Wednesday, July 13, 2011

REVIEW: Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 1: The Penal Zone

"An Improvment in Its Genre"

This review is solely about the first episode as I have not played the other episodes.

Well, there's a lot of talk about the "golden age of adventure game" era, in ancient history. I've been a great fan of point-and-click adventure genre my whole life. It's true that once the best games in the market were point-and-click adventures. What distinguished these games were artistic integrity, great story lines, and fantastic gameplay. And the star company of that era was Lucas Arts, with great game coming after great games, which are still now playable, certainly games which will always be remembered in this industry's history. Maniac Mansion and its sequel, Monkey Island series, Afterlife, Full Throttle, Sam & Max Hit the Road and finally Grim Fandango are some of these great games. Of course Lucas Arts was not the only star company of this genre, the other star company was Revolution Software which also created many masterpieces of this genre: Lure of the Temptress, Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword series. This age was full of deep and great games, and, to quote Full Throttle, gave us a dream that will never die.

But other genres prevailed and this golden age was over. Point-and-click adventure games were pushed down the hierarchy of the gaming industry and lost their commercial success, and great games in the genre became exceptions, and most games produced in this genre were mediocre games. Maybe this is that fans of these genres are one of the loyal branches of retro-gamers, sticking with that golden era. But to your surprise: Tell-Tale Games have come up with a Sam and Max as great as the original, even slightly better, in gameplay.

For this I salute this company. I didn't like their Monkey Islands a bit, while previous Sam and Maxes were just acceptable, but nothing comparable to the original game. But they have now delivered.

The story of the game is really great. We have the dark humor back. The dialogues are as witty as we expect, and the allusions to pop-culture and high culture are also back. The narration is crazy and hilarious, and you won't put the game down before finishing it.

The graphics of the game is superb. I'm sure no one expects a Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, and the game delivers the graphics fantastically.

The sounds are also perfect. The same good old voice actors of Sam and Max are back and like always they're perfect. The sound effect and the music are completely acceptable as well.

After so many years the gameplay of the series is improved. This is most evident in two aspects. You notice both improvements as you immediately begin the game. The first is controls, second is Max's psychic powers.

Usually in point-and-click adventure games, you can unplug your keyboard and go on gaming. Everything you do involves mouse. If you want to move, click on where you want to go, and if you want to interact, click on the object. However, in this game this traditional control has changed. In this game you can move with W, A, S, and D buttons or with directional buttons, but interacting is done with mouse and clicking. This mixed control is really logical and more convenient, and I hope other games in the genre follow the same trend.

But the main difference is Max. In previous games Max was a side-kick which only cracked jokes. Now he has entered the gameplay, somehow he has become the heart of the gameplay. During the game he has two unique abilities. The first is Future Vision which serves as hints to what you should do and makes the game easier, but in a meaningful way. The second ability is transportation, which saves your time.

The puzzles are nice and well worked. You will have an amazing time playing this game.

There are just two flaws in the gameplay, none of them really important. Firstly, unfortunately, the game is short like all episodic games. I finished it in two playing sessions, none of them that long. Secondly, at the beginning you're introduced to 4 cool psychic abilities but you'll use only two. I hope this is amended in the next episodes. I especially regret not having the mind reading ability since it's a huge comic potential.

Finally, the episode ends with a good cliff-hanger and you also have those visions from the future which arouse your curiosity, so the game tactfully leaves you wanting for more.

From the gameplay I want to bridge this game to the whole genre: why this genre lost its popularity? Well, these games require patience. Too much patience. Something that the current generation of the gamers lacks. What makes them impatient is the fact that you spend a lot of time- an awful lot of time- walking from one point to another- so simply most of your time you're just commuting. These games are slow- really slow. In this aspect this game has improved the genre, the game is fast.

The second reason why this genre has lost its popularity is that it's too hard. Most gamers finish these games using walkthroughs. Most of the times the gamers even don't know what they're supposed to do. Fortunately, the difficulty of this game is reasonable.

Sam and Max: The Devil's Play House, Episode 1: the Penal Zone is a great example how we can revive this great genre of video games. Hats off to them.

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