Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Graduation Day - The Wolf Among Us Episode One: Faith (Xbox 360)

Telltale Games has made a name for itself recently in the gaming world.  It’s no secret that their game based on The Walking Dead was hugely successful, which likely had a hand in the studio’s ability to snag the license to make a game based on Game ofThrones. However, when Telltale Games’ “in between” series The Wolf Among Us was being wildly hyped and praised by every person and gaming site with an outlet, I still had no intention of buying the game.

There are a number of factors that contributed to this decision. For one, I played the first two episodes of their game based on The Walking Dead and while I thought it was a great expansion on the universe from the show (I never read the graphic novels so don’t even bother with the distinctions between those and the show), I never really got into the decision-making aspect of the series. I know that it’s a great concept to have your decisions affect how the game plays out (like one of my favorites, Mass Effect), but I still felt like a passenger in a story masquerading as a game. I prefer to be more engaged and active rather than passive in a game, and while the quick time events were interesting at first, they weren't enough to make me feel actually engaged. Second, I don’t like this new trend of games coming out in “episodes” or “parts”. To me, this is just a ploy to get your money for a game/series that you have no guarantee will be great down the line. It’s like blind-dating for video games, but you feel obligated to date every person that comes next even though they may turn out to be an unhinged psychopath. Yea, no thanks. And lastly, I had no time to dedicate to another series, nor the patience to wait for each episode to release.

Why does this feel like a scam?

However, fate forced my hand when late in 2013 Xbox Live offered the first episode of The Wolf Among Us for free. Never one to pass up a free game, it was on my hard drive and sat there waiting to be played until I finally had the time a few months later. I had just finished up playing a number of RPGs and shooters, and thought a change of pace would be great. Besides, the game would only take a few hours to beat from what I’d heard and I could certainly spare the time. I fired it up and awaited greatness.

Sadly, the short trip I took with The Wolf Among Us was a rough ride filled with too many technical issues to see the potential greatness beyond. Things start promising enough, especially with the game’s major strength, its storytelling. You’re Bigby Wolf, or the Big Bad Wolf (Bigby, or Big B…get it?!), sheriff of Fabletown. Your job is to protect the now displaced Fables living in New York from humans and one another. After a fairly routine disturbance, things escalate quickly with a Fable ending up murdered, and it falls to you to solve this mystery. The story really is the star, and it is told with brilliant voice acting. I never thought I’d enjoy seeing childhood story characters curse, drink, and smoke like sailors, but I’d be lying if I said a smile didn't cross my face when the likes of Mr. Toad channels his inner Samuel L. Jackson and tells his kid to go the fuck to sleep. Things have clearly gone downhill for these Fables since leaving their fairy tale lives, and while things in Fabletown are seedy and generally in bad shape, it adds a brilliant twist to childhood memories for adults playing the game.

Speaking of awesome characters, you room with a smoking pig. Yup.

However, just like Fabletown, there are more dark alleys than happily-ever-after’s to The Wolf Among Us. The first things that annoyed me were the loading screens and times. Now I know that even in today’s advanced gaming age that loading is a necessary evil. However, we aren't talking about a game like Skyrim or Mass Effect here. While The Wolf Among Us is a beautiful looking game, we’re still talking about a game spanning just a few hours and doesn't have a massive, sprawling world to explore. I know that a lot of the quick time sequences require the game to react in real-time to your input, but they’re still scripted events and shouldn't require more than 30 seconds to load.

And as for those quick time sequences, they’re amazing in theory and practice…when they work. Unfortunately for The Wolf Among Us, this was the exception, and I frequently found myself frustrated and plain disheartened when the engine failed to keep pace with the quick time events. This caused me to miss key moments to dodge objects or pull off awesome moves in a fight scene. And it didn't just happen once or twice. Outside of the first scene in the game, I encountered significant slowdown, stalling, and on one occasion a scene completely “freeze” in the middle of a quick time event. I could still manipulate the camera but all the characters were just standing around as if they were waiting for something to happen. That’s just unacceptable, especially when I did nothing unique or odd as far as I could tell but simply provide inputs as prompted by the scripted event. That’s just poor QA and there’s no excuse for that in a game this short.

Lastly, as I alluded to there are significant framerate issues, especially during the quick time events and, surprisingly, right after loading. This was particularly frustrating because after a 30 second wait time I’m ready to get right into the game, but it feels like I had to go through a secondary load time as I waited for the engine to catch up to the game (or is it vice versa…?). After this happened for the 4th time in a row, I sadly gave up any hope of having a smooth running game.

The framerate issues are enough to turn anyone into a Big Bad Wolf.

If you can get past the long load times every 20 minutes, and the framerate issues that cause you to miss quick time events and even cause the game to freeze, then you’ll find a beautifully detailed game with an amazing story and brilliant voice-acting. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people that can take a dark cloud simply for the silver lining, and the frequent slowdown left me with a game that was a chore to finish rather than a fulfilling experience to remember. I certainly hope that Telltale Games can work out the bugs with their series for the remaining episodes of The Wolf Among Us, because if not a lot of gamers will be disenchanted with a series with a lot of potential to be phenomenal.

Note: After speaking with some friends, I've come to understand that the Xbox 360 version of the game that I played is known to have major issues with framerate and slowdown. Unfortunately, that’s the version of the game I played for this review, so you PC and PS3 players should take that into consideration and ask around for other opinions. And for you Xbox 360 owners, I’m sorry. =(

No comments:

Post a Comment

We at Graduated Gamer value your feedback and comments (see our comment policy linked at the bottom of the blog). Just remember - have fun and be a decent human being.