The second instalment of TellTale's five-part Fables tribute lacks the full moon of its predecessor.
'Smoke and Mirrors' picks up practically minutes after the cliffhanger of Chapter 1, and we're immediately transported back into the beautifully stylised world of The Wolf Among Us. Having waited over four months for this next instalment to the franchise, Episode 2's long awaited release is only somewhat justified by it's actual content.
This chapter is much slower in pace, with very little actual story progression. Episode 2's plot is similar to a jigsaw puzzle, in that the majority of gameplay is based solely on detective work - from analysing a crime scene to interrogating a suspect. However, playing 'Smoke and Mirrors' is essentially like completing a jigsaw that came with specific instructions. When analysing evidence, the correct response seems the most obvious out of the four options, making your job as Sheriff feel like child's play, and the game's climax is unsurprising thanks to a sporadic change of one character's mannerisms. Most players will have the intellect to work these things out for themselves, making Bigby's investigation less mysterious and therefore less interesting.
In addition, the player's choices are limited to minor decisions in comparison to Episode 1's, where you felt as if everything you did had a huge impact on your case. Here, we have your quint essential good cop bad cop - play Bigby nice, or play him as the Big Bad Wolf he was born to be. These black-and-white decisions literally come to the point where an entire scene revolves around provoking your suspect through either mild intimidation or by brutally destroying his possessions. In this case then, the game is very bland to play out in some sections, in that you're limited to only develop Bigby's character down one of two paths.
Despite these flaws, the episode still holds up well and features many new characters who you'll just love to hate. Georgie Porgie is no longer an innocent little boy, but the owner of Fabletown's sleazy strip club The Pudding 'n' Pie, and early on we meet the kind hearted but obnoxious Jack of beanstalk-climbing fame, who doesn't quite know when to keep his mouth shut. These new additions to the game's universe add yet another layer of depth and dimension to a franchise that is already so rich in detail and well thought out. The gorgeous neon colour palette is shown off in all of it's glory in the strip club scene; paired with the game's brooding soundtrack, it's just stunning to experience.
Existing characters aren't left out though, with your choices from the previous episode playing a big part of several scenes in the episode. The suspect you arrested in the former's climax will give you entirely different information to what the other criminal would have said, allowing both you and Bigby to slowly solve the mystery in a unique way. Characters will interact with you based on how you treated them previously, and Bigby himself is developed fantastically over the course of the narrative. Adam Harrington's voice work shines through, perfectly delivering each line with such emotion - you BECOME the Wolf, with the player's choices parallelling the mood of the protagonist. Why wouldn't you hit that person when Bigby scowled at them like that?
With a story that's grim, gruesome, and everything in between, 'Smoke and Mirrors' is a satisfying addition to the The Wolf Among Us' evergrowing Fable universe, but lacks the proper story progression or diverse choices that would make it surpass Episode 1. Let's hope then that this is the only slimy hairball we'll see in the series.