Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 302: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen.
First posted on 18 May 2010. Last updated on 05 June 2011.
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Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 302: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak
Introducing Sameth and Maximus!
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 302: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak
Unfortunately, the freelance police have met their doom!
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 302: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak
Which reel do Sam and Max want to watch next?
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 302: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak
Maximus tries out his new psychic power.
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 302: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak
The mysterious narrator makes a return.

Sam & Max: Season Three

The season, Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse, is comprised of 5 episodes:

Episode 301: The Penal Zone

Episode 302: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak

Episode 303: They Stole Max's Brain!

Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls

Episode 305: The City That Dares Not Sleep

Get ready for a brand new adventure—starring, not Sam and Max, but Sameth and Maximus! Yes, you heard (err... read) right! The adventures of the freelance police are on a hiatus, albeit only briefly—to be replaced by the adventures of another similar looking duo, who just happens to be their ancestors!

The story of this episode continues right where it has left off in the last episode. In a shocking cliffhanger, Sam and Max have discovered skeletons that look like themselves. Now, they have also found some old film reels and a projector to play them (how convenient!). As Sam & Max are watching the film from these reels, they are somehow dragged into the movie—and into the action!

The old film tells the story of how Sameth and Maximus travel to Egypt to steal the Devil's Toybox in the tomb of pharaoh Sammun-Mak. The story is conveniently divided into 4 parts, each told (though not linearly) separately through each of the 4 film reels. The ancestry tale can be interpreted as a prequel to the current series, with even a few nods to previous (or rather upcoming) events.

What makes the gameplay in this episode special is the fact that the player may switch between the different reels and therefore change the time frame for the game. It is an alternative way of moving between new locations rather than the familiar driving from place to place. This new narrative mechanic is not just a lazy way of making the game less linear. In fact, the player needs to access the different time frames to advance in the actions. It also makes way for a few (planned) paradoxes, such as getting ideas from the characters' future selves. The game is designed to unfold in such a way that it is not possible to complete the final reel (and thus the game) before the other reels have been solved.

An innovative gameplay element introduced in the first episode of this season is Max's psychic powers. The psychic powers also make a return with Maximus in this episode, but they are different from the powers which Max possesses. It is nice to see that the developer has been creative and avoid being repetitive. The powers in this episode are not as sophisticated as those in the last episode. Amongst these powers are "astral projection", which is used to change the reel and to move back and forth through the story, and "ventriloquism", which is used to put words into the mouth of other characters (it seems that it is easier to be a psychic in the past!).

The dialog interface has been completed revamped for this season. It now gives only a keyword or a key phrase of what Sam may say in response to a given situation. This episode, however, also reintroduces the more familiar dialog tree used in previous seasons. In some puzzles, the player has to select what Max needs to say when using his "ventriloquism".

Fans familiar with past seasons of Sam & Max will find this season, and particularly this episode, to be considerable darker in both color and tone. This may be because most of the settings of the story are indoors, such as inside old tombs, but also because the theme of the story is more grim than usual. Even though there are vampires and dark curses, the trademark humor still manages to rise above these darker subject matters.

The rendering engine, Telltale Tool, has been upgraded for this season. The environments are now richer and more detailed than those in previous seasons. Still, this is not a hardware demanding game. Rightly, the developer has chosen to focus on great gameplay and rich storytelling instead of just delivery of a pure visual experience.

The typical criticism of Telltale Games' episodic format has been on the amount of recyclable contents that stem from the developer's rapid episodic game development cycles. The great news is that the developer is getting better with each new game series in refreshing these recyclable contents. The number of locales featured in this episode is far beyond the numbers featured in any episode from previous seasons. The best part is that these locales are all brand new. There are also a lot of characters in this episode, though far from all of them are new. Since the game is set in 1901, these returning characters make mysterious, yet exciting, revelations.

This is not the first time that the freelance police "tampers" with time. Time travel is also an important theme in the last season. Technically, this episode is not about time traveling but rather the retelling of a century old tale (in random time order, of course). For the first time in the history of the series, the characters can die in the game. Fortunately, Sam and Max can simply rewind the tape a bit and let Sameth and Maximus try again or, in some cases, switch to another film reel.

Beyond the few intended time paradoxes, however, the game also suffers from a few illogical resurrection paradoxes ("resurrection" fallacy) created by the nonlinear gameplay. Adventurous players are bound to try out different paths, discover those that lead to death, and then use this information to their advantage. Since the game automatically restores (or rather resets) after a bad decision, this can be considered a way of creative storytelling, rather than a way of senseless dying. This is analogous to what is done in LucasArts' Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where most of the game is told as a story from Guybrush's point of view

The freelance police are beloved characters, and Telltale Games is good at telling tales. Together, they make for a dynamic partnership and a fun game. Max's ever changing psychic powers are a welcome change. The game ends with yet another cliffhanger that will peak the curiosity of any fan of Sam & Max as to where this season is heading. Wherever that is, it will for sure be fun!

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