Developer: Telltale Games
The Wolf Among Us reeled us in, and Episode 1 was the hook. It caught us expertly, brutally worked us over and left us desperate for more; a triumph of storytelling, twists and characterisation that pulled no punches. Then Episode 2 took its sweet time turning up before sitting us down and asking if we'd like a cup of tea. A necessary lull, but we're good and ready for the storm now.
Episode 3: A Crooked Mile is happy to oblige.
Telltale are back on form, delivering a superbly-paced slice of stylish, gritty and often gutwrenchingly emotional procedural drama. Hot on the trail of his prime suspect, Bigby finds himself in a desperate race against time that still manages to expand on both the universe, the characters and the big bad wolf himself - while introducing a fantastic new villain.
Since I know that some of you will be reading this review to make up your mind about buying the season pass, we're going to avoid spoiling the major twists from the first two episodes. Somehow.
Opening straight after Smoke & Mirrors' shock revelation - down to the sickening second - the real action starts at a funeral. It's a fascinating look into Fables customs, not to mention a potentially loaded situation depending on how you've treated the other characters thus far and what they think of you. Several cast members grow into their roles, notably Triptrap proprietress Holly, unless you decide to rudely interrupt the proceedings in a show of flagrant disrespect. The choice is yours and it's the first of many.
From this excellent opening, Bigby suddenly receives a handful of leads, at which point you're given three potential sites to scour for clues. A (largely illusory) time limit starts ticking and creates a sense of urgency that we haven't yet felt in the series thus far, compelling us onward, and meaning that there's no way to visit all three scenes in a single playthrough. Which will you investigate? In what order? And will you have time to explore each zone to the full?
A Crooked Mile's pacing is superb, with some big adrenaline-soaked peaks leading up to an emphatic finale, but things slow down enough to explore the characters and setting in more detail. Major cast members and seeming bit players get their chance to shine as we learn about their backstories, motivations and attitudes to life in the seedy underbelly of New York. New faces, such as the laconic yet tragic Flycatcher, make a fantastic first impression. We're treated to a chuckle-worthy fourth wall gag courtesy of the typically-hostile Grendel, while even our partner and boss start to show cracks in their hitherto-stainless facades. Brilliantly we also get to punch Georgie Porgie square in his rakish face again, should you feel so inclined.
As always, the writing and voice acting is truly impressive, allowing us to genuinely role-play Bigby to our personal specifications without wasting even a single word. There's a level of depth and subtlety at play even compared to the outstanding first episode, to the extent where staying knowingly silent can be just as effective as a punch or patronising reassurance. At its best, dialogue feels like a turn-based RPG boss battle; deciding which option will deal the most damage, compel the most info out of your suspect or defuse an emotional situation.
Whether a brutish thug, more thoughtful inhuman being or nuanced mixture of the two, your Bigby is unmistakably yours now.
Episode 2 fell down in the decision-making department, but A Crooked Mile doesn't make that mistake. Beyond deciding which locations to visit, we're presented some high-stakes choices alongside cosmetic roleplaying flourishes, while Telltale have made even rigid plot points feel much more like consequences rather than railroad tracks. As the train rattles towards the finale, things become increasingly desperate and every conversation option feels deadly important. Even if it isn't.
Speaking of the endgame, A Crooked Mile's climax is absolutely masterful. A new villain steals the show, genuinely an urban legend brought to life, bringing things home with a pulse-pounding action scene and a life-or-death decision so tough you'll likely slam your head onto the desk mere seconds after making it. It's a superb finale, though expect more plot threads to be left dangling than sewn up.
A few annoying issues rear their head from time to time. The Steam version refused to load until I unplugged my Xbox 360 controller, an odd yet initially terrifying little quirk, while navigation still feels a somewhat clunky (despite the environments being much more open, meaning that it's more difficult to snag Bigby on problematic edges). I still don't particularly like the contrived 'X will remember that' text and spoilertastic metrics page at the end either. Ultimately all little nitpicks that didn't outstay their welcome...
...because A Crooked Mile lasts about ninety minutes from start to finish. Which is a bit on the short side, to put things very mildly indeed.
It's short, but unlike Episode 2, there's real replay value to be found here. There's absolutely no fat on it, while raw quality cannot be denied. Episode 4 will need to be longer - perhaps a little more detective work would be nice - but to be perfectly honest, I'm just as hungry for the next chapter as I was after completing the very first episode.
- As well-written and compelling as ever, but with more urgency
- Fantastic new leads, great new characters and showstopping new villain
- Lean and well-paced; still devastatingly stylish
The Short Version: Short yet sensationally bittersweet, A Crooked Mile puts The Wolf Among Us back on form. Expect powerful performances, perfect pacing, gutwrenching decisions and even more opportunities to define Bigby as a unique, charismatic and nuanced character. Outstanding - so here's hoping that the final two episodes can deliver.