Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Beyond the Alley of the Dolls Review
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
What could be worse than having the Freelance Police on the case? Having seemingly endless clones of the Freelance Police on the case? Someone sinister has been cloning portly man-dog detective hybrid Sam, and sending those clones to scour the city for the Toys of Power. Who is better suited to investigate the source of these clones than Sam himself and his hyperkinetic lagomorphic sidekick Max? Well... lots of folks would be better candidates, but at least Sam is wearing a suit, unlike his nearly naked clones.
With the release of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Beyond the Alley of the Dolls, the third season of Sam & Max is only one episode away from its conclusion. Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is a strong episode unto itself, but the best thing I can say about Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is that the price of the full third season of Sam & Max is now fully justified, with one episode to spare. Previous seasons of Sam & Max could be purchased as a season or as individual episodes. Season Three must be purchased as an entire season for $35. But even if Telltale Games falls into the colossal black hole at the center of the galaxy, you'll get your money's worth from the first four episodes, so go ahead and enjoy!
Beyond the Alley of the Dolls begins with the Freelance Police under siege in Stinky's Diner, beset by a horde of zombie-like Sam clones muttering "Toys... Toys!" Someone seeks to seize the psychic Toys of Power that, together with the Devil's Toybox, could be used to destroy reality. Fortunately, Sam still has his oversized pistol, and Max has enough of the Toys of Power to (together with his alternatively functional brain) solve nearly any conundrum. By exploring familiar locales surrounded by Sam clones in their underwear, Sam & Max must end this stream of Samulacra and Dogglegangers that threaten to overwhelm the city.
Unless I've somehow missed the way in which Sam is treated as a sex object while indulging in drugs, or missed the fact that Max is part of a girl-band, this episode doesn't have a whole lot to do with "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." That point aside, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls has some of the best writing of the season and is wholeheartedly entertaining. This episode seems particularly heavy on the fan service (the PlayStation 3 version has a related achievement) with tons of inside references and top-notch non-sequiturs on the part of the freelance police.
The puzzles seemed clever at first, until I realized that most of the puzzles in this episode rely on the same gimmick. Aside from two puzzles that I think of as "multiple choice" challenges that have players cycling through options to find the correct combination, most puzzles in this episode rely on Max using his mind-reading power. After a few events, I realized most puzzles in Beyond the Alley of the Dolls came down to talking to someone, using the mind-reading power and then either talking to them again or doing what their inner-voice specified.
I was particularly fond of the final location in this episode, which was a truly epic (and patriotic) set-piece for the penultimate episode of Season Three. I'm excited for the final episode. It was hard for me to imagine how Telltale planned to top Beyond the Alley of the Dolls, until I saw what happened to Max at the episode's conclusion. Now I'm just waiting on the edge of my seat.