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Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse – The Penal Zone. Review (PC)

Game Review: Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse – The Penal Zone
Release: April 15, 2010
Genre: Adventure
Developer: TellTale Games
Available Platforms: PC/ PS3/ iPad/ Mac
Players: 1
MSRP: $34.95 (cost for full season)
ESRB Rating: E10
Website: http://www.telltalegames.com/samandmax/thedevilsplayhouse

Sam & Max return for a third season and this opening episode continues with the same brand of humour that was present in the previous games.  It’s a traditional point and click adventure game combined with the quirky humour from the Sam & Max series.  This time around Max has stumbled across some artifacts which have granted him the ability to use psychic powers and in this episode the main powers is the ability to see into the future. Skun-ka’pe, an alien Gorilla wants a piece of this action for himself and the scene is set for another season of crazy capers between the freelance police and Skun-ka’pe. To appreciate all the running jokes you’ll need to have played the first two seasons but don’t worry if you haven’t as this will not affect your enjoyment of this episode too much at all.

The first major change you will notice is the increase in graphical quality.  Don’t be expecting cutting edge visuals but the extra polish applied to the graphics is obvious right from the start.  Backgrounds are more detailed and character animations are much smoother.

Secondly the controls have been modified, possibly to the horror of traditional point’n’click veterans.  Instead of moving the cursor to where you want to move to and clicking, you now use the arrow keys in a fashion similar to the thumb stick on a consoles controller.  If you can excuse the fact that this is obviously there to accommodate the PlayStation3 version and give it a chance then it very quickly feels right.  If you cast your mind back to Grim Fandango and remember how you controlled the main character, then you’ll be right at home with Sam & Max.

The pace of the game is good and slightly more forgiving that the two previous sessions.  This is helped by both the notepad which is a addition that records plot progress and also the visions from Max which offer a brief glimpse into the future.  These were nice touches to help players who had run out of ideas on how to solve a puzzle but hardened players may complain that this waters down the challenge.

With more episodes to come for season three, we can expect more abilities for Max to be introduced with each episode and this first episode has set a high standard for the rest to match.

Mark’s final say: If you’ve played all of the previous games then you’ll feel right at home with this episode and you’ll enjoy the improved visuals but if you are new to Sam and Max and want to jump straight in, you’ll also enjoy this game.  If you have the time I’d recommend playing through the earlier games to get used to the humour and familiarise yourself with characters who make reappearances in various episodes. I thoroughly enjoyed this game and  I look forward to the release of episode two.

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