The third episode of the third season of Sam & Max, The Devil's Playhouse, gives us a much more aggressive Sam, and as a result, the first part of this episode is the most refreshing thing the series has ever brought us. The rest of the game doesn't quite live up to the exciting first moments, but it's still well worth playing.
When the game starts, Sam is very distraught that his little buddy has had his brain stolen. Sam takes off his coat, and with a constant angry expression and unshaven face, he employs the Flint Paper method of interrogating witnesses in an attempt to find out who stole Max's brain. He must find out information by threatening, interrupting, or depressing suspects through film-noir style narration. This is done exceptionally well, and is a great pastiche of hard-boiled detective stories.
After the culprit is discovered, the gameplay goes back to that of a standard adventure game. Once a replacement brain is found for Max's body, the game is back to it's status-quo, as the psychic powers are usable again. This is Sam and Max though, so status-quo is still quite twisted. The brain in question belongs to a being who is even more insane and self-centered than Max, and also has the gift for using psychic powers.
It's hard not to spoil to much in this review, as the game changes often due to major events, but suffice to say the developers are still managing to make the game both familiar and different at the same time. The third act sees the return of Sam & Max's street, although it's been radically changed once again. Some characters from previous adventures return, and new characters are met. The characters are all voiced well, and each has a distinct personality. The replacement Max is especially entertaining, and is voiced by Nikki Rapp, who was fan-favorite Morgan La Flay in Tales of Monkey Island.
The third act is kind of a drag compared to the first two acts, as it slows down in pace dramatically. This makes the game feel a bit disjointed. The puzzles here are also less inspired, and are the typical three part fetch-quest puzzles that Telltale has used a lot in the past. The final act makes up for it, as the final battle is entertaining as always, and the ending is well done and leaves the player waiting for more.
The music isn't very memorable in this episode, but it fits the game. I personally miss the musical numbers and the complete randomness it inspired from the previous seasons. The first game made a joke that the musical numbers had really gone downhill, and sadly this appears to be true. Hopefully the last two episodes are really saving the best for last, because the music has always been a high point in the Sam & Max games, even dating back to the LucasArts original.
They Stole Max's Brain is not quite up the standard set by the first two episodes in this season. The first act is a refreshing change, but once things go back to normal, the game doesn't really find the chance to shine again. However, the game is worth playing for the first chapter alone, and for the entertaining final moments.
3½ out of 5