Having been unexpectedly elevated from jobbing studio to superstar status by the much-acclaimed, notoriously heartstring-pulling adaptation of The Walking Dead, expectations for the next game from Telltale are extremely high.
To some extent, they're on safe ground with The Wolf Among Us, which like The Walking Dead is based on a comic (Fables, in this case) and very much story- rather than action-focused. Rather than zombies and bickering survivors, here we're in an alternative New York where the denizens of fairy tales and children's fiction are eking out a secret, dangerous life among the unknowing 'Mundies', or mundane humans.
Whimsy is in short supply though - this is a world where Mr Toad is a foul-mouthed slum landlord, Beauty and the Beast are an arguing couple and Snow White is disillusioned public official who resolutely refused to discuss her apparently torrid life with the seven dwarves. You, meanwhile, play as Bigby Wolf - the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, now seeking redemption for his violent past by acting as 'Fabletown's' bitter, loose cannon sheriff.
It's a very silly setup, but a very appealing one - it's played essentially straight, and noir-styled. As such, it's not long before Bigby discovers murder on his doorstep, and grudgingly sets about investigating who's killing off Fables and why.
As with The Walking Dead, though this is nominally a point and click adventure game, there's very little indeed in the way of puzzles, inventory full of obtuse items or even interactive objects in any given screen.It's primarily a game about dialogue, and choosing responses that both reflect your own character and have major long-term effects on later outcomes.
Bigby's an appropriate avatar for this, given his nature is torn between duty and the feral aggression writhing just beneath his hardbitten gumshoe skin. Pick aggressive conversation options and you might well unleash the wolf, resulting in fairly epic smackdown scenes; try to keep the peace and you're more likely to make allies of the dangerous, grumpy creatures of Fabletown.
This being just the first of five 2-3 hour episodes, many of these consequences don't make themselves known yet, but already the tale clearly branches in fascinating and even harrowing ways: the temptation for an immediate second playthrough to attempt rectification of disastrous events is strong.
At times, the lack of interactivity can be a problem - the game will pat you on the head and tell you're a good detective when all you've done is to click on the sole available option, for instance, while visually appealing screens and items are often nothing but backdrops. At other times, Wolf Among Us far too brazenly flags up that you're about to make a critical choice, enormous on-screen prompts awkwardly transforming it from thoughtful character study to multiple choice test.
The tale and the intrigue propel the game along neatly though, and anyone put off by the arguably mawkish qualities of the central father-child relationship in The Walking Dead will likely find the combo of grit and fantasy here a little more compelling. In a big way, it's Telltale playing things safe, but this is a fascinating, oddball world, and a first episode that ends on enough of a shocker that the second one can't arrive soon enough.