It doesn't hurt that all of these powers are sandwiched between all kinds of memorable moments. I could go on for hours talking about everything I love about this installment, from the new member of the C.O.P.S. team (which is already made up of Mr. Moviefone, a Pong game and a Tandy computer) to Bosco's deceased mother to the crazy paranoia of Flint Paper. The game is full of great pop culture references, including a few subtle ones that will send you to Wikipedia for clarification. And best of all, the whole thing has a Rod Serling-style narrator to go with the Twilight Zone theme.
And did I mention that the game looks substantially better than the first two seasons? Look, I'm not one of those people who was complaining about the visual style of the first nine games. I understood that in order to get the games out monthly some cuts need to be made. It's just the nature of the beast. But this time around they've decided to rebuild the engine and give us a game that actually looks like a modern day release. Oh sure, it's not as detailed as some of the ultra-realistic first-person shooters on the market, but the characters look better and the whole game has a finished look that will make it hard to go back to the past seasons.
On top of the new graphics engine, The Devil's Playhouse comes with a brand new control scheme. At first I was a little disappointed that the traditional point and click interface was replaced by a more console-friendly control scheme. Instead of pointing where you want to go, you hold down the right mouse button and then physically move Sam around the screen. You can also use the traditional W, A, S, D keys, much like a standard PC shooter. After getting the hang of it I quickly saw the benefits of this system, since it allowed for speedier traveling and less accidental clicks. It's still not perfect, but I definitely like the direction Telltale Games is taking this series.
With four more chapters ahead of us, it's impossible to tell how strong this season will turn out. However, if this first episode is any indication then we're in for one hell of a ride. The games new controls and improved graphics are welcome improvements, but it's the new narrative and magical psychic abilities that really steal the show. Throw in some familiar faces and a new batch of one-liners and you have one of the best graphic adventures in years. Regardless of whether you're new to the series or a veteran of the first two seasons, The Penal Zone is one of the best PC games of the year.
Sam & Max definitely know how to make an entrance. While I would have been happy with nothing more than a new batch of cases to solve, The Penal Zone offers a crazy new narrative, improved graphics, a gripping storyline, an improved control scheme and brand new psychic abilities. Plus you get to play with Silly Putty. And seriously, who can resist Silly Putty?
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