Reviewed: August 2, 2010
Released: May 18, 2010
For nearly thirty years, the “Freelance Police” duo – consisting of a fedora wearing gumshoe canine named Sam, and an overzealous, hyper-psychotic rabbit named Max – have been saving the world from destruction. First, in comic strip form, then as full-fledged comic books, finally moving into the world of video gaming with LucasArts classic 1993 point-and-click graphic adventure Hitting The Road. |
The duo went on a hiatus, reemerging thirteen years later on the GameTap service. No longer a LucasArts property, Sam and Max Save The World released under the wing of Telltale games, and received decent critical reception. But more than the content of the game was the delivery method; the pioneer franchise in the episodic sales model – a series of six scheduled incremental partial releases delivered digitally rather than in hardcopy.
The benefits of episodic sales to the developers are obvious – low overhead with respect to retails sales (no discs, cases, or inserts), leveling of the development process (allowing developers partial releases while continuing development), and stabilization in cash flow (from periodic partial sales rather than a single post-production lump sum). On the gamer’s end, the benefits are equally favorable – incremental partial-cost purchases rather than a single $50 bill, the capacity to pick and choose episodes, and the ability to start and/or stop subscriptions at will.
Sam and Max Save the World was followed up shortly thereafter with Sam and Max Beyond Space and Time, and the subsequent re-release of Save The World on the Xbox Live system. Now Telltale is bringing the dynamic duo to the PS3 with Sam and Max: The Devil’s Playhouse – delivered via the PSN network.
The Devil’s Playhouse remains largely a PC-style point-and-click adventure, but the controls have been tweaked to work within the confines of a console – mapping character movement to the left analog stick, and pointer selection to the right analog stick. The system is a bit awkward to get used to, which is not made any easier by the pre-determined camera angles that seem to switch at the word possible moment. These control problems are nothing that cannot be overcome with a little fiddling around, but it does put a bit of a damper on the fun.
While the mechanics of the second episode are nearly identical to the first, the settings and storyline are far different. The first episode of The Devil’s Playhouse sent Sam and Max travelling through space in search of a dastardly Skun-ka-pe’ in their own version of the television series The Twilight Zone, aptly called The Penal Zone.
The second episode sees the inquisitive duo using a series of dusty film rolls to venture back to the days of their ancestors – Sammus and Maximus – reliving their own fateful search for the priced Devils Toy Box.
As you can guess from the title, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is developed around a storyline mirroring archaeologist Howard Carter’s 1922 opening of the Tomb of Tutankhamun (King Tut), and the mysterious events that occurred afterward – suggesting to some the presence of a Pharaohs Curse and providing literary, cinematic, and gaming fodder for many years to follow.
The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is far less linear than The Penal Zone – by developing the storyline around the series of film reels, gamers are allowed to play film reels in any sequence they wish. However, there are a number of intertwining elements across the different film reels meaning the gamers might have to perform an action on one film reel to affect an outcome on another.
The overall aesthetic is very nice – the Egyptian styled backgrounds definitely deliver a dusty, tomb-like atmosphere, and the grainy film reel visuals really add an excellent air of antiquity to the proceedings. The voice acting and sound effects are top-notch, although the music can get a bit a bit sleepy after a long period of play.
Much like the previous episode, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak can be completed in a little over three hours. While this may seem a bit brief by most standards the fact that it is only one of a five-episode series means that The Devil’s Playhouse should clock in at around 15 to 20 hours in all, which is pretty darned good for a budget-priced release.
All in all, I was much more impressed with the Tomb of Sammon-Mak than I was with the Penal Zone. The Egyptian mystique set a better tone for me than the outer space exploits of a smelly ape, and the fact that the humor was delivered less by puns and wordplay and more by slapstick and gag-humor was a bit more enjoyable to my taste.