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After a 4 month hiatus and the start of a new season for The Walking Dead, Telltale finally released Smoke and Mirrors - the second installment of The Wolf Among Us.

 

Returning to The Woodlands and its environs, we begin to get an even darker picture about the Fables’ world. Smoke and Mirrors dives deeper into the seedy underbelly of Fables society, from run down bars to seedy hotels and strip clubs, as Bigby Wolf continues his investigation into a ever more scandalous crime world…

 

Episode Two picks up a matter of hours after the dramatic conclusion to the first episode, showing Bigby Wolf being interviewed by a “Mundy” (non-Fable) detective in a downtown Police Station. From here, the Episode takes a grimier turn than it’s predecessor; less time spent in the company of the more friendly Fables of The Woodlands, and more spent with the dregs of Fable society; trolls, outcasts and other more unsavory fairytale visitors.

 

 

The new cast members are admirable additions to the voice cast; the despicable Georgie Porgie is just the right balance of aggressive and cowardly, whilst Dave Fennoy (known for his voice work as Lee from Telltale's The Walking Dead) does an admirable job acting the vicious Bluebeard. The male characters in Smoke And Mirrors and griping, violent and ruthless; the women jaded, world-weary and resigned. It's a world that strikes a wonderful balance between fairytale fantasy and the drudgery of life at the bottom of the pile.

 

There are none of Telltale’s “time-stop” moments (where you get to choose between several plans of action at a crucial point in the plot), which I found a little disappointing, and at some moments adds to the story in Smoke and Mirrors feeling a little more prescribed than Faith. However, this is well offset by the skill with which the game demonstrates the consequences of your actions from the previous episode. Remember back in episode one when Beauty asked you to keep her whereabouts from Beast? Look forward to that coming back to (somewhat literally) bite you in the ass. Did you choose to chase Tweedledum or the Woodsman at the end? The first 20 minutes of the game will play out somewhat differently depending on your decision. It's a powerful system that makes you feel like you have genuine control over the narrative, and it's this which makes The Wolf Among Us such an enjoyable game so far; the scope for versatility in story feels even greater than The Walking Dead.

 

I did have some quibbles with the length of the game. I get how Telltale’s episodic narratives work by now, but at the same time I’m also used to waiting significantly less than 4 months between each installment. On top of that, Smoke and Mirrors is noticeably shorter than Faith; around 1 hour 15 minutes for me, even taking into account that I frequently took rather a long way around. Talking instead of fighting, negotiating for the maximum possible time before throwing a punch; these stretched out the game to only a little over an hour. I am a big fan of the “bitesized game”; not having much time, a manageable chunk of gaming around movie-length is perfect for me. But 85 minutes is not movie length, and the episode could have dealt with at least one additional plot section or even just a little more “point n’ click” options to fill out your detective work.

That being said, the episode is wonderfully structured. There’s always a risk that the second part in a five part game could end up feeling like filler, merely bridging the early and mid-game content. It’s a credit to Telltale’s writers that they have managed to navigate this potential pitfall masterfully; answering just enough of the questions posed in Faith to be satisfying and introducing twists and turns and just the right moment to create and amazing, compelling story. Telltale’s penchant for the “dramatic reveal” episode ending strikes once again, and I doubt many who have played thus far will be able to resist picking up the third when it arrives.

 

It’s a regular complaint for episodic videogames, but it’s really really hard to review them without spoilers. I underlined all the main aspects of the series - the music, characters, plot, atmosphere - in my initial review back in October. Smoke and Mirrors is a fine piece of story-telling, and retains all the positive elements I outlined in my review of Episode One, along with a slightly more regular frame rate and shorter loading times on my PC (whether by luck or judgement remains to be seen). It puts across a strong plot, is visually stunning, atmospheric and well-acted, but is over far too quickly to justify the wait time. It's a beautifully executed story, however, and one that won't disappoint those who enjoyed Faith.

Here’s to hoping we don’t have another 4 months until Episode 3; at this rate, we won’t have got a resolution to this 10 hour saga until February 2015...