Giant Bomb Review

32 Comments

Sam & Max Episode 301: The Penal Zone Review

4
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  • PS3N
  • PC

Telltale sets up its third season with some slick presentation, a few new gameplay tricks, and enough lightly absurdist, self-aware gags to keep the adventure brisk.


 The season kicks off with faces both old and new.
There's no shortage of premise in The Penal Zone [EDITOR'S NOTE: heh.] much of which is front-loaded within just the first few minutes of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse. First we're thrust into an end-of-the-world scenario with General Skunkape (pronounced Skun-ka'pe) a power-hungry super-intelligent space-ape in the Gorilla Grodd mold. In the middle of this, we're introduced to Max's apparently flourishing psychic abilities--abilities bound to a set of magic toys that happen to be the object of Skunkape's obsession. Just as you get a handle of Max's new mind tricks and it seems like Skunkape fate is sealed, the game's narrator--a Rod Serling/Amazing Criswell amalgam--steps in and turns back the clock, leaving you with the rest of the episode to figure out how to work your way back to the beginning... which is also the end. Kind of. It's a lot to digest, but it makes one thing clear: Telltale Games isn't looking to take it easy with its third season of Sam & Max.

Despite an opening sequence designed to disorient, this episode is intent on easing players back into the world of Sam & Max: Freelance Police. There are plenty of returning characters and callbacks to events from the first two seasons, but neither the story nor the puzzles really hinge on details that aren't presented or reiterated within the episode. The game also comes equipped with an auto-hint system that will also do some aggressive handholding if you let it, features that make it fairly suitable for players unfamiliar with the characters, and those without a sharp sense for adventure game puzzles.

Aside from all the ridiculous, voluminous premise, what really jumped out at me in the opening minutes of the episode was the presentation. The Telltale adventure games have always had a certain chunky charm to them. A low-key cartoony style still carries here, but it's lent some depth by more sophisticated lighting and a decent film-grain effect. The camera angles can even get a little jazzy from time to time, though not so aggressively that it jams up navigation too often. Regardless, the graphical upgrades make Sam & Max look fresh again.

 I dunno Max, something about you just looks... different.
While still a generally conventional adventure game that relies on lots of punchy dialogue and bizarre-yet-logical item interaction, a lot of the puzzles in The Penal Zone [EDITOR'S NOTE: pfft!] focus on the abilities Max gains from two toys he acquires early on. One is a View-Master that lets him see a vision of the future; the other a toy telephone that lets Sam and Max teleport to a person's location, provided they know that person's phone number.

There are lots of time-travel gags baked into the whole future-vision ability, which can make for some fun, circuitous logic, though as a side-effect, you also end up hearing lots of repeated dialogue as you make Max's visions a reality. It's funny a couple times, but eventually you realize the last thing any adventure game needs is more repeating dialogue. Still, it lands enough of its gags that it's a minor point, getting good mileage out of self-aware nods to the episodic format and adventure game conventions and absurd wordplay.

Telltale brings its A-game with The Penal Zone [EDITOR'S NOTE: bwah!] and it's a strong start for the season. It clearly establishes a repeating theme of Max gaining and then exploiting ridiculous new psychic powers with each episode, something that, if the quality of the execution stays where it is, should make for a fun season. Of course, the catch here is that, other than the iPad version, which has some tragic frame rate issues, both the PSN and PC versions of The Devil's Playhouse require you to invest in the full season up-front. It's a bit of a gamble for first-timers, but fans of the series and the genre should have little to worry about.
32 Comments
Posted by nanikore

PENILE ZONE 
 
 
HAHA GET IT

Posted by Scrumdidlyumptious
@nanikore said:
" PENILE ZONE   HAHA GET IT "
Yes it's a zone for penises lol.
Posted by deerhaunter

You get a tf2 hat and 2 weapons for buying this on steam... I'm totally on the fence.

Posted by OmegaPirate

glad to here this is a strong looking series, will definitely be picking this up within the month

Posted by Horace

Hehe.  "Penal".

Posted by Imbalance

Great review, Ryan. I pre-ordered it on Steam and played it yesterday - loving it so far. Even if you're not a fan of Sam and Max or point-and-click games I recommend you at least try the demo. 

Posted by Milkman

LIKE A PENIS

Posted by dbz1995

Story seems interesting. Might give it a shot

Posted by punkxblaze

Heh... peeeeenal. Heheh.

