The Devil’s Playhouse (episode three): review

The latest season of Sam & Max is now in full swing with this, episode 3, marking the halfway point. It’s been a triumphant return for the dysfunctional duo so far – can Telltale Games keep it up?

As suggested by the end of episode 2, you start off here with Max’s pedigree chum Sam going solo. This is used as an excuse for a slightly different style of gameplay; rather than directly controlling Sam’s movement and exploring the environment, each time you visit an area Sam automatically jumps into interrogating the NPC lurking around there. With the emphasis on dialogue, you’re prompted to interrupt the story your NPC is giving at the right moment – and with the right technique, such as a threat or an accusation of lying – to glean more information from them. In this way you pick holes in the witness accounts you’re given, and go back and forth between interrogations until you work out what to do next.

"Put the doggie treats in a bag! DO IT!"

It’s yet another way The Devil’s Playhouse prevents the experience from becoming stale, and is a welcome example of something completely new. Unfortunately however, the humour of the whole of this first act’s script is dead on arrival. You can see where the jokes are, but they just don’t work. After the slow starting but ultimately hilarious first two episodes, it’s like being given the keys to your local sweet shop – which you then find has been turned into a very small Jehovah’s Witness hall.

The second act returns to traditional Sam & Max gameplay. Although you find Max, most of your time here will be spent with SammunMak at your side and, frankly, we wish it wasn’t. As a character, he’s fine; but he has a typically irritating Saturday morning cartoon kid’s voice. You know, one of those ones where a woman in her late thirties supposedly sounds just like a ten year old boy?

At least the puzzles remain enjoyable and clever.

Max remains at your side for the whole of the third act and perhaps because of this, the comedy finally threatens to stutter into life. Threatens to; it occasionally stands up before collapsing again, like a rotting zombie. The episode is enjoyable from start to finish thanks to the ever – enjoyable puzzles and solid game design, but a Sam & Max game without a tidal wave of successful jokes is like a simile without… you know… one of those things at the end that makes it… never mind.

Poor Max, he accidentally watched five seconds of Big Brother.

Episodic games always seem to suffer from dips in quality. We believed that the latest season of Sam & Max would be different, but we’re sorry to say we were mistaken. As previously mentioned, the game design is as excellent as ever – but if the quality of the script doesn’t climb back up to match it again (and stay there), this is one season that will go out with a fizzle rather than a bang.


3/5

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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