Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls

Posted by Erik-André Vik Mamen.
First posted on 20 July 2010. Last updated on 25 August 2010.
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Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls
Half-naked canines are on the loose!
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls
Max appears to be enjoying his newfound hobby.
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls
There are plenty of toys to play with and more psychic powers to boot.
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls
A pair of high heels in the alley surely smells of danger.
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls
It is time to clear the zombie infestation!

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

Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse Episode 304: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls continues on from the bizarre cliffhanger of the last episode where the intrepid heroes are attacked by an army of half-naked doppelgangers of Sam. It is not known if these doppelgangers are robots, zombies, clones, or even zombie clones, but there is little doubt that they are dangerous. The heroes seek shelter at Stinky's and try to figure out how to defeat this new threat.

While Max enjoys the fact that he can finally use his gun on living copies of his partner, he also benefits from getting back his wholesome body and even more powerful psychic powers. Sam, on the other hand, is more reluctant with shooting copies of himself and tries to find a way to escape from the surrounded hideout instead. Meanwhile, "Grandpa" Stinky shares Max's enthusiasm with handling his own firearm. "Girl" Stinky, by contrast, sits down rather calmly talking to her cell phone and acts as if she has a hidden but unknown scheme of her own.

It is fascinating to see how this season of Sam & Max keeps changing directions with each episode. The zombie apocalypse in this episode clearly pays homage to countless zombie films and survival horror video games in popular culture. While you cannot die and are thus never in any real danger from the attack, the opening scene in this episode still catches you in an atmosphere of fear and impending doom without stressing you, the player, with the need to act quickly.

It is also interesting to see how this season has used, for the second time, the heroes' characters as villain figures. Although this is technically a way of recycling content (at the least, by recycling their character models), it never feels like this season has taken shortcuts in each episode as in past seasons. Even with the bizarre settings, this episode never feels unnatural beyond that of the twisted logics expected in the story.

Like all other episodes in this season, this episode is divided into 4 parts. The parts are of various lengths, relatively separate, and nonlinear. Moreover, for the first time in this series, you have direct control of Max. In previous episodes, you can only look through Max's eyes and direct Max to use his psychic powers. Alas, even though you can now control Max just as you can control Sam, the added interaction is rather limited.

While the overall game is undoubtedly polished, it also suffers from quite a few odd bugs and glitches. Fortunately, none of these bugs or glitches are game breaking. Sometimes, a character becomes invisible and appears with graphical artifacts. Other times, objects become unselectable or get stuck in midair. It is likely that these bugs and glitches will be fixed as the newly upgraded Telltale Tool (the engine) is further refined. It is also an inherent and unavoidable downside to developing episodic content. If there is too much stress to complete development of an episode in time, bugs and glitches will likely creep in when there is simply insufficient time given to beta-testing and troubleshooting before the episode is released.

Perhaps the biggest change in gameplay in this season is the ability to Max's psychic powers. The collection of Toys of Power has grown rather large by now, which makes room for many new ways of interaction. This added interaction increases the level of difficulty of the game somewhat. While this episode is still not very difficult, it is definitely more challenging than previous episodes. The built-in hint system also gives far fewer hints in this episode, making it more likely that you can get stuck in the game.

It is very clear from playing through this episode that the season is near its end. Many mysteries and story arcs that are set up in previous episodes have now been revealed or resolved. In fact, it feels as if this is already the last episode wrapping up the season. Still, the game manages to end with yet another cliffhanger. Telltale Games are good in pulling surprises, even when there may not be many loose ends to tie up in the finale.

In many ways, the Sam & Max series has been the hallmark of Telltale Games' growth as a game developer. It is the only series that Telltale Games has produced so far lasting for more than a single season. However, this will likely be corrected in the near future, even between all the other newly licensed projects that Telltale Games has recently announced (including Back to the Future and Jurassic Park). Looking back through the seasons of the entire series, it is also easy to see that this series has been a big learning curve for Telltale Games in creating episodic games. The first season is plagued with repetitive gameplay and recycled content. The second season addresses these shortcomings with some success. This third season, by comparison, is a big leap forward.

Overall, this penultimate episode features more complex gameplay and a much richer story. The climax of the episode is somewhat absurd (even by the series' standard) and makes for a few interesting plot twists. Once more, fans of Sam & Max are left in the dark for the finale. The only reason not to look forward to the finale is the fact that it also means another end to the series, at least for a while. I am confident that Telltale Games will deliver a quality and befitting ending to the latest adventure of the freelance police, considering how good of a job it has done so far in this season.

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