The Devil’s Playhouse (episode four): review

This latest season of Sam & Max got off to a great start, and then it got even better. In last month’s episode however, the quality of the jokes took a kamikaze nosedive – seriously affecting the overall experience in a Sam & Max adventure. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that we approached the penultimate instalment.

The episode starts out promisingly enough, with a great take on the stereotypical zombie movie siege scene. A most welcome bonus is that, for the first time in this season, the top quality jokes start a – comin’ right from the off. In fact, top quality jokes are to be found throughout the three hours or so you’ll spend playing. As with all well written adventures, we found ourselves purposefully leaving any sensible or logical – looking dialogue choice that might advance the plot until last, in order to fully explore the script. Much like the inane conversations we tend to conduct with family and friends, in fact.

The canine Al Jolson tribute band didn't go down too well.

In terms of plot, Alley of the Dolls sets things up nicely for the final episode. You finally come face to face with the mysterious Dr Norrington, and learn a little more about the true nature of the Devil’s Toybox, the Toys themselves, and Max’s powers. You also of course get to the bottom of all this ‘army of Sams’ malarkey. If you guess who’s behind the clones before his/her identity is revealed then you need the services of a good psychiatrist, as your thought processes clearly aren’t in sync with those of the rest of us. Nonetheless it almost makes sense, even if three important questions (why are the clones of Sam, where did the clone master get his DNA from, and when did he get a chance to do the cloning? Or design, build, and use all the relevant equipment for that matter?) are never answered.

Mind you, it ain’t got nothin’ on the plot holes in Heavy Rain.

Still, if you’re prepared to accept a giant anthropomorphic rabbit with incredible psychic powers and his fully dressed 6ft tall canine friend, you shouldn’t really be worried about such matters. Of more concern are a few minor blips in the gameplay. Generally speaking, Alley of the Dolls is a straightforward point – and – click (well, walk – and – click) adventure. That’s no criticism in itself; but after the effort Telltale put into giving previous episodes fresh ideas and clever puzzles, the ‘you know the drill by now’ attitude here is a tad disappointing.

Away from our keyboards, this is as sophisticated as our humour gets.

Ironically perhaps, it is the one time the episode tries something new and convoluted that stands out as the one disappointing, pace – breaking moment. The Cthonic Destroyer may sound like a 19th century euphemism for a penis, but it is in fact a new Psychic Toy Max needs near the end. The puzzle you need to crack to grab it centres around a combination of setting four dials and – a little help for you here – two of Max’s existing abilities. It’s supposed to be a process of elimination but, whether you beat the puzzle on your first attempt or your tenth, it will almost certainly be down to luck.

Ultimately however a game of this kind lives or dies on its script and puzzles. The script is the best yet and the puzzles, while slightly less inventive than in previous episodes, are solid (the one mentioned above excepted). This is almost Sam and Max back on top form. We hope that for the final episode next month, we can take away the word ‘almost’.


4/5

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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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