The second episode of the third season of Sam & Max, The Devil's Playhouse, distances itself even more from previous seasons, yet it still retains continuity. The biggest complaints fans had of the first and second seasons was that characters and locations were overused. Telltale has gone to great steps to rectify that this season. In the last episode, there was only one returning indoor location, and just two returning outdoor locations. Each of these locations was remodeled to give it a new look. In this episode, fans should be pleased to know there are no returning locations at all. Every location Sam & Max will visit in The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is new.
The game takes place in the past, set during the turn of the 20th century. The duo will not meet a lot of returning characters due to the difference in time-frame, but they do meet some. It makes sense that each of these returning characters would be alive more than 100 years ago. Each of these characters are those who did not get too much screen time previously, so you don't get the feeling of over-use when you encounter them.
The new characters are entertaining, and I'm happy to say that none of them had voice-over work that was grating. Telltale is making sure we won't get a repeat of the Soda Poppers situation this season. The music is wonderful as usual. Jared-Emerson Johnson always does a great job bringing a cinematic feeling to the games he scores. The cinematic camera angles are used to a much greater extent this episode, and the framing seems to have improved a lot since Tales of Monkey Island. The ability to click the screen rather than the character in click-and-drag mode helps a lot too. In previous games I didn't like the click-and-drag mode too much, and opted for the mouse and keyboard combination for character control. In this series, the click-and-drag mode has improved a lot. There are still situations where it is difficult to keep the mouse moving in the right direction during camera changes, but the on-screen joystick makes adjusting your direction a lot easier, and is a lot less of a headache.
The difficulty of the puzzles has increased a little bit in this episode. Luckily The hints are precise and easy to use to figure out where you need to go next, yet they don't hold your hand and tell you where to go. The psychic abilities Max has in this episode are once again interesting, and lead to some funny jokes when you use them in situations where they aren't intended. None of the previous abilities make a reappearance here. Like the locations, all the psychic abilities are new.
The plot in this episode is very entertaining, and there is a bit of a gameplay twist through one of Max's psychic ability that lets you jump back and forth through time to solve puzzles in the past with clues you are given in the future. The inventory items are not carried through to different times. You are only given what you found in that time frame or what would logically be in your inventory at that place in time. This makes the puzzles a little more challenging, and sets it apart from the time traveling Sam & Max did in Chariots of the Dogs.
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse is starting to pick up steam. The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is definitely one of the duo's most interesting cases yet, and the gameplay works just as well as the story. The cinematic camera angles are used to great effect here, and the music fits the cinematic feel perfectly. The ability to jump between time periods is an excellent gameplay mechanic, but it takes a while to get used to. This episode does not quite reach the heights of the final episodes of the second season, but the season is on the right track to match or possibly even exceed those episodes.
4 out of 5