Well, judgment day is finally here, Sam & Max Season 3 fans, in more ways than one. The latest and last installment of The Devil’s Playhouse has pulled into your friendly neighborhood Telltale multiplex. And it is indeed bigger and bolder than the four earlier movies — uh, sorry, I mean games.
As you may recall, Episode 4 ended with a mutant gigantizoid Max stomping away from Liberty Island toward lower Manhattan. Now, when Episode 5 begins, the monstrous Max has been terrorizing the city for over a week. Crushing all in his path, and putting any survivors into a sinister deep sleep with his myriad Max spores — flaming Max heads which float around like demon sandmen trying to bore all comers to sleep. Luckily for Gotham, our remaining heroes are a wide-awake bunch. And though Sam may be sans his usual sidekick, he has pretty much every other character who has appeared in the season back on his side. Plus a bunch of returnees from earlier seasons, including a very preggers Sybil.
Here’s the situation straight from the Situation Room: Acting president Agent Superball is preparing to nuke the rampaging Max (and, somewhat regrettably, the rest of the city), unless Sam, and you, and about six dozen other characters can figure out how to turn Max back into an adorable bunny. The action is fast and furious as Sam and his crack team prepare to enter Max’s digestive system and then race against the clock to de-monsterfy him. Safe to say, the path to success is not quite that simple, as there are more twists and turns in the plot ahead than there are in Monster Max’s large intestine. Even worse, there’s an unknown traitor on the prowl, plotting to undo any progress our heroes make.
You will have your sweaty hands full as you — ah, the heck with it. There’s only so much of that faux tension mode I can take.
The City That Dares Not Sleep is really one long, frenetic cakewalk. I don’t think I took a wrong turn the entire way. The atmosphere is all seat-of-your-pants crisis, but the actual gameplay, as per usual, is easy as pie. I suppose this is an accomplishment of sorts, to make the player feel like he or she is under the gun, when really nothing is at stake. The strange thing about adventure games, once upon a time at least, is there was something at stake. Amid all the fantasy and other shenanigans, there was a genuine tension to playing an
adventure — you might not finish. Unless you cheated, of course. Suppose when you go to your real local multiplex this weekend to take in one of Hollywood’s finest there was a chance, if you didn’t pay sufficient attention, you would not see the end of the movie? Well, thank heaven, Telltale has eliminated that suspense. Thanks to their simplistic gameplay, generous hints and limited inventory, you would have to actually be asleep not to breeze through a game like this.
To their credit, these Sam & Max games, like most Telltale offerings, do indeed have near Hollywood level production values. The City That Dares Not Sleeplooks and sounds, if possible, even better than the four earlier episodes. With Max out of the picture, so to speak, there are no more psi powers to play with, but Sam does get to do some astral self-projection in order to solve one series of obstacles. At another point he even dances a mean Roomba. You also get to control Monster Max as he stomps around Gotham’s streets. The plotting and dialog are as crisp as ever. The sound and score are as lush. The jokes are just as sly and pop-cultural. It’s yet another beautiful, expert, fun product. But is it a game? Debatable. It makes me wonder why Telltale doesn’t just go ahead and make movies. Give Pixar a run for its money. If the bottom line is all that matters and far more people prefer to watch movies than play games, why bother to retain any game elements at all? Is it just for nostalgia?
There’s a point in City where the writers seem to be poking fun even at this question. In a cluttered basement room of Monster Max’s lower extremities, Sam stumbles upon a shelf of memorabilia from the original LucasArts Sam & Max Hit the Road. Self-referential wisecracks ensue. It’s a funny scene, but begs the question sarcasm or not. Are the Telltale Sam & Maxes superior to the lone LucasArts game? Many people consider S&M Hit the Road the greatest adventure game ever made. I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s surely in the top ten. It may be in 256 colors and not glorious 3D, but it has puzzles as clever as its dialog. Yes, Telltale, puzzles, incredible as it sounds, can be fun. They’re not something that stops the player from getting to the good stuff — they are the good stuff.
The City That Dares Not Sleep is certainly the second best entry in Season 3 (The Tomb of Sammun-Mak remains the clear standout). TCTDNS richly deserves the A minus I’m awarding it. If they ever do make a film of it, and finally get rid of the last of those pesky puzzles, I’ll probably grade that even higher.
It’s time to assess the whole of Sam & Max Season 3. It was, from start to finish, a very enjoyable romp. Episodes two and five were, as I say, the best, but even the treading-water third and fourth episodes were highly entertaining. We welcomed some ingenious new elements, like Max’s psi powers and Sam’s rolled-up-sleeves interrogations. There was also the dabbling in places of “real” emotion, as Max’s fate hung in the balance up to the very end. (Just wait, you’ll see.) Again, the only negative of the entire series would be, for puzzle diehards like myself, the lack of any serious challenge. Overall, I give The Devil’s Playhouse a B plus.
Final Grade: A-
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