The Devil’s Playhouse stars the Freelance Police: Sam, an anthropomorphic canine detective, and his sidekick Max,the psychotic three foot tall murder bunny that most definitely did not grow up in Watership Down. Telltale Games have rightfully recieved generous critical success since they took over the reins of the Sam and Max franchise, and brought the series back to life with reinvigourated tales of the homicidal lagomorph and the wonderfully no nonsense anthropomorph. With fantastic storylines and writing so tight you could have trained chimps with brollies cycle across it, Telltale Games have brought inspired direction back to the much loved comedic duo, and introduced them to an entirely new generation of gamers.
The next instalement in the long running series keeps the cartoon-like 3D graphics of the earlier titles, however even the most critical eye could not complain with the amount of added polish that has been added to the renders by Telltale developers. The characters themselves are indeed far more smoother in their Telltale guise than they have ever previously been seen. As is the norm for Sam and Max games the titles are released monthly over a set period, this time it features five episodes.
The first of the episodes sees Sam and Max playing through the introductory episode, ‘The Penal Zone’ with the standard blend of humour and insanely compelling puzzles. It is here that our review begins.
Right from the word go with Sam and Max: The Penal Zone the player is thrown in at the deep end. But just to make matters more interesting the developers have allowed a couple of sharks to swim about in there ‘just to spice things up a bit.’ Our intrepid heroes find themselves on board an alien spaceship where they must find some way to open an interdimensional rift in order to cast an outrageously over-the-top Gorilla who is camper than a Butlin’s Bluecoat. However this is when you first discover that Max has the new power to see the future and this is the first instance of the new power demonstrating its skill. As players will discover throughout the game, this new power is key in solving some of the more ‘interesting‘ puzzles that will present themselves to our Dynamic Duo, and along the way they will have to race against their Simian Arch Nemesis Skunka’pe to find the answer to the puzzles that will ultimately lead them to the prizes they seek. These ‘prizes’ range from a telephone that allows Max to transport to any location within the zone that he knows the number of, and there is also an awesome 3D viewer that will allow the Max to see the future.
Telltale has made a few changes to the gaming interface to allow the use of the controller for the Playstation 3, and also to make things easier for the game to be played on the later addition to the available formats,the iPad. Gone is the more traditional ‘point and click’ method of gameplay to be replaced by the more functional and practical ‘virtual controller’ on the PC. Gamers are still able to use the WASD keys for movement however.
Even though the first instalement is generally always more of a ‘tutorial’ in Sam and Max titles, its worth stating that Telltale Games have still fleshed the storyline out enough so that even though you are still technically running around the game and learning how to use your new controls and powers, so that you will be more familiar with the titles plot and characters for the later and more complex episodes, you will still enjoy the episode for that stand-alone title that it truly deserves.
Unlike most other gaming sites we are going to rate the titles as stand alone episodes and then when the entire series has been played out after the release of Episode 5, we will then give a gentle recap of all five episodes before we the rate the series as a title in its own right. It is with that in mind that we will not be offering our normal format for reviews, and instead will give a summing up of the episode in question and then its rating.
The first instalement then of the new Sam and Max adventure that is The Devils Playhouse: The Penal Zone is a welcome addition to any gamers library of digital download titles and one that we suggest that, once completed, you do not delete from your PS3 or PC harddrive. We have ran through the first episode three times now as we waited for the next episode to be released, and each time that we played the title we enjoyed it as much as we did the first time we played the comedy puzzler. The graphics are of the highest quality that you will see for a PSN title and are so well designed that we have seen console titles that have been released on disc that should hang their heads in shame.
The gameplay itself is compelling and the puzzles are as difficult as they are bizarre, the controls have, if anything, benefitted most for the transition to the console and iPad, and should pave the way for more developers to reinvent classic titles that were previousy unavailable to console and iPad gamers. We sincerely hope that the development team who worked on the Diablo series are paying attention? So all in all, Sam and Max The Penal Zone is a fantastic success on all its new and familiar formats. The Penal Zone: 8