Continuing Telltale's promise to deliver nonstop shocks and cliffhangers in Sam & Max Season 3, the second episode concluded with what might be the biggest surprise in the series' history since Max became president in an emergency election. Sam, after leaving for a bathroom break during the climax of the second episode, returns to find his little buddy dead, his brain removed and skull hanging open. Picking up immediately where the second left off, the third begins with Sam's reaction, which quickly moves from shock to bloodthirsty anger. Suddenly, the series takes a turn to the noir, complete with new gameplay elements to fit the sudden change in tone. From the moment Sam exits the building, everything about him has changed. He's taken off his hat, removed his coat, and rolled up his sleeves. His voice is deeper, grizzled, angry. He means business.
Well, as much business as Sam can mean. He's still making wise cracks and occasionally falling out of his new character. For the first hour or so of the chapter, the game is about interrogating different characters Man on Fire style by trying to find holes in their stories. In a way, it's not unlike the examinations in Phoenix Wright, a mechanic that manages to blend perfectly into the already dialog-heavy encounters of the game. During this portion of the story, there's even a nice film grain over the screen, pushing the noir as far as possible without going too far over the top.
Then, in typical Sam & Max fashion, it flies over the top in style, giving Sam some fantastic dialog choices that will have him reciting depressing soliloquies that feel like they're ripped right out of a 1950's crime novel.
Before long, however, it's back to a more typical adventure, so those looking for standard Telltale point-and-click wonder shouldn't be worried when the story seems to go in a different direction. On that note, as is usually the case with Sam & Max, it's best to let the story unfold on its own, so I'm going to resist talking too much about the actual plot. Fans of the last two episodes will likely be completely pleased to see that the characters introduced in the first and second episode come together in humorous ways, and the series continues to be as funny as ever.
A few glitches here and there hold the experience back a bit, but odds are they've either been cleaned up already, or will be before too long. None actually got in the way of the game, luckily, they were just more obvious than in the past. Still, there's little to say about Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, Episode 3 -- "They Stole Max's Brain!" that fans of the series couldn't already guess. It's not a drastic improvement over the last game, but considering how high-quality the season has been so far, I doubt anyone is going to complain.