Sam & Max are at it again in this first of a five part series set in a fictional New York City. For those of you unfamiliar with Sam and Max, here’s a bit of a gaming history lesson for you. Sam & Max is a wide spread media franchise created by Steve Purcell when he was a child. The dynamic freelance detective duo made their first appearance in the 1987 comic series Sam & Max: Freelance Police and have since appeared in more comic books, an animated series, and multiple point and click PC video games. You have to give the series a great deal of credit for being able to stay active for 23 years now.
The Penal Zone follows the familiar point and click style of previous entries in the series but also manages to keep it fresh by throwing a couple new features into the bag. But is this game worth downloading and adding to your precious hard-drive space? Here are the HOTs and NOTs of Their newest crazy adventure.
The story behind Episode 1 starts with lovable freelance police Sam and Max held prisoner by the evil General Skun-kaka’pe, a giant, super intelligent, and evil space gorilla who has his eyes dead set on obliterating Earth. During the intro tutorial of the game, you learn that Max somehow has gained unusual psychic powers. Using the first ability in his arsenal, the ability to teleport, they two break free from their confines and manage to outsmart and trap the General back in the Penal Zone. After the opening credits roll, you see that what you just played was actually a vision of the future that Max is able to see using a combination of his psychic powers and a pair of what looks like toy binoculars. The story then shoots back a bit earlier and shows a cutscene of Max acquiring the toy and gaining those psychic powers previously mentioned. After cutting back to the in-game present, the vision ends and General Skunkape (that’s what Sam & Max call him) lands his ship right next to them. He appears to be a sweet and kind ape compared to what the vision showed and claims he is there for peace. Thus begins Sam and Max’s wacky adventure to find out what leads up to the events of the vision, and stop the general using their unconventional sleuthing methods.
Filled With Humor
From start to finish, this game is packed with entertaining one liners and pop culture references. Almost all of them will give you a good chuckle and some may even give you a real good laugh. This makes the parts of the game that require alot of chatting between the characters much more enjoyable and not so tedious. Instead of dreading your next conversation with the next NPC, you will almost look forward to the conversation just to see what jokes or references the writers came up with next. Its nice to see a downloadable game like this have writing that can fully entertain you for the four hours that it lasts.
The premise of the gameplay is simple: move to objects/people of interest and initiate an interaction between you and that point of interest. You will move around the area and interact with people and objects using Sam and switch to Max for the psychic abilities. Eventually you will come upon a puzzle that will take Max’s psychic skills to solve or a certain item to solve. Its extremely addicting and never feels tedious or boring due to the change of locals and psychic powers that Max wields. The twist on the gameplay is the ability to see the end result of things using the psychic binoculars thus giving you clues on how to solve the puzzle. This is tremendously helpful should you get stuck on a certain part of the game. And although it has a running time of three to four hours, there is always the ability to replay it for any missed trophies or just for the fun of it.
The cartoon style graphics just feel right with this game. Along with the humor and its old comic book style feel, the art style just feels extremely compatible with this game. Not only that, but its also keeping to the roots of Sam & Max by keeping it in this style. It would be a tad creepy to see a six foot talking dog in a suit and a psychotic three foot rabbit thingy with a saw style grin rendered in God of War III style graphics. Almost sounds like the stuff of nightmares when you put it that way. Good to see that they didn’t choose to go down the realistic graphics of the year road.
Frame Rate Lag
This is something that can ruin the gameplay flow and rob from the experience. It is slight for the most part, yet on a few occasions when things tend to speed up, the game lags and stutters really bad. Although this can be a turn off, you won’t start to notice it much once you play for awhile. Only the big parts of lag will be like the glowing red blister on the homecoming queen.
Rounding it all up, Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse-Episode1: The Penal Zone is an exceptional title well worth purchasing if your looking for a good adventure/sleuthing game and you have the money to get it. Just be sure to have enough to purchase the next four being released over the next few months because the cliffhanger ending will leave you with questions and an urge for more of the crazy duo. Although frame rate lag can pop its head up now and again, it definitely is overshadowed by the witty writing and the addicting gameplay. For fans of the series, investigation style games, or casual gaming, definitely pick this one up.Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 1: The Penal Zone Review,