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‘Wolf’ brings adventure gaming to compelling fairy tale world

Imagine a world where fairy tales are real, their characters living their lives in New York with the same foibles as humans.

It’s an easier thing to imagine nowadays with the proliferation of family-friendly prime-time entertainment like “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm.” But in the early 2000s, Bill Willingham’s comic book “ Fables” burst onto the scene as a breath of fresh air, eventually distributed by DC Comics and earning rave reviews that have continued through the series’ 13-year run, scheduled to end this June.

Telltale Games, makers of the brilliant “Walking Dead” adventure games, have taken Willingham’s source material and created a murder mystery that surpasses their previous efforts – if not in heart, than certainly in the mind.

You play “The Wolf Among Us” as Bigby, aka The Big Bad Wolf, who serves as sheriff of Fabletown. Fans of the comic book will squeal with delight at being placed in the shoes of the chain-smoking, virtually indestructible face of the law, but novices to the fictional world will also quickly pick up on his anti-hero characteristics. As the sheriff, you must investigate a puzzling series of murders that shakes the regime of Ichabod Crane (acting mayor in King Cole’s absence from Fabletown) and strains your relationship with Crane’s right-hand woman, Snow White.

Just as in the “Walking Dead” series, the story plays out over a series of five episodes, with each serving to further unravel the mystery at the center of the plot. While as Lee and Clem you fight to stay alive, as Bigby you’re trying to answer questions with characters who aren’t always so forthcoming. The conceit fits perfectly in Telltale Games’ signature gameplay, tasking you with deciding what you’re going to say and who you’re going to ally with. “The Wolf Among Us” is a perfect combination of a solid gameplay foundation, a story that keeps you coming back for more and a fictional world that’s just fun to be part of.

“The Wolf Among Us” isn’t without its flaws. Many of the challenges to get characters to speak are overly simplistic, basically requiring you to survey your surroundings through easily identifiable on-screen clues. Adventure games used to be fiendishly difficult, but with the Internet to fall back on, developers have opted instead to hand-hold through puzzles. This can make “The Wolf Among Us” seem too easy at times, though it’s not enough to detract from the experience.

Telltale Games also hasn’t quite figured out how to seamlessly sync its characters’ facial expressions with their moods, leading to some jarring changes of emotion that will take you out of the experience. Again, this isn’t a criticism that will mar your appreciation for this brilliantly told – and paced – story.

“The Wolf Among Us” ends with a “Usual Suspects”-inspired cliffhanger that will leave you wanting more. Hopefully, with the conclusion of the “Fables” series imminent, Telltale Games can prioritize a second season in their huge backlog of adventure games to give “The Wolf Among Us” the follow-up it deserves.

Kip Hill is a government reporter for The Spokesman-Review. In his spare time, he likes to pretend to battle bad guys, then write about it. This column originally appeared on The S-R’s Tech Deck blog (www.spokesman.com/blogs/tech-deck/).

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