After a rather long stretch since the last episode of Sam & Max, Telltale has finally seen fit to start releasing episodes of the third season of the game which the first being The Penal Zone. For those not in the know, Sam & Max are freelance police which basically means that they solve crimes that the normal police just don’t want to bother with. Sam is a loveable, bi-pedal dog in a suit, and Max is a homicidal rabbit. Why they have badges is anyone’s guess. This episode has done a number of things that make the playability of it easier for newcomers, but that strangely almost feels like the PC has taken a backseat to the console versions.
The only real problem with the entire interface is that everything seems to be mapped around using a controller. While this is fine for most people that use a 360 controller for their PC it just seems weird when the characters move and an analog stick appears on the screen. The characters can still be controlled using the WASD movement setup that was introduced in the recent Monkey Island games, but the circle chat clearly designed to simply be controller friendly. Not really a fault of the game as much as someone who has been with the series, for possibly too long, complaining about small changes.
The best thing done this time around is the inclusion of the instant hint system. Early in the game Max receives the power to look through a view finder at objects and see what the future holds for them, pretty much showing what the characters should be doing next in an effort to solve any given puzzle. This doesn’t eliminate all of the challenge of the game, as most of the time it still requires getting the duo normally needing several items for any given puzzle.
Both Sam and Max’s amazing voice actors return this time around to make sure that the script is up to the high standards that the last two seasons put the game at, as well as the rest of the recurring cast. All of the dialog of the game is funny and laced with small amounts of in-jokes, but at times doesn’t seem like it is as punchy as the last several games that Telltale has put out. It might just be an attempt to introduce new players to the series, but at times it almost seemed like some of the more outlandish jokes that the series is known for where being held back a bit.
The faults in the game feel more like growing pains than anything else. The way that environment is crafted together, for example, feels like all of the buildings were modeled in 3D this time and not some ancient 2D adventure game kit, as the character not only walks to the side of a building now, but climb on top of them as well. This influences the way that the game feels, and while it isn’t negative, it is kind of like going back to your parent’s house and having them move everything 6 inches to the left.
The game comes with the same pricing structure that Tales of Monkey Island did by making the player buy the entire game all at once, and releasing the games one at a time. While it seemed a little strange back when it started it makes more sense now, as jokes can easily be transferred from one episode to the next, and things can get up to speed quicker month after month. It also comes with a good amount of pacing the last part from the next, because a human brain can only take so much cartoon logic at one time. Although it does raise the question of if this should still be counted as an episodic game.
The Penal Zone is a really good adventure game, and has the chances of being the best Season of Sam & Max that has come along, but it still has some minor bugs to work out with the interface. Aside from making everything feel like it should be played with the controller instead of mouse and keyboard, the first ten or so minutes of the story unfold in a rather odd way that hangs over the rest of the episode. Although some of this can just be explained away with the broadening appeal of the series as well as the introduction of a new hint system. Fans should have already bought this entire season before it came out, everyone else may want to start back at season one to catch up. If for no other reason than to understand why it looks like Sam & Max live on a recently bombed street.
Not As Good As: Parts of Season 2
Also Try: Sam and Max Season 2
Wait For It: The entire season’s release
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