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Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse – The City that Dares Not Sleep
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: 08/24/2010
The fifth and final episode of this latest Sam & Max adventure opens with a bang. The city’s in shambles, people are cowering, and the giant monster responsible for the first two points wanders in an endless, mindless rampage. In order to solve this latest crisis, Sam is going to have to rely on some clever thinking and teamwork if he’s going to save Max, the city, and the world.
Let’s see this case to the end, shall we?
Episode 5 picks up where Episode 4 left off”â€that being when Max became a giant Godzilla/Cthulhu-esque abomination and began terrorizing the city. Flaming Max heads are floating around and compelling the citizens to sleep, but Sam and a number of familiar faces are resisting. Even though the acting President feels a nuclear strike is their sole option now, Sam wants to make one last-ditch effort to restore Max to normal. He’s given the go-ahead, marking the start of a race against time. Is there anything of the old Max left in that monster? Sam’s about to find out in a rather literal fashion.
The rest of the story continues to combine the giant monster attack plot with that of the journey-through-the-body, which is still done in the usual satirical tone of the series. To the developers’ credit, they also manage to drop a few surprises here and there to conclude The Devil’s Playhouse series in a satisfying manner – complete with a few holes in the fourth wall. Not that Sam & Max ever had any need of this fourth wall, but that’s beside the point.
If for some reason you haven’t played the previous episodes, don’t fret. Each has been self-contained, and Episode 5 is no different. Granted, you might not know the characters as well as you should, but the basic premise is easy enough to understand, so you can hop right into the wackiness without much trouble. This is definitely worth a look if you’re curious.
Rating: Very Good
The 3-D cartoon graphics are the same from the previous episodes, as expected. The lighting is still excellent; the characters and the environments clearly look like they belong together. Giant Max actually looks disturbing. The different sections in the giant Max body each have their own look and feel, adding to both the art quality and the general parody.
Unfortunately, the sections where you guide the giant Max through the city show how similar-looking graphics isn’t so good. The buildings are of varying sizes, but most are tall enough to hide the street from the player’s view. Moreover, all the buildings have the same coloring, so these two factors combined make it hard to see where you’re going and on what you’re clicking. On the plus side, this isn’t a huge issue; you’ll find where you’re supposed to go if you wander around long enough.
Not much else to say on this point besides, “It looks great.”
The sound quality is as good as it has been throughout the series, right up there with the wonderful performances of the actors. I ran into one instance where a character’s line was completely muted for some reason, but I don’t know if this is the fault of the game or that of my computer. Like with the graphical issue I mentioned earlier, though, this is minor and is easily ignored. On another note, the sound effects go off when they’re supposed to without being any louder than necessary.
Lastly, the end credits music deserves a special mention for both fitting the mood and sounding great. Not a lot of music does that these days, so this is a welcome piece to the soundtrack. Once again, The Devil’s Playhouse series delivers on some excellent audio, and much of it is fitting for a finale.
Control / Gameplay
The simple controls from the previous episodes are still in effect here. You control Sam by either using the arrow keys or the W-A-S-D keys; alternatively, you can click and hold the cursor on a portion of the screen and wait for the joystick icon to appear, at which point you can move your mouse to direct Sam’s movements. Given the latter option, you’ll likely default to using the aforementioned keys before you try moving Sam with just the mouse. Hover the mouse cursor around the screen; if the cursor turns green, then you can interact with the object. Most everything else is done by pointing and clicking, and you can choose how frequently you receive hints via the options in the main menu.
In a few prominent environments, the camera will follow Sam as he moves from point A to point B. This occasionally prompts an abrupt camera-angle switch, but this won’t come off as jarring unless you’re using the arrow keys. For instance, if you’re pressing the down arrow when the switch occurs, you may find that Sam is suddenly going left instead of down. This doesn’t seem to happen if you’re using the W-A-S-D keys, though, so keep that in mind if you’re worried.
You won’t be using Max very much throughout this episode, and especially not in the fashion you’ve been using him in the previous ones. Considering all the plot developments thus far, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. There are no deviants from the usual pointing, clicking, and puzzle solving, which makes for a pretty simple episode. In fact, I found this installment to be easier than, say, Episode 3, due to the factors I just mentioned and to the puzzles’ being less complicated overall.
