June 12, 2010
We’re halfway through the new five-part season three of Sam & Max from Telltale Games, and the plot is beginning to thicken, or congeal, depending on your point of view. In episode one, The Penal Zone, that intergalactic pest, General Skunkape, turned up to search earth for the Toys of Power, which would give him unlimited sway over the universe. In episode two, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak, we and the dynamic duo peered back, through the magic of cinema, a hundred years earlier to watch Sameth and Maximus, our hero’s forebears, run into a fellow named Monsieur Papierwaite, a Middle-Eastern fakir-type in a fez who was hot on the trail of the Devil’s Toy Box so he could summon or maybe sammun his diabolical god, Yog-Soggoth. Got that? Now, in episode three, They Stole Max’s Brain, they’ve — stolen Max’s brain!
I’m not going to tell you here who did the swiping, but both villains from the first two episodes are back, battling it out not only with our heroes but with each other for control of the Devil’s Toy Box which Sam & Max unearthed in the basement of their office building back in episode one. There’s a new bonus villain this time, too, a ten-year-old, self-made Egyptian Pharaoh and part-time god who Sam, with the best intentions, accidentally equips with ultimate power to change time and matter. Wait’ll you see how Sam and Max (reduced to just his brain for nearly the entirety of the episode) get out of that one. Also new on the scene are a congenial six-foot cockroach security guard, and former short-order cook by the name of Sal, and a bothersome middle-European tourist with sticky fingers.
Whew, this is getting complicated. Of course, it’s all in good fun and the minutiae of the S&M plots are mostly for the real diehards. For the rest of us, episode three is the usual gas, though for me, not quite as original or as entertaining or even as brain-tickling as the second episode. In fact, the game may be getting bogged down by its own self-exegesis. That is, getting muddled in trying to make all the strands connect. There’s even a new “entity” in this game who never shows his face, named Norrington, who no doubt will prove vital before all is over.
Of course the game controls and music and etcetera are the same as the previous episodes. And the game designers are still admirably experimenting with novel, or at least less familiar, puzzle types. Episode three starts off with an enraged Sam — sans hat and jacket and with his sleeves rolled up — racing around town in the DeSoto shaking down shady types via Flint Paper’s School of Interrogation techniques. It’s a nice try but as with most conversation-tree puzzles, it mostly ends up being half a guessing game and half just exhaust every possibility. There are a couple of good puzzles in Act 2, which takes place at the Museum of Mostly Natural History, and then the final act, with the kid Pharaoh back on the throne, wraps up with yet another of those faux action scenes that Telltale is now in love with and which they used to close every episode of their recent Wallace & Gromit series. That is, what seems like an intense, timed action sequence is really on a loop and you can’t lose. You could go away for a cup of coffee and a doughnut and when you got back the “action” would still be waiting for you to figure out the right sequence to perform. I wasn’t that fond of these in W&G, nor am I here, but I admit they’re well done and at least a change of pace.
I am not going to complain again about how easy these games have become. Somebody could have stolen your brain and you’d still be able to play through this episode in a few hours. Pretty soon, though, there’s not going to be a need for any player interaction. And then Telltale will have reinvented the sitcom. Oh well. There’s no arguing either with City Hall or the bottom line. But, as usual, it’s all expertly crafted and written and still highly amusing. It may not be a game anymore, but it is diverting. However, because this episode felt a bit like reconstituted, low-calorie leftovers — nowhere near as stylish or tightly plotted as episode two — I’m giving it an overall B.
Final Grade: B
PC System Requirements: