The second episode of Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, titled Smoke and Mirrors, takes the style and energy of the first chapter and elevates the stakes to the next level. Though the world is still bathed in a beautiful neon color palette, the characters almost always come in shades of grey. If Faith felt like an '80s noir, Smoke and Mirrors is akin to a David Fincher-directed episode of True Detective.
Smoke and Mirrors dives deeper into your bond with Bigby. No matter whether I played as a saint or a monster, I walked away with a richer understanding of who this character is. This episode also fleshes out more of the dark and fantastic world of Fables, and throws you into some truly great predicaments without a real right or wrong solution. It’s a testament to the fantastic writing that days later, I’m still dwelling over specific decisions I made and what the ramifications might be going forward. I've picked the characters that I trust, am willing to do anything in my power to protect them, and just really hope that they don't end up stabbing me in the back.
Smoke and Mirrors picks up minutes after the shocking events at the end of Faith. Much of the drama in this chapter revolves around how Bigby and the other Fables deal the fallout, and thankfully, a lot of that is fully up to you. The dialogue in this episode is some of the strongest in any Telltale game, which is saying a lot. The dynamic between Bigby and the other characters provides fantastic range for his character. One minute he’s acting fatherly with Toad Jr., the next he might be telling his direct superior to f*** off.
Episode 2 also does a great job of setting up some really nasty villains who I love to hate. In particular there’s Georgie, a strip club owner slash pimp with a complete disregard for human dignity. No matter how you handle Bigby’s interaction with him, through understandable violence or forced restraint, the scene plays out as a rousing success. A few of the major decisions from Episode 1 also have some nice moments of payoff in Smoke and Mirrors. Particularly how you handled Belle lying to Beast and who you chose to chase out of the bar result in very different scenes that shape both the story and Bigby as a character. And though Episode 2 doesn't feature any of those cool "time stops for a major decision" moments, there are plenty of choices I had to make that are sure to heavily impact my story.
But despite the great moments of character development, the overall story doesn’t move forward quite as much as I wanted it to. There were a lot of loose threads at the end of Episode 1, and Episode 2 only adds to the pile. Also, it’s a bit disappointing that Smoke and Mirrors doesn’t feature an action set piece that manages to match the intensity, creativity, and excitement of that opening encounter with The Woodsman in Episode 1. And once again, the console versions of Telltale games continue to suffer from some slight lag between scenes, compared to the PC version which runs a bit smoother. Here's to hoping some of these things get fixed in the next part.
What continues to stand out about The Wolf Among us is that few adventure games have ever empowered me to create a lead character like this series has. I tend to play Bigby in the same way I mold my characters in BioWare’s RPGs. I love handling each situation with sheer altruism. When given the choice to torture a suspect or try to be friendly with him in order to get information, I chose the latter. When faced with the prospect of tearing apart a strip club or remaining calm, I chose to unclench my fists. And it's not just superficial details -- the world softens to a calm Bigby, whereas tensions seem consistently maxed if you take a violent approach.
Seeing the results of my restraint is a great reward, but at the same time, Telltale makes it more than worthwhile to go back and replay the episode as a complete non-canonical maniac. This is something I never wanted to do in The Walking Dead -- my single adventure as Lee is what I consider to be the one true telling of the story. The writing in Wolf is just so damn good that I can't help but seek out every line of dialogue possible.
Smoke and Mirrors is a great second act to The Wolf Among Us. Its 90 minutes are packed with memorable characters and scenes, as well as some of the most agonizing decisions Telltale has ever forced me to make. And despite being a tad bit disappointed that the overall plot hasn’t been moved all that far forward, I’m still completely invested and more than a bit terrified to see how my tough decisions will affect the story going on. 8.5/10
[Decision Time! (Major Spoilers)]Oh so no decisions I see? fine then Telltale I'll make my own decision list:
I at least punched the Woodsman/Tweedle-Dee once
I cried tears of joy when Snow returned
I acted kindly towards TJ (Toad's son)
I said Snow can join me in the investigation
I kicked Jack out of the bar
I smash the living shit out of everything with the cricket bat in the Pudding & Pie
I tried to calm Beast down during the fight and said he had enough
I side-eye the living shit out of Ichabod during the photo reveal
So what choices did you make ONTD?