What is it?
Episodic games are starting
to become a major player in the modern games industry, particularly
amongst adventure game publishers. The past masters of this form are,
without doubt, Telltale Games, with their Strong Bad, Wallace & Gromit,
and Sam & Max series(es). In the case of Sam & Max, we've now reached the
mid-point of their third season (Sam
& Max: The Devil's Playhouse),
a game called They Stole Max's Brain. Telltale Games say that you
don't need to play the preceding episodes (The Penal Zone and
The Tomb of Sammun-Mak) to play the latest episode, but I would say
that it would be like starting to watch Doctor Who halfway through
a season. You can do it, but there will be plenty of elements that
won't make sense. So I would recommend starting with The Penal Zone
all the same.
Is there a plot?
It is hard to describe the
opening of this new episode without spoiling the end of the previous game,
but I'll try. The basic point is that, whilst Sam is elsewhere, and Max's
attention is elsewhere, someone or something opens up Max's skull, removes
Max's brain, and then leaves the area with no-one seeing the remover
leave. Or did they? Sam is somewhat put out by this deed (ya think?!). He
proceeds to go on a "bad
dogcop gone badder" rampage through the
city, looking for Max's brain, with Max's body lolling about in the
passenger seat of the DeSoto.
I should make it clear at
this point that Sam & Max are cartoon characters, so the excision of Max's
brain appears to have been a bloodless and painless event.
Of course, characters from
the previous episodes recur in this one. There's Skun-ka'pe, the space
gorilla, many Mole Men and Women, Papierwaite, both Stinkys, Flint Paper,
the Gray Narrator, and more. However, the biggest twists in the on-going
story are an alliance between Skun-ka'pe and Papierwaite, and the addition
of an Egyptian pharaoh to the cast. Quite how those work out I'll leave
for you to find out.
The story is played out in
New York City, as is usually the case with Sam & Max. As with the
characters, each episode keeps some of the long-serving venues -- those
that are central to the current Season's overall story. At the same time,
each episode introduces new venues, such as the Museum of Mostly Natural
History; an odd place where fact, deeply suspicious speculation, and
downright baloney are mixed in a thoroughly Sam & Max way.
How do you play?
For the most part, the Sam &
Max games are point-n-click adventures, but it does appear that more
keyboard controls are creeping in as the influence of PlayStation 3 and
iPad ports makes itself felt. That may sound like a contradiction in
terms, as the PS3 in particular has no keyboard. But it also doesn't have
a mouse, so the gamepad-with-many-buttons style of control translates
better to keyboard than mouse.
Anyway, most of the time you
will play as Sam, using the W, A, S, D keys (or click and dragging the mouse)
to move around, left clicking to interact with objects and middle clicking
to get at the contents of Sam's inventory (also seen as a cardboard box in
the top right of the screen). You can also get access to Sam's notebook
for a summary of the state of the story and details about the characters
therein. Some of Max's psychic powers that were introduced in the Penal
Zone and the Tomb of Sammun-Mak are still available via the Q
key or the Max icon in the top right of the screen. I think Max's future
vision power is particularly innovative -- a combination of hint system
with puzzle solution at the same time.
A feature of the Sam & Max
games that has always intrigued me (or bugged me, depending upon my mood),
is that Max is more like a tool than a character. Let me explain. Sam is
the one that I, as the player, control. He runs around the game scenes as
my proxy; he's the one who opens doors, handles objects and solves puzzles
for me -- my dogsbody if you like. However, Max is the comedic foil and a
toolbox of comedy violence, which I enjoy, but I don't feel he's under my
control. Perhaps that's exactly what Telltale are aiming for!
To conclude, well, They
Stole Max's Brain! is episode 3 of the season, so we can't actually
conclude, can we? Anyway, this episode, like all good episodic stories,
ends with a cliff-hanger: a roomful of many Sams and no explanation of who
they are (apart from the obvious), what they are, how they got there, or
why they're all wearing silk boxer shorts and manic grins. So, once more
unto the breach, dear friends, once more... with feeling. Sam & Max
continue on their excellent way, telling strange stories in a strange
city. But just who is "Doctor Norrington"?
Sam & Max The Devil's
Playhouse: They Stole Max's Brain!
can be purchased via
What do you need to play it?
system: Windows XP / Vista / Windows 7
Processor: 2.0 GHz Memory: 1GB
(recommended: 3 GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent)
Sound: DirectX 8.1 sound device
Video: 128MB DirectX 8.1-compliant video
DirectX: Version 9.0c or better
(I used a custom built
Vista Home Premium SP2 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual
with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card with
mother-board sound card)
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