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Sam & Max: The Penal Zone (PC) artwork

Sam & Max: The Penal Zone (PC) review


"If there was ever any doubt that Telltale were anything but borderline insane, then the first ten minutes of Sam & Max: The Penal Zone put that firmly to bed."



If there was ever any doubt that Telltale were anything but borderline insane, then the first ten minutes of Sam & Max: The Penal Zone put that firmly to bed. Parodying the staples of surreal like The Twilight Zone, you’re mercilessly hurled around the opening chapter’s timeline, shown a cascade of awesome mental powers that might become available to the fluffy white psychotic one, then dumped back at the start of the game with no warning. All your powers gone, your bearings shot to bits and the grand evil you’ve just defeated smiling sweetly before you offering nothing more sinister than promises of peace and love.

People worrying about more of the same of the first two seasons are firmly assured that Telltale have not taken the easy route of mass recycling and have taken the foundations of what worked so well in previous entries and built upon them. Some of these are disappointing: the control scheme has been heavily edited to make their titles more accessible for platforms such as the iPad, so Sam no longer wanders off to where you click but instead must be guided via either WASDing or by hold down the mouse and dragging, creating a virtual joystick on-screen. It’s not an awful addition, and wanting to port the game on a new platform is understandable, but merely getting from A to B has become clumsy whereas it was once a base simplicity.

But! Other changes, such as Max’s new sense of usefulness are very welcome additions. Whereas Max’s role in previous games was to wander around menacingly, here, he’s given a new lease of life thanks to his new collection of psychic abilities. You can swap control from Sam’s exploration at anytime to see the world through the horrible, warped eyes of the cute homicidal bunny anytime you like, and abuse such gifts as peeking into the future to help you solve stubborn puzzles, or teleport yourself through the phone lines through any numbers Max has memorised. Rather than feel like a tacked-on hint system, Max’s soothsaying skills are often built right into the heart of the solutions, promoting him from his previous role of being the game’s focused sense of spite to being a genuine and vital piece of the puzzle.

What remains the same is the sharp, witty writing that continues to supply belly laughs and giggles. From random Flash Gordon quotes to the continual kicking at the remaining cast while they’re down, Telltale have lost no pace while they’ve been working on their other projects in Sam & Max‘s off-season hiatus. Quite the contrary -- in their eagerness to advance the genre and add on to their already winning formula they do enough to surprise those returning back after the first two seasons with their willingness to evolve and take risks with new directions. Season Three has truly started with a bang, and I’m excited to see if that momentum can continue in the following months.

Rating: 9/10

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 24, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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wolfqueen001 posted April 26, 2010:

Man. I feel bad now. There were more typos and things in this than your last three reviews combined, and this was probably twice as short. XD

Don't get me wrong, though; it's a nice little review besides all that. It doesn't really say a whole lot about the game itself, but it really doesn't need to since firstly, you're appealing to an audience that has already had much experience with this game, and secondly, telling too much might spoil the adventure for anyone else wanting to try it. I just hope the long break from this made it easier for you to write about this one. heheh
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jerec posted April 27, 2010:

I was going to point this out, but there were just too many errors that I couldn't be bothered.
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wolfqueen001 posted April 27, 2010:

You still missed some
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EmP posted April 28, 2010:

I was hoping to let this one slide out of view -- I posted the draft rather than the completed review, though there was still the odd thing I changed thanks to the feedback.

I think I know which bit you think I missed, WQ, but I left it there because it's right.
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wolfqueen001 posted April 28, 2010:

Haha. I'm not sure that you're thinking of what I'm thinking because the stuff I was thinking are strictly grammatical.

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