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Sam & Max: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls (PC) artwork

Sam & Max: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls (PC) review

"Its grounding doesn’t lend it the ambition of the first two chapters, but the tight writing and dedication to shovelling hilarity and mindless violence into gaping plotholes makes up for many of its shortcomings. "

For want of a better word, the third season of Telltale’s Sam & Max has been led by outstanding gimmicks that help set the series above the standardised foundations the genre’s been happily wallowing since the mid 80’s. At first, it granted psychotic lagomorph Max weird mental powers that allowed him to read minds, or transform into given shapes. It promoted him from useless, if not violently hilarious, sidekick to a potent and versatile weapon to be levelled against inventory puzzles everywhere. The brilliant second showing had them live through the eyes of their ancestors via reams of film, allowing them the chance to change the reels mid-story and jump about the time-line as they saw fit. Both chapters existed as an exhilarating evolution of point and click adventures, pushing the boundaries and expectations aside with a telekinetic shove and reaping the rewards. The third episode, then, opened with a lobotomised Max and an infuriated Sam and a new way to question perps through unbridled anger and timed interruptions. But this was to be short lived before Telltale fell back into the groove previous episodes had left in their dust.

The fourth entry, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls seems to share more in common with the third than the initial two, but it finds itself better executed and contains perhaps the best writing of series so far. After defeating the mind-controlled allies and enemies alike last trip, Sam & Max are assaulted by an unending wave of Sam clones clad in skimpy gold biker shorts, gormless expressions and a voluptuous hunger for toy collection. The survivors hole themselves up in Stinky’s diner, board up the windows and make with the zombie apocalypse jokes. While the main clue behind your escape is a (literal) huge flashing button, Episode Four starts its long-running theme of tying the last three episodes together and revealing an eventual nemesis even the most atypical thinker out there will find themselves surprised.

As such, it ties together a lot of old faces and explains their lack of involvement thus far, stringing threads you didn’t even know were loose back together again with aplomb. However, the gameplay’s rigid formula means the adventuresome shenanigans of the series start are replaced with more humdrum affairs. The big upside to this is that in the world of Sam & Max, humdrum still means trying to make a super-powered laser out of an old toy robot to blast teleporting tentacles, or sending Sam through a series of mind-bending alternative dimensions that each break his fragile mind in manners most sadistic. It’s a shame that most of these have at least their foundations in using the same psychic power ad nauseam.

But for what it sets out to do, that being set everything up for the grand finish, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is a success. Many of the underplaying issues brought forth thus far have been laid to rest and the series now has the shocking cliff-hanger ending episodic gaming is built from to advance. Its grounding doesn’t lend it the ambition of the first two chapters, but the tight writing and dedication to shovelling hilarity and mindless violence into gaping plotholes makes up for many of its shortcomings.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (July 31, 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 August 02, 2010:

So is this the last in the season then? I thought there were five for some reason. It sounds like these games are still as strong as ever, even when they fail to meet earlier-established ambitions, so that's pretty good. I'd say Telltale has a surprisingly good record. I wonder how long it'll last.

Anyway, for some reason, I thought you'd scored this a 5, so when I read the review, I was like "This doesn't read like a 5", then I saw the real score and figured I'd probably misread it earlier. Haha
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EmP posted August 02, 2010:

I may have forgotten to change the scorebox for a while, leading to the review having a 5/10 ratring until I noticed. I'd blame heavy drinking, but it's always been so good to me.

Anyway, tanks much for the catches; I seem to have slipped back to incompetent after a string of reasonably well proofed efforts. You're right in thinking 304 isn't the last in the series; 305 is next, but it seems that most things were ties up in 304 leaving 305 free to be the grand blow off. We'll have to wait and see!

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