|System: PC, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Telltale Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Telltale Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 20, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
As The Devils Playhouse builds the final episode of the season (to what I can only imagine will be a ridiculous conclusion), the stakes keep getting higher. Max, now re-united with his brain after the last episode, They Stole Maxs Brain!, continues to gain new psychic power, while familiar characters are drawn deeper into the machinations of the villains who would bring forth the end of the world by summoning unspeakable horrors from a dark dimension. This is a given since television shows always pull out all the stops as the season is ramping up to a finale and episodic video games shouldnt be any different.
True to the series pedigree, things get more outlandish. It was bad enough in They Stole Maxs Brain, during most of which Max was a brain in a jar while a megalomaniacal baddie turned the city into a giant modern day Egypt. Beyond the Alley of the Dolls begins as an homage to Night of the Living Dead, with the freelance police and the Stinkys holed up in Stinkys diner, and a horde of half-naked Sam clones, - Max continuously referred to as dogglegangers - trying to break in. What is going on? No ones really sure, but thats what the straight dog and hyperkinetic rabbity-thing intend to find out. Following an initial escape of the diner through an underground tunnel, Sam and Max stumble upon a hidden underground cloning facility. Whose facility it is and why it exists are just two of the mysteries this episode has to offer. The Sam clones number in the hundreds, if not thousands, and judging from the multitude of cloning pods in the secret underground facility, they arent in short supply. This is where the crux of the episodes plot lies:, not just in solving the mystery surrounding the cloning pods, but (obviously) putting a stop to whomever is behind this nefarious plot.
After a somewhat disappointing third episode, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is a welcome improvement for the season. Since Sam and Max are now properly reunited after the events of episode three, things can proceed relatively normally (for these two, anyway). Unraveling the mystery behind the army of Sam clones is an entertaining case, and involves a lot of characters that have popped up in past episodes (Agent Superball, Doctor Momma Bosco, Harry Moleman and others) while introducing a few new ones. The story arc revolving around the toys of power and their connection to the dark dimension is also revealed in this installment (or a good chunk of it anyway). After all the mysteries presented in the first three episodes, its nice to see the seasons story arc finally develop. In fact, episode fours writing is particularly strong, with more laughs, in-jokes, references (both from past seasons and the pop-cultural compendium), and goofy goings-on (séances, dancing clones, an all-too brief reappearance of the noir interrogation mechanic from episode three, complete with new hard-boiled monologues by Sam that leave NPCs baffled).
After the very prominent structured acts makeup of They Stole Maxs Brain!, its nice to have the gameplay back on a steady beat. By now, youre all familiar with Maxs psychic powers (channeled through the toys of power), which are again used prominently in episode four. Over the course of the installment, you come to possess almost all the toys. Expect a lot of peeking into characters futures, psychic ventriloquist acts, and teleportation between the various underground locations (the city proper is cut off throughout the episode by the army of Sam clones, which chant Toys, toys, toys like crazed cultists whenever the freelance police get too close). Its too bad that Telltale had programmed in the Nutrition Specs (for those of you that got them in episode one), since the full toy set cant technically be complete without them. Of course, new toys means new (or seldom used) powers to play with, among them are mind-reading (which made a brief appearance earlier in the series) and the ability to destroy objects from the dark dimension. Sam and Max also use their guns a fair amount in this episode, which was a nice little surprise compared to the holster-only action of the rest of the season. Unlike a lot of other point-and-clicks, Sam & Max relies far less on inventory to solve puzzles. You usually only end up carrying around a few items for the duration of an episode, this means most of the problem solving is instead carried out through conversation or with the help of Maxs psychic powers. The conversations are funnier in this episode than in previous installments, which I appreciated. In fact, I caught myself laughing more than usual over the banter between Sam and Max themselves, which is particularly strong in this outing.
With all the crazy events of this episode, Beyond the Alley of the Dolls feels like Sam & Max with a shot of extra pulp, exactly how it should be. The underground cloning facility and climactic finish at the Statue of Liberty especially push the whole serial comic feel of this episode, making it probably the most memorable installment of The Devils Playhouse Telltales made yet. Sam & Max has always been a bizarre, goofy mash-up of noir, pulp, detective serial, and sci-fi conventions wrapped up in an adventure game design, and Beyond the Alley of the Dolls is no different. If you like the series or point-and-clicks, youll no doubt be entertained throughout this episode (though it wont make any sense to you if you havent played the rest of the season). If the monstrous cliffhanger seen here is any indication, the fifth and final episode will end the season with the kind of zany aplomb weve come to expect from the series.
CCC Freelance Writer