Thus, this installment is just as easy to pick up and play as the previous episodes, but the lack of deviation from the usual point-and-click will come off as either a welcome return to an old system or a disappointing one.
To put this simply, this game doesn’t have a high replay value. About the only way you can change things up a bit is in solving the puzzles in a different order from how you did on your first run through, but each puzzle has just one solution. The plot will still unfold the same way as it did the first time, and you’ll always wind up with the same ending. But seeing as how this is an adventure game”â€or just a game that’s very dependent on its story”â€I’d expect nothing less.
If you’re more into games that have high replay value, you’ll likely not give this Sam & Max episode, or even the whole series, a close look. If you don’t mind this more story-centered type of game, then by all means, try it out.
The game’s balance is as good as always. The puzzles aren’t too hard to figure out, and none of them have need-a-strategy-guide obscure solutions. This episode, as I’ve said a few times already, is easier than the previous ones due to the lack of new gimmicks that put a different spin to the puzzle-solving, so no trouble spot will stump you for long. The puzzles themselves remain at a consistent level of difficulty throughout, which is okay for this game, but not so much if you’re looking for more challenging puzzles. In general, though, the balance is all right.
Sam & Max has a reputation of sorts for making parodies and references to movies and pop culture, so their taking on the Cthulhu myths seems like an inevitability made real. You can say the same for the whole giant-monster-rampages-through-a-city plot. The developers aren’t the first to make such parodies, of course, but they’ve managed to pull off the whole episode their way, and it shows. I can’t elaborate on this without spoiling too much, though; I’ll let you find out on your own.
I can’t say Telltale Games has been that original with their work here, but I did enjoy playing through the finale to The Devil’s Playhouse, so I’ll give credit where it’s due.
There isn’t much else I can say about this installment’s addictiveness that I didn’t say in my review of Episode 3. I was pulled in from the beginning and didn’t stop until I reached the end, but once I was done, I didn’t feel compelled to play through it again. The difference lay in how much I wanted to see the rest of the story; I was more hooked to this installment overall than I was to Episode 3. Whether that was due to how Episode 5 was the conclusion of The Devil’s Playhouse saga or how it managed to tie in everything from the previous episodes in such a funny way”â€or a combination of both”â€is hard for me to pin point.
But the bottom line here is that I had fun and laughed the whole way.
The two big parts that’ll determine this game’s appeal factor lie in its nature as an adventure game and as an episodic downloadable. Both are hit-or-miss. Adventure games don’t have a lot of game play or plot variation and are slow-paced, so anyone with a short attention span isn’t going to be able to finish one. Episodic downloadables annoy those who prefer to have the whole game in one package, and again, not everyone’s going to be patient enough to wait for the next part to come out. The fact that The Devil’s Playhouse saga is both guarantees that it’s going to appeal to its niche audience only. Said niche is quite big, of course, but it’s a niche nonetheless.
This is a must for Sam & Max fans, and a definite must for those who’ve been grabbing each installment thus far. If you’re curious about this Sam & Max title, the episodic releases will give you the chance to sample it without your having to dump some money into a full disc release, but those who aren’t fans of adventure games or downloadable episodes won’t be changing their opinions anytime soon.
I can’t say much here that I haven’t already discussed. Aside from the one blip in the sound that I mentioned earlier, I encountered no major bugs as I was playing. This is always a plus, as it shows the developers took more time to polish this installment to iron out all the kinks.
The story flows well and, as I said earlier, concludes the series well. About the only part that still seems odd to me is the post-credits scene, but to say more would cause me to delve into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that it feels abrupt and awkward yet funny, but that may have been the developers’ intent.
Once you complete the game, that’s it. No extras here, though I’m not sure there could’ve been any in an downloadable episode. Perhaps some extras will await us if The Devil’s Playhouse comes out in its entirety on a disc? We can only hope.
Story: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Final Rating: Enjoyable Game
Short-Attention Span Summary:
Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse concludes with its fifth and final episode, The City that Dares Not Sleep. As you guide Sam through the craziness that awaits, you’ll find yourself pointing and clicking your way to the end, just as you’ve had to do in the episodes before. In terms of gameplay, there are no real surprises waiting for you, and the same can be said about one particular plot point. I won’t spoil how everything comes together, but rest assured, this is a worthy ending to another weird case by the Freelance Police. Just make sure you sit through the credits.
Tags: sam and max, telltale games