Sam & Max Season 3: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 4: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls PS3 Review
Publisher – Telltale Games – Developer – Telltale Games – Genre – Adventure – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 12+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A
The first two seasons of Sam & Max, whilst excellent, suffered from repetition in their locations and jokes, which towards the end of their course made them feel somewhat lazy. Playing around with the formula however and mixing in new mechanics, locations and such, Telltale Games have done an admirable job with keeping this third season fresh throughout and, because of this, The Devil’s Playhouse is unquestionably the best season of the dog and rabbity thing yet.
The fourth episode, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls, focuses on a horde of half naked Sam clones that are seeking the physic toys in Max’s possession. Amusingly, the game begins like a zombie film, with Sam & Max holed up in a pub, to defend themselves against the Sam’s, who behave similarly to zombies sticking their arms through holes in the walls and such. Much of the story centres on discovering where these clones have came from and there are some important revelations and an ending that will leave many wanting to play the final episode. As is often the case, the dialogue and humour and voice acting are all uniformly excellent.
Puzzles are rarely difficult and if you’re left wondering what the hell you do, on top of the hint system you can, as with other games in this season, look into the future, which means you’ll rarely get stuck to any great extent, which is great for those who just consider the puzzling to be a vehicle for the story and just want to make smooth progression to keep the jokes coming thick and fast. There are some clever puzzles here, but when you do find yourself stuck and the solution does eventually come to you, you’ll invariably feel like a bit of an idiot for not working it out for yourself.
As has become a common theme throughout this season, Max has a set of physic powers that are often used to solve puzzles. You can use a Ventriloquist dummy to put words into the mouths of others, you can teleport to locations and with the Rhinoplasty Max can even transform into certain objects within the environments. New this time around is a mind reading ability, which allows you to get a glimpse into the minds of the crazy characters of the Sam & Max universe and unsurprisingly, as with many of other Max’s powers, it’s used to comical effect and is just great fun to play about with.
Somewhat disappointing, though, is that mind reading is quite a limited ability that left Telltale games with little scope to allow you to use it in truly inventive ways. It certainly doesn’t impress to the same level as the Rhinoplasty and Ventriloquist dummy. Elsewhere in this episode, there’s little of the invention seen in previous games in the season. The structure isn’t as open as The Tomb of Sammun-Mak for instance, whilst there’s nothing as fresh as the under used interrogation mechanic from the mildly disappointing previous episode, They Stole Max’s Brain!
Beyond the Alley of the Dolls gets things right in all the areas that matter most, though. The story, humour and voice acting are all excellent, whilst the puzzles and game world are fun to solve and interact with respectively, all of which come together to create an immensely impressive game and one that leaves me looking forward to seeing what the concluding episode has in store for the loveable, oddball duo.