been covered in the Fables comics, I’m eager to see how future episodes will implement this.
With each episode, The Wolf Among Us is slowly stepping out of the large shadow of The Walking Dead. Every character in “A Crooked Mile” is tuned to react to Bigby by how the player rationalizes their decisions. This makes the episode feel completely organic, if you aren’t paying attention you might stumble upon the assumption that every player is getting the same experience. The beginning and the ending may not differ, but “A Crooked Mile” proves that The Wolf Among Us is truly turning into a story that’s tailored to the way you play.