Dish Out Some Freelance Police-Style Space Justice

Sam & Max make a grand entrance on the PlayStation 3 by way of "The Penal Zone."
Author: J.D. Cohen
Published: May 12, 2010
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For the past four years, Telltale Games has been at the center of an episodic adventure game renaissance. Their first major success came in the form of Sam & Max Save the World, which marked the beginning of the monthly series model which has continued to serve them well ever since. The anthropomorphic freelance police are now entering their third season, entitled Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse. The first of five planned episodes, "The Penal Zone," is now available on the PlayStation Network. This is doubly exciting, because not only does it mean the beginning of another five months of madcap hijinks, but it represents Telltale's first foray onto the PlayStation family of video entertainment computer devices. All five episodes are purchased in one go for the fair price of $34.99, reserving for the user the right to download each one upon release. A demo for the first is also currently available.

If you are new to the series and are troubled by the idea of starting something in its third season, then relax and stop being such a worrier. While there are quite a few recurring characters and a handful of references to the past, season three stands alone. "The Penal Zone" kicks off in medias res, which gives the initial impression that it's picking up directly after a cliffhanger ending from season two, but it's actually employing a different narrative technique by way of Max's clairvoyance. Yes, the rabbity half of Sam & Max possesses psychic "gifts" now, which is a development that should be regarded with great trepidation by anyone familiar with his erratic and impulsive nature. It's a lucky thing his suit-wearing canine partner Sam is around, seeing as Sam is slightly less prone to violence and property damage. Oh, and by the way, Max is the President of the United States.

The psychic powers are the most important new development in terms of gameplay. Max unlocks new abilities over the course of the adventure by acquiring certain imbued objects. As you learn to use these strange powers, you'll find that you can take a more logical and systematic approach to puzzle-solving than in most similar games. Sam and Max joke a few times about their penchant for combining unlikely objects in order to solve problems, but there is a lot less of that kind of flailing around in "The Penal Zone" than you might expect. It could be argued that Max's ability to see into the future (which organically falls into place as a hint system) makes things a little too easy, but it's implemented cleverly enough to still leave plenty of surprises, and it prevents you from hitting any frustrating brick walls that would have you reaching for a walkthrough.

The real drawback to Max's psychic talents is that there are forces who would harness it for their own evil purposes. In "The Penal Zone," that threat takes the form of intergalactic dictator General Skunkape, a brutish but intelligent space gorilla. While Max could potentially destroy the world through a combination of excitability and poor impulse control, an outright evil and power hungry individual like Skunkape would probably be a less desirable wielder of supernatural power. It falls to Sam and Max to protect New York from this megalomaniacal jerk through a combination of eerie powers and old-fashioned detective work. A 1960 DeSoto Adventurer full of retired office equipment comes in handy too.
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