Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse – Episode 1

The dynamic duo return.

Episodic gameplay can be somewhat of a fantasy on consoles. It has been tried so many times before, with very little success. However, it has been done on the PC to a vast extent, one of the most prominent being the Sam and Max franchise from Telltale Games. Well, the new season is here, and this time, it is also on the Playstation 3. With one episode a month, it is kind of a long wait between releases, but there is enough in this single opening episode to get you excited for what they are going to do next.

The first episode, entitled The Penal Zone starts off in a very unique way, with you playing the end of the episode first. However, only after a few minutes, you are transported back to where it all began and you get to see how you get into the big situation in the first place. The story starts off our favorite dog and bunny detective team witnessing an alien landing on earth. His name is General Skun’ka’pe, and he is from a world unpronounceable by the human tongue. After his peaceful intro, you find that he is in fact inherently evil, as expected and you go on a series of quests to get back onto his ship to stop him from destroying the planet. The story itself is pretty interesting, with there being numerous references to the paranormal. However, this episode really just feels like a setup for episodes to come, with it not being very engrossing, or story-driven, with you just going on a bunch of random tasks that just culminate to a semi-ending.

The gameplay of Sam and Max is as good as it’s ever been, with there being a few new twists and turns this time around. Now, Max has the ability to use different toys to manipulate time and space, such as a toy phone to teleport to other phones, or toy clay that allows him to transform into other objects. These work well, and keep things mixed up. The game is still a simple “point and click” adventure game, with you being able to free roam around each environment, and then interact with certain objects to obtain clues and talk to people to help you with your investigation. When talking to potential suspects, you use a conversation wheel system, with you being able to select between several dialogue choices. There are sometimes problems with movement around environments and selecting the object you want, but overall, it works pretty well.

The main problem that I have here is with the pacing of the game. For example, the game can get very slow and monotonous, especially if you get confused and cannot understand what you should be doing. You are given little to no direction on how to solve most problems, but at the same time you are given all the tools you need to solve these puzzles. You also have a clue system that you can increase or decrease the amount of help you get. Overall though, it can be very frustrating at points and there are some solutions that will take a long time to figure out, no matter your skill level.

The game looks very good as well. The graphics are crisp, and the character models are very interesting. They have created a very vast amount of characters, each of which is unique in their own way. The voice acting is superb as well, with some amazing and hilarious one liners. The Sam and Max franchise has always had a strong comedy element, and this season certainly doesn’t stray from that aspect. There was many times where I laughed out loud, which doesn’t happen in gaming too often anymore. The music is good, and fits the old school detective style of the game. There were, however, some pretty long load times in spots, and weird presentation issues like not having any music in the main menu, which is not something I would have expected. There was also some slowdown in spots, but nothing that hinders the game experience too much. Overall, the presentation is well done.

The Sam and Max franchise makes a very good first impression on the PS3. There are not too many titles like this on the platform, and it is a very welcome addition. I’m hoping that they step things up a bit for the other episodes, as I said this one is pretty much a setup for the rest of this season. For fans, there is no question to pick this one up, as it gives you three to four hours of fun and traditional Telltale gameplay. However, thirty five bucks is a little steep for the season and I recommend that those who have not experienced a game like this please try out the demo and see for yourself first. This game does the franchise justice however, and I cannot wait to see what the series has in store for us this season. Fasten your seatbelts, and get ready to jump into The Devil’s Playhouse.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Written by
Jeff is a full-time student and has a disorder where he constantly trades in all his games to buy new ones, and then buys the older ones back. We are looking into getting him his own padded room.