As anyone who reads this site regularly knows, I am a huge fan of point-and-click adventure games. Since the revival of the Sam & Max series a few years ago, I’ve been heartily enjoying Telltale’s episodic series, and I’m constantly impressed with the quality of the writing and voice acting. The third season, known as The Devil’s Playhouse, kicked off in April, and the second episode, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak, was released on the PlayStation Network, PC, and iPad last month. Sammun-Mak brings a change of scenery and some new psychic powers to Devil’s Playhouse, but is also marred by a few annoying technical issues.
The Tomb of Sammun-Mak starts where The Penal Zone ended: in the sewers beneath the office of the Freelance Police. Upon discovering two skeletons—one a large dog, one a rabbity-thing—Sam and Max come to realize that these bones belong to their great-grandfathers, Sameth and Maximus. Through the magic of several old film reels and Max’s new power of astral projection, the majority of this episode is played as their ancestors in 1901 New York City, though that doesn’t mean it loses any of its zany and sometimes violent humor.
While Max doesn’t retain any of his psychic abilities from The Penal Zone, he gains three more in The Tomb of Sammun-Mak. As mentioned earlier, astral projection allows current-day Sam and Max to experience the adventures of Sameth and Maximus over a hundred years ago, and allows the player to switch back and forth, returning to the present only to switch film reels and play through a different part of the tale. The episode is split into four parts, which may not necessarily be experienced chronologically. Along the way, Max will also gain the ability to squeeze into a magical can of nuts and use a ventriloquist’s dummy to throw his voice (not actually a psychic power, as he points out, but why argue?). The duo also run into some familiar faces from the previous season, which is always a pleasant surprise.
The Tomb of Sammun-Mak continues to use the new, console-friendly control scheme introduced in The Penal Zone, which I found myself becoming more familiar with in this episode. The controls no longer felt like a jarring departure from traditional point-and-click gameplay, but as an evolution of the control scheme suited for a console controller. Walking around environments is less of a headache when using the thumbstick, as opposed to hitting a button repeatedly. Likewise, though Max’s psychic powers were an odd addition in The Penal Zone, switching between Sam and Max felt completely intuitive in The Tomb of Sammun-Mak.
Since The Devil’s Playhouse is the first season of Sam & Max to appear on the PS3, it’s interesting to see how the presentation has progressed from the last two seasons. As noted in the review for The Penal Zone, characters definitely look crisper and more detailed, and the cartoony style suits the game nicely. Once again, the game’s voice actors are a highlight, and all do a good job of delivering well-written dialogue. I wish I could say that the entire game was smooth and polished, but for the first time, I ran into some troubling glitches that I hope won’t become a regular occurrence in the rest of the season. At one point, when entering a compartment on a train, Sam and Max disappeared from view, though I could still click on other things. They reappeared once I moved into the next compartment, but that was still an odd technical issue. In another instance, I was unable to select any actions, forcing me to quit the game and reload from my last save point. Neither of these issues are game-breaking, but they’re certainly annoying, especially when accompanied by long load times.
Despite the technical problems, though, I found myself enjoying The Tomb of Sammun-Mak from start to finish. The completion of this episode sets up the next one, leaving me wanting more, and I look forward to the third chapter of this season later this month. I hope the glitches were isolated incidents, as I would hate to see Telltale’s usually polished games follow this pattern. Needless to say, The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is another great episode in The Devil’s Playhouse, and I can’t wait to see what adventures are still ahead for the Freelance Police.