The long-gestating second episode for The Wolf Among Us is finally at hand. The momentum from last episode’s cliffhanger is somewhat lost due to the delay between releases, but thankfully the episode wastes no time getting into the aftermath . Smoke and Mirrors picks up sometime after episode 1’s grisly cliffhanger, and the case of the mysterious murders leads Bigby deeper into the seedy depths of Fabletown.
It’s been a while, but Fabletown is as sleazy and shadowy as ever. It’s a wonder that the Business Office gets anything done in a city that would put the Las Vegas strip to shame. True to the comics, the atmosphere of Smoke and Mirrors is dark and noirish. The world-building accomplished in this episode introduces a number of interesting characters and locations. The owner of Fabletown’s sole strip club, Georgie — as briefly as he appears — highlights the improved interaction between Bigby and the characters he encounters. The dialogue for episode 1 was top-notch, but here you really get a sense of the relationship Bigby has with the denizens of Fabletown. You also get a sense of how the insufficient performance of the Business Office is causing everyone to create their own system of checks and balances, which is one of the reasons everyone’s so annoyingly tight-lipped.
In addition to the newly introduced characters, Bluebeard, a character only mentioned in passing, finally makes his appearance, and quickly establishes himself as a future foe for Bigby. Furthermore, old characters get tons of development. Icabod Crane distances himself from his generic bureaucratic introduction, and we get to know a little more about Beauty and Beast, whose jealous rage seems about on par with his Disney counterpart. But the character Smoke and Mirrors really ingratiates us to is, of course, Bigby himself. His development can be two sides of the same coin, but I chose to play him a particular way, and based on that, he seems to be trying his hardest to reform his image. Similar to episode 1, Bigby can approach questionings with either delicacy, or fierce impatience. The game periodically tests your resolve by giving you the option to intimidate rather than investigate. However, as always, controlling Bigby is a balancing game.
The foundation of Smoke and Mirrors (and future episodes) — in terms of gameplay and visuals — was already set in episode 1. So the only differences from now on will be in variance, pacing, and polishing. The art style is still beautiful and constantly captures the feel of a graphic novel, but the daytime segments show off some visual flaws, and emphasizes how much better the aesthetic works in dimly lit locations. And the ever-present frame rate issues still frustrate like never before. Transitions are slow, and the game froze on me twice; each time requiring a hard set. It’s worth noting that once I signed on and downloaded the patch, the freezing stopped. However, for an episode that’s been delayed this long, offline gameplay should function without a hitch.
While playing, time seemed to pass by quickly. This time around you do a lot more investigating than before, but following the bread crumbs of the case was enough to immerse you in the world. It didn’t even occur to me that the fight sequences were lacking until near the end of the episode – where you finally experience one… a very short one. Overall, the episode was immensely enjoyable, but the fight sequences that paced episode 1 quite well are too few. Here, you get one (maybe one and a half), and the episode is over before you know it. It’s a testament to Telltale that their strong, engaging dialogue masks the lack of action.
Smoke and Mirrors is pretty great, and it’s definitely worth the wait if you enjoyed episode 1 at all. It does an excellent job at maintaining visual fidelity, but completely falls short of remedying the frame rate issues (something that may never be addressed on consoles). It also introduces some potentially great characters, while expanding on others. And while it fails to answer most of the questions from episode 1, it answers the most important one in the form of an incredible cliffhanger… Or does it? With Telltale, you can never be sure; the final reveal may end up being smoke and mirrors itself. With two episodes under its belt, The Wolf Among Us is becoming one of the preeminent murder-mystery stories told in video games. I don’t want to wait another four months to play episode 3, but whenever it comes out, I’ll certainly be downloading it!
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