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Review: Sam & Max S3E1 - The Penal Zone
by Jacques Hulme
1.5.10
Game Information


Basic information
Sam & Max S3E1: The Penal Zone
Developer: Telltale
Publisher: Telltale

Released
iPad: April 2, 2010
Other systems: April 15, 2010

Platforms
Windows
Mac OSX
PlayStation 3
iPad

Genres
Graphic adventure

Certification
N/A
The point and click genre is one that I've had a strong bond with for many years. I've laughed at the piratey wit of Guybrush as he sailed the seas, I've wandered around hell with a Manny Calavera and even helped George Stobart solve strange murders.

So, you may be surprised to hear that I've never played a Sam & Max game. Why? No particular reason. I mean, I've wanted to, but I've never really got around to it. Thankfully for me though, Telltale recently brought the new series - The Devil's Playhouse - to PlayStation. I thus grabbed the opportunity and dived into The Penal Zone.

Now, many people try to convince me that point 'n' click is a dying breed of game. I could go into why they're wrong in great depth, but I'll leave that for another article. Instead I'll just say that, 'it isn't'. Just take a look at Sam & Max, faithful to the genre's core ideas: you can't (really) die; there isn't a single puzzle that a short bit of lateral thinking can't solve; and it's full of humour. These unwritten rules were devised with the original Monkey Island, and still stand today. So I'm pleased to report that The Penal Zone has adhered to the aforementioned rules.

Comedy is one of the biggest and best parts of Sam & Max. You really don't get it in many other games, so it's nice to hear characters crack a joke at one another during the narrative. It creates such a feeling of inclusion for the player siting at home, especially when it's a joke that just takes the piss out of another part of society. This comical feeling carries through the whole game, including the in-game trophies; one example of which being the 'Ask Your Parents' trophy, which is collected by hearing seven references which no-one under the age of 30 will understand.

After you finish laughing at the comedy duo, you might get a chance to actually play the game. The story of the episode follows Sam & Max as they journey to find the real intentions of General Skun-ka'pe, an alien monkey who has come to the planet in search of 'a toy'. By chance, Max has found this toy: the so called Future Vision, which allows him to - as the name suggests - see the future. After finally discovering why the General is here, through a series of complicated and probably very over-thought exercises, the team proceed to try and trap him in The Penal Zone, a place in between existence and non-existence. However it's not as easy as it sounds, as in their quest to do this, they discover Skun-ka'pe's evil intentions with the mole-men of the planet. A few interesting plot twists later and the player is back on track in his quest to trap the General.

Prior to my outing with the freelance police duo, I was a little skeptical - perhaps even worried - about Sam & Max. I thought the whole game would be based around characters from the previous games and I'd be stuck in a state of limbo between laughing and asking 'What? Who are you? How did you get in here?'. But I'm happy to report that I didn't find this. It's obviously something that has been thought out and designed to collect you into the game. Sure, there were a few characters Sam & Max seemed to greet cheerily while I sat and stared, but that's to be expected. The main thing was that I actually followed the story.

So, what is the greatest success for me in this adventure? Is it the fact that Sam & Max S3E1 has proven how this genre still thrives? Is it the fact that I'm glued to the calendar until the next episode is out? I'm not sure. But, I know the best achievement for Telltale is the fact that I'm now going to go out and buy the old episodes. It has got me hooked on the series and, after all, is that not what it's all about?

9/10

Jacques

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- Jacques Hulme

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