It’s rather easy to define The Wolf Among Us as a work of contrasts. A striking blend of the fantastical among the mundane, its fairytale coating belays its more sordid undertones, all seamlessly juxtaposed against a noire backdrop of sex, violence, and intrigue. Since its tremendous debut and disappointing follow-up, the series has been one of hits and misses while still in its youth. Its all the better that The Wolf Among Us third episode, A Crooked Mile, fully realizes its strengths and builds upon them to a fantastic degree that even technical hurdles and minor plot-holes can’t silence.
A Crooked Mile begins slowly and methodically as a simple extension of its predecessor, but quickly makes use of its escalating tension. Sheriff Bigby Wolf (a.k.a fairytales’ The Big Bad Wolf) and Mayor Snow White continue their murder investigation as they race against the clock to track down their suspect, all the while sifting through the filth of Fabletown’s twisted social web. The episode suggests that there’s a bit more meaning to the deaths rather than just random killings and the greater sense of menace adds a keen urgency to what leads you choose follow.
As Fabletown’s murder mystery deepens, Telltale’s spin on Bill Willingham’s comic universe grows ever more alluring, at times gleefully showcasing the shadowy underbelly of fairytale characters struggling to scrape by in an ‘80s Manhattan. Opposite Smoke & Mirrors’ lethargy, A Crooked Mile hurries by at a more attractive pace, bringing in fresh faces and eye-catching glimpses at how much deeper the rabbit hole goes into the dark heart of Fabletown. While a 2 A.M. deadline looms over your head in-game, there’s no genuine consequence for taking your time and events unfortunately unfold similarly, even though their effects on character building feel unscripted. Early on, you’re given a choice between three different locations to investigate with only enough time to search two, and whichever ones you visit determines who you might meet and your interactions with them. Their implications for future cast members are intriguing and their personal stakes are higher compared to preceding episodes. Players will anxiously contemplate making the “right” choice, if such a thing exists in what amounts to a revenge-driven narrative.
This captivating moral spectrum is then what A Crooked Mile does best at presenting. Often the look of disappointment or disapproval on a fellow Fable’s face is more painful than weathering even the worst of failures. It’s not always evident how invaluable mercy can be to a simple witch, or what a simple punch can do to end a conversation. Your choices go deeper this time, not so much in their actions, but for each relationship it reaches. Every time the screen reads “they will remember that,” you know in your gut the developers mean it.
At Fabletown’s chaotic center lies our wolf in sheriff’s clothing, and how he acts is largely up to you. My Bigby wasn’t unaccustomed to violence when it quite often got the better of him, yet none of it without reason and all of it felt relatable to his checkered past. The Wolf Among Us ratchets it up to exciting proportions, bringing our star anti-hero to do questionable deeds for those he cares about at the cost of what imagined humanity he has left. That’s perhaps the greatest of the game’s questions: how much are you willing for Bigby to sacrifice to maintain peace amidst centuries old rivalries? Old habits are difficult things to fight, and neither is it easy to derail your ethics for the sake of the case. Akin to its name, A Crooked Mile lives up to its moniker, bringing out a darker side of Bigby few might expect.
Old head-scratchers continue to plague the episode as much as its predecessors, though perhaps not as strongly as before. It remains forever unclear how mortal a Fable is, with Bigby surviving near-lethal attacks with only a scratch to show for it, even while having some unexplained need for immediate medical attention. Fabletown’s social structure is additionally murky. Much of the episode focuses on locating a witch unknown to the protagonists in a close knit community where everybody knows everyone else, and it seems that the game is at times purposefully vague just as a cheap plot device. All are but minor complaints and fans will again be pleased with such otherwise great writing accompanied by the game’s strong voice-over cast. Nevertheless, they’re uncomfortably noticeable among such shining strengths.
More importantly are Telltale’s other signature flaws of a few irksome technical quirks. Granted, there are significantly fewer problems to be found than any other episode with only a few objects mysteriously hovering in spaces not meant to hold them. Meanwhile, the set pieces and art design are as beautifully rendered as ever and character animations remain deeply expressive. The finale itself is to be commended for its impactful moral dilemma and its introduction of a disturbingly enigmatic new villainess. There are some clever ideas behind a few of its QTE inputs, and it’s all the more unfortunate that the actual QTE fight scenes are as mediocre as the series has had thus far.
Hiccups aside, A Crooked Mile is on the straight and narrow as far as entertainment is to be had. What decisions the game offers are less consequential to its storyline than it would like you to believe, but their impactful character studies are what the series has always promised the most. Though the episode is short, its justly low price-point is hard to pass up, making it even harder to deny another serving of Telltale’s twisted fairytale. Blame us for wanting even better seconds.