Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - The Penal Zone Review

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Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - The Penal Zone Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games

Platforms: PlayStation 3, PC and Mac
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 2 GHz Processor, 1 GB RAM, DirectX 8.1 compatible video card, Windows XP or more recent operating system

The City of New York is host to yet another alien visitation – this time, General Skun-k'ape has landed at the corner of Straight & Narrow to offer the citizens of Earth access to advanced technologies and forward the interests of peace. Or has he? Perhaps the death-rays on his vessel indicate his intentions better than his harmonious words. This intergalactic primate is far too happy to snatch lottery tickets along his quest for the Toys of Power!

Kyle Ackerman

Once again, Telltale Games has managed to step up their efforts and offer an even more impressive outing with the opening episode in the latest season of Sam & Max adventures. Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - The Penal Zone features an intergalactic pongid invader, escaped from the other-dimensional "Penal Zone," starring alongside the Freelance Police in an adventure that is even more polished than past outings in every way, ranging from the writing, to the adventure game puzzles, to the very game engine itself.

In addition to a new time-bending plot featuring Sam the gumshoe dog and his hyperkinetic lagomorphic sidekick Max, The Penal Zone revamps the user interface for the series (making it friendlier for its release on the PlayStation 3), dramatically improves the graphics for the series (easily meriting the higher system requirements of this season) and gives Max a series of game-transforming psychic powers. The changes go even further – Telltale has taken a subtle but decidedly different approach to adventure gaming that provides a more directed, yet equally entertaining experience.

Previous installments of the Sam & Max games, like most adventure games before them, relied on hunting for various interactive objects, with tons of extraneous (and typically humorous) dialogue explaining insignificant and "red herring" objects. The Penal Zone has many fewer such interactive objects, but offers more detailed dialog and interactions with the characters that are interactive. Plus, nearly every location is entirely new to the series. Add to that the ability to interact with characters not only in the present, but in the future, and specific characters have enough depth to offset the smaller number of interactive objects. Of course, all the entertaining references to past episodes are there, including rats, bugs and Sybil's trash.

The huge addition to the Sam & Max games is Max's newfound psychic powers. As it turns out, Max's rabbity-thing brain is one of the few in the universe with a connection to the powers-that-be and Elder Gods that can control the Toys of Power. Each Toy grants access to a specific talent, such as teleportation, shapeshifting or even glimpsing the future. Max's ability to glimpse the future changes the style of play. Rather than encouraging players to work out the solution to various puzzles, Max can typically see the completely absurd solution to any quandary, leaving players to work out how to get from now to the future solution. In many cases, this makes the game's puzzles straightforward enough to make casual game fans comfortable, but there are a few challenging puzzles to keep adventure game fanatics entertained.

The only real quandary concerning the third season of Sam & Max relates to the pricing. Originally, you could purchase either a single episode, or an entire season at a discount. For Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, PC gamers need to lay out $35 for the entire season of five episodes. Now that might be a good price. If all five episodes match the quality of first, adding new and interesting locations and dialog, the price will be entirely worth it. And both of the prior seasons have proven excellent and worth the money. So given the series' past performance, it's probably a pretty good bet. But the problem is that you can only buy the entire series, forcing gamers to pay for a product but only receive one-fifth. It's a pre-order deal that will be trickled to you over the course of months. Given the inherit uncertainty of any corporation's continued existence, that's a bet I'd be hesitant to make - even though Telltale Games shows no sign of disappearing. So it's really about how much you're willing to bet on the delivery of the next four episodes. If you absolutely must have each episode as it's released, this first one is great. From a consumer risk perspective, you'd be better off waiting until the product you pay for is available.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 20, 2010 10:04 PM.

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