Posted by Sjupp

Oh Ryan..

Posted by AlwaysAngry

PENIS! 
 
 
LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!1

Posted by ptys

Think this would be a good iPad game, will buy once I get one.

Posted by Metiphis

Buy this game and support Telltale.  Lest the Adventure genre fade into an almost nonexistence as it had before they came along.

Posted by blaakmawf

The penis zone. There, I said it.

Posted by KingOfIceland
@nanikore said:
" PENILE ZONE   HAHA GET IT "
The joke is that it kinda sounds like Senile,  right?
Posted by FCKSNAP

Hmm... I was gonna wait til the whole season was released, but I might get it sooner now.

Posted by Jhriad

You guys need a larger scale or something.  Way too many four out of fives recently.  ;)

Edited by Floppypants

I think it's worth noting that the PSN version has trophies.

Posted by TheIneffableBob
@ptys said:
" Think this would be a good iPad game, will buy once I get one. "
FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCTS AND PHALLUSES.
Posted by LeBart

Loved it ! 

Posted by wristwatchmafia

 Skun-ka'pe: I took care of the penal zone in one stroke!
Max: You could've worded that better.

Posted by thecleric

After playing S1 and S2 I have to say, the humor is like.. doubly awesome so far.

Edited by WinterSnowblind

As much as I loved the previous two seasons, this one feels like a pretty large leap ahead.  The development team clearly learned a lot working on Monkey Island, the presentation is just so much better and the set up for some of the jokes is hilarious because of this.
 
Only about an hour in so far but really loving it.
 
My only complaint is that they took the horrible control scheme from Tales Monkey Island, it's literally painful to play.  Decided to buy a 360 controller for the PC and I'll continue when I get a hold of that.
 
@deerhaunter said:

" You get a tf2 hat and 2 weapons for buying this on steam... I'm totally on the fence. "


Telltale will also email you the code if you buy it from them before April 21st, and I'd highly recommend them over Steam.  They often give out freebies and you'll even get a DVD sent to you contaning all the episodes once they're out, and a bunch of bonus features, only having to pay for postage.
Posted by nanikore
@KingOfIceland said:
" @nanikore said:
" PENILE ZONE   HAHA GET IT "
The joke is that it kinda sounds like Senile,  right? "
Yep. You were the only one that got it.
Posted by thecleric
@WinterSnowblind said:
" As much as I loved the previous two seasons, this one feels like a pretty large leap ahead.  The development team clearly learned a lot working on Monkey Island, the presentation is just so much better and the set up for some of the jokes is hilarious because of this.
 
Only about an hour in so far but really loving it.
 
My only complaint is that they took the horrible control scheme from Tales Monkey Island, it's literally painful to play.  Decided to buy a 360 controller for the PC and I'll continue when I get a hold of that.
 
@deerhaunter said:

" You get a tf2 hat and 2 weapons for buying this on steam... I'm totally on the fence. "

Telltale will also email you the code if you buy it from them before April 21st, and I'd highly recommend them over Steam.  They often give out freebies and you'll even get a DVD sent to you contaning all the episodes once they're out, and a bunch of bonus features, only having to pay for postage. "
If I bought it on PS3 but play TF2 on PC, is there any chance of getting a code?
Posted by LeBart
@thecleric: I don't think so, you don't miss much though, the weapons are only skins for the basic Scout and Spy guns.
Edited by Derangel

From the Quick Look you guys had for this game it looks great. I still need to beat the rest of season 1 and all of season 2 first though. Picked them up during the Steam sale over the holiday.

Posted by Zsciaeount

To Ryan and anyone else who is wary of the iPad version, the iPad version actually has a very strong frame rate.  The stuttering issue arises when you try to play the game with other programs running in the background.  If you simply power off the iPad (by holding down the power button, then sliding to turn off) then power it back on and immediately go into Sam & Max, the game runs like butter.

Posted by Koolaids_Back

I wanna play one of these eventually.

Posted by nnilley

I was very disappointing at the demo/trail, its just laggy and the controls suck. However, I'm a sucker for Sam and Max - so Im probably going to buy this anyway.

Edited by atomic_dumpling

His point about repeating dialogue is certainly true. I never finished the old Orion Burger because of that, a game that was all about time loops.

Posted by FreeGamesDownload

What a perfect review. Been looking forward for this and will post my review soon.