Sam and Max: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak Review
Do you ever have those heavy gaming months? You know, those months that leave you feeling bloated, tired and irritable for no reason after spending extended amounts of time in front of your screen? The months where you’ll find yourself uncontrollably weeping at the worst scripted cut-scenes, wearing white pants as you scoff Malteasers off your pregnant friend?
Well with the exception of that last item (my pregnant friend won’t visit) it’s been one of those months for me, and with a great bevy of AAA titles to work my way through it’s taken me this long to get around to playing the newest installment of Telltale Games’ new Sam and Max series: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak.
And after I’d blown the dust off my neglected PC and fired up the new episode (coal-operated computer), I had to curse my own foolish procrastination.
Sam and Max: The Devil’s Playhouse – Episode 2: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak is probably the finest piece of work Telltale Games have created since Chariots of the Dogs last season, and really manages to capture what we all love in an adventure game: puzzles, puns and … is there a ‘p’ word for time-travel? I’ll get back to you on that one.
In any case, after discovering some very familiar looking skeletons in the basement of their building, Sam and Max discover a creepy looking projector and four mysterious film reels. As a result of Max’s new psychic powers, when the reels are played Sam and Max find themselves in control of their decidedly dapper great-grandparents Sammeth and Maximus, and have to help them in their original journey to recover the Devil’s Toybox from the titular Tomb of Sammun-Mak. At any time Sam and Max can switch between the four film reels to slowly piece together the whole story, which makes for a good mix of both normal and temporal puzzles.
Although the temporal paradoxes won’t have you scratching your head as hard as, say, Day of the Tentacle, the reel switching approach is far better than the previous episode’s “see-it-then-do it” Future Vision. The episode’s structure is set up so that each reel must be approached gradually. Events in the future will provide answers for the past and vice-versa. The first reel, for example, asks Sammeth and Maximus to work out how to unlock the entrance to Sammun-Mak’s tomb, a feat that can’t be accomplished without first discovering a brilliant toy concept in the future. While most of the time it’s by no means difficult (modern day Sam and Max will often tend to reiterate any important information), it is quite cleverly set up to progress most of the reels concurrently instead of end-to-end.
The only thing letting this episode down is it’s length. Time constraints attached to the episodic format mean that there are only four reels to complete, and the fourth is mostly just a finale to undertake after watching the other three. To my mind Telltale certainly have the time-juggling technique to expand this episode’s concept, so if they had of been able to incorporate two or three more reels to make things more intricate then The Tomb of Sammun-Mak could have been one of the adventure genre’s greats. Honestly, I have no complaints about the game as it is, but it’s one of those games that you can see a far greater potential lurking underneath.
As far as characters go, we’re still getting a fair bit of recycling going on. There are only five new characters to meet (if you don’t count Sam and Max’s past selves), and four of them are essentially based on existing characters. The completely new character, Monsieur Papierwieght (the impressario who sparks Sammeth and Maximus’ journey), is certainly larger than life but isn’t exactly fleshed out as far as he could be where the plot is concerned. I’m hoping future episodes explain his character a little further, because as it stands he seems to be there as a convenient way to book-end the episode and nothing more.
Do I really have to blabber on about the quality of the writing? Every episode of a Telltale game I review I feel compelled to mention it, considering it’s quality, and yet always feel like I’m just repeating myself. It’s great, as usual, just take my word for it.
You can still see the game improving visually, albeit in subtle ways. This game makes very good use of different filters to adjust a scene’s mood. Most of the flashbacks are suitably grainy to reflect the film-reel feel, and in other locations like the Disorient Express colour filters are used to reinforce location in a similar environment (the train’s Blue Car has a blue tint to it’s shadows, for example). Sammeth and Maximus are simply 20’s era remodels of their great-grandchildren, but once again the detail in animation has moved leaps and bounds ahead of the previous season.
Put simply, if Telltale Games can continue the level of quality delivered in this episode through the rest of The Devil’s Playhouse, then they really are on track for the best series they’ve ever produced. If you’re not yet on board, this would be the right time to start.
Pros: A clever puzzle format that doesn’t get monotonous half-way through drives an entertainingly paced plot. Good quality laughs, as always. It’s almost worth the price of admission to see Max in fingerless hobo gloves.
Cons: There is really more that could have been done with this set-up, which has been constrained by the episodic format. Some odd camera angles make controlling Sam’s walk difficult at times, but only in a few instances.
Overall: This is easily amongst Telltale Games’ greatest episodes, there’s nothing more to say than that. If you like adventure games, you’ll love this. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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