Developer: Telltale Games
It's difficult to write a review with clenched fists and white knuckles. I keep catching sight of my dilated pupils and sweat-drenched brow in my monitor's reflection, bashing away at the keyboard with gritted teeth.
See, The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4 psyched me up for a fight using every psychological weapon in its arsenal... then completely failed to deliver one.
Of course, that's what it was always supposed to do. The penultimate episode of Telltale's excellent series is designed to set up the finale, tie up some loose ends and get us ready for the big finish, and I appreciate that. Unfortunately it does so by treading water and vaguely floating sideways when all we really want to do is push forward.
Episode 4 opens with Bigby licking his wounds after Episode 3's showdown - a gory and unflinching scene that involves resetting the sheriff's own broken arm using some nasty QTEs. You'll have to face up to your partner depending on how you dealt with the endgame, perhaps promising to behave by the book in future or souring the relationship yet further. Either way, the scene primarily exists to bring Colin the Pig back into the picture... who you'll then either send down to 'the farm' or continue sheltering in your apartment.
It's clear that Telltalte want to tug on our heartstrings, but the sad fact is that they haven't laid the groundwork. We barely know anything about Colin since previous episodes weren't long enough to include him for more than a minute or two, meaning that the decision lacks any real weight. If anything, it's clear that Telltale should have done a more thorough job of building the foundations in Episode 2, and I'm afraid that this sets the tone for the rest of the episode.
In Sheep's Clothing is the calm before the storm, but it's too calm, perhaps enough to be catatonic. We interview a whistleblower, yet learn almost nothing new in a section seemingly intended to kill time. We hang out in a butcher's shop with a tedious and unnecessary NPC who might as well be called "Mister Exposition." A pawn shop brawl should feel impactful and cathartic, yet we don't know enough about its newly-introduced proprietor to care about whether or not he lives or dies.
Critically, Episode 4 is too keen to introduce new characters far too late in the game, when we neither care about them nor want to spend time with them, making us increasingly impatient for the big payoff. Much of its story development and characterisation could have easily been incorporated into Episode 2 or 3 (increasing their runtime and value in the process), at least introducing us to the characters first, while the plot is focused on filling out background and the Crooked Man's role in the big picture rather than delivering massive revelations. To be perfectly honest, it feels out of order especially following the shocking cliffhangers we're used to.
Telltale do manage to ramp up the tension brilliantly over the course of the hour's runtime, but much of it is frustration and impatience as much as anything. At the very least, the abrupt ending is masterfully directed, closing with the snap of a lighter or a portentous one-liner, leaving us fuming yet desperate for Episode 5. We suspect that things are going to get very messy indeed and the notion of a 'happy ending' has long since evaporated.
There are a few memorable highlights here. A tender moment with your partner at the beginning is framed and written superbly, while a scene involving Beauty and The Beast gives us satisfying insight into their character along with a little closure to that particular arc. A final meeting with Toad feels artificial and all-too-convenient, yet lets us either slap him down or save his bacon depending on our approach, feeling more involved due to the time we've already spent with him and his family. I also encountered perhaps my favourite moment in the series thus far, a touching and subtle farewell to a familiar enemy that feels, perhaps, like we've managed to claw back a little mutual respect if not the start of a tentative friendship.
Telltale are masterful at creating these little memorable moments, and though much of this review is downbeat, I have to clarify that The Wolf Among Us is still very impressive indeed. The writing is superb, allowing us to roleplay Bigby however we see fit using violence, silence, empathy and everything in between, while the story gripped me throughout the 60 minute runtime. It's still stylish, beautifully directed and unbelievably compelling; a masterpiece of storytelling despite its flaws.
But for the first time I find myself looking back rather than forward after completing an episode. All of the chapters thus far have fired me up for the next, yet here, I can't help but feel a little short-changed... and wonder whether some of the rumours about Telltale re-writing the storyline might have something to them. We shouldn't be laying businesslike story groundwork this late in the day.
- Still compelling, gripping and brilliantly written
- Superb dialogue and achingly stylish direction
- A handful of meaningful decisions involving familiar faces...
- ... but most lack weight, setup and resolution
- Introduces new characters and arcs far too late to care about them
- Profoundly frustrating and unsatisfying ending
The Short Version: In Sheep's Clothing exists solely to flesh out backstory and set us up for the finale, making this review and the number at the end completely pointless. But on its own merits, this latest episode feels like a step sideways and a frustrating tease, especially when much of it probably should have been incorporated into earlier chapters and lacks impact at this late hour.
As ruthlessly gripping and stylish as ever, though. I'm still enthralled by The Wolf Among Us, but Episode 5 absolutely must deliver and prove that our choices really mattered.