Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 3: They Stole Max’s Brain! Review
PS3 | PC
Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 3: They Stole Max’s Brain! box art
System: PS3, PC 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: June 22, 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
Average Brain Caper
by Steve Haske

Sam & Max is never a series that’s lacking for imagination. The Devil’s Playhouse has been interesting enough thus far, with the furry freelance police first taking down a space-gorilla in the season’s debut episode, followed by a proverbial trip into the past as the duo’s early-20th century forerunners Sameth and Maximus in episode 2.

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 3: They Stole Max’s Brain! screenshot

That particular episode ended with a peculiar cliffhanger—Max having his brain sawed out and stolen—and the aptly-titled third installment, They Stole Max’s Brain!, picks up right where the previous one left off. As far as episode openers are concerned, They Stole Max’s Brain! is a stroke of brilliance; Sam is royally pissed at his lagomorphic pal’s sudden loss of grey matter, and he wants answers (or blood). Luckily, Sam remembers some pointers (as explained by series regular private eye Flint Paper) about interrogating witnesses, which he immediately begins with Chandler-esque aplomb. This fedora-and-jacket off, shirt-sleeves-rolled-up, unloosened tie Sam is a side never seen before, and for noir fans it’s a real treat.

Thus the first fourth of the episode is very prominently a hard-boiled homage, complete with a meandering jazzy score, voiceover, and late night drives taking Sam through various parts of the city. From a gameplay perspective, the new interrogation mechanic is a nice use of the dialogue tree, as Sam can threaten or coerce witnesses to confess whatever truths they may be hiding while giving the player a number of approaches with which to gain new information. Of course, it wouldn’t be a noir homage without bleak, voiceover-style monologues about corruption, violence, and sin, which Telltale’s talented writers included among Sam’s dialogue options, much to all of his witnesses’ dismay.

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However, past the opening segment of the episode, the interrogation mechanic is no longer used; once Sam finds out that Max’s brain has been brought to the Museum of Mostly Natural History, his relief is a catalyst for Telltale to jettison the noir trappings, with the episode proceeding as normal. If you haven’t been following this season of Sam & Max, this episode is spoiler-heavy, with several particulars of its plot being important both from a gameplay perspective as well as the unfolding story arcs present. That being said, you’ll still have access to Max’s psychic powers for most of the episode, and Sam isn’t alone for much of it. They Stole Max’s Brain! is also set-up, more or less in a three or four act structure (although not explicitly saying so) and the changes made between acts are palpable.

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 3: They Stole Max’s Brain! screenshot

The core gameplay, aside from Sam’s hard-boiled interrogative opener, however, is more or less the same throughout. Unlike episode two of the season, which refreshingly allowed you to “play back” the past events of Sameth and Maximus in whichever order you want (the current generation of freelance police discovered a series of old film reels in the underground resting place of the devil’s toy box), They Stole Max’s Brain! reverts back to similar straightforward puzzle mechanics of the season’s first episode. Max’s psychic powers allow him to once again teleport, use future vision or transform into various objects, but aside from some new combinations of these mechanics, any new abilities or toys of power are somewhat conspicuously absent.

Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 3: They Stole Max’s Brain! screenshot

Screenshots / Images
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