Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sam and Max: The Penal Zone

After two years off, Sam and Max finally return with their greatest caper yet. Telltale has done three other adventure series last we saw our anthropomorphic heroes, and they've clearly learned a lot in that time. They're finally nailing down the interface, bringing back arrow key movement, improving the inventory, and adding a notepad full of useful information. Add those changes with the improved graphics, and it's a pretty slick looking game. The characters are still cartoony, but there are fewer glitches, things are more detailed, and there's a grainy filter over the whole thing that somehow gels with the colorful palette to make a very interesting look. It works together with the renewed focus on the duo's actual supposed profession of freelance policemen to make the game seem more like an actual mystery they're solving rather than just something wacky they have to get out of. That was one of my favorite elements, and it's something I hope carries through the whole season.

The first two seasons both had subtitles applied to them after the fact, but The Devil's Playhouse is the first one to have it from the beginning and really try to establish a continuing storyline through the whole season, which will last for five games. The name plays into the big new gameplay feature that The Penal Zone introduces, Max's new ability to use various toys along with his psychic power to various useful ends. He can see the future, useful for getting hints at the solutions to puzzles, or teleport to wherever a phone is if he knows its number, and a few other things. You only really get to take advantage of a couple in this game, but the potential for the future is pretty tantalizing. You use these powers along with a pretty out of date crime analysis laboratory in the back of your car to track down the truth behind an alien visitor, and hopefully eventually send him back to the dimension where he belongs. The ending wraps up the individual story while teasing a greater plot behind it, and overall it was a very strong first chapter. Cool things were teased, the jokes were funny, and the puzzles were clever without being obtuse. I'm really looking forward to playing through the rest of the season.

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