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PSN Review: Sam & Max: The Devils Playhouse — Episode 2: The Tomb of Sammun-mak

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Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse got off to a good start last month with The Penal Zone, but technical issues in the PSN version made for a less than enjoyable experience. Given the short time between releases there was some concern that The Tomb of Sammun-mak would suffer from similar issues, but fortunately that doesn't appear to be the case.

Veterans of the first episode will immediately notice a vast improvement in performance as dropped frames and stuttering animations are a thing of the past. It is possible that this is due to the use of smaller areas and not a technical correction on Telltale's part, but either way it's makes for a better play experience. Load times, though improved, are offset by an increased number of load points, including load screens before long cut scenes. It's a tad disappointing, but overall the shorter, more frequent loads are much easier to bear and far less distracting.

As for the plot, it’s a direct continuation of the previous episode’s ending. Sam & Max, having found dog and lagomorph shaped skeletons, begin to investigate and discover a film of their ancestors stealing the Devil's Toy Box from a tomb in Egypt. Max, not happy with the movie's lack of audio and Sam's explanation that "it's from before the invention of vocal cords", begins to muck about and suddenly discovers himself in control of what's happening on screen. From here the game continues as a regular Sam & Max adventure with players guiding Sammeth and Maximus from the boroughs of New York to the Disorient Express and ultimately the tomb of Sammun-mak. Once again the toys of power play a huge roll in both the plot and gameplay, but the selection has been greatly reduced and no toys from the previous episode are available.

Astral Projection, the first and probably most important power, serves as the explanation for how Sam & Max are able to control their ancestors, but it also allows you to jump between the reels of the film. It may seem like a bit of a cheat, but road blocks are present in future reels that can't be bypassed without first doing something in the previous ones. A magic ventriloquist dummy, found in reel two, grants Maximus the ability to throw his voice. While there is some debate between Sammeth and Maximus as to whether or not this constitutes a real power, it proves to be an invaluable aid. Lastly there's a can of mixed nuts that allows Sammeth and Maximus to conceal themselves inside and pop out unexpectedly like a spring loaded snake. Again, it seems more mundane than it actually is.

Telltale has taken a huge step forward in terms of presentation by using almost entirely new locations, rather just recycling and repurposing areas from past episodes. Though this is mostly due to the plot taking place in 1902, it's still a welcomed change that sets The Tomb of Sammun-mak apart from the rest of the series. Recurring characters are still repurposed, but as they are playing their ancestors, it feels relevant and natural, rather than tired and over-done.

The use of previous character models in slightly different attire also helps to maintain the illusion that everything you are witnessing is part of a film production and builds immersion. The appearance of Jurgen in his pre-vampire form is a particular treat and provides more back-story than you'd expect for a secondary character.

It will only take you three or four hours to get through the story, but thanks to a involving plot, richly designed scenery and extremely steady pace, it feels significantly longer. Between the various technical and structural improvements over The Penal Zone, it's easy to recommend The Tomb of Sammun-mak not just to long time fans, but also new players looking for something different. It's may be wise to hold off on a full season purchase until we see how They Stole Max's Brain turns out, but things are definitely looking up.

Sam and Max: The Devil's Playhouse is rated E10+ (Everyone 10+) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Language and Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: PC, Mac and the iPad.

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