The latest saga of Sam & Max finally comes to a close, and after gumshoeing our way through the case, we’re ready for another season. The City That Dares Not Sleep is hard evidence that the point-and-click-adventure genre is still completely relevant and fun.
In this fifth installment of Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse, the freelance police are on opposite sides of the law. Max has been transformed into a colossal monstrosity that is terrorizing the city, and Sam will need to figure out a way to save his buddy before the government takes over in an all-out assault. The tale is hilarious, irreverent, and chock full of class.
During my first hour with The City That Dares Not Sleep, I was reminded of the fringe comic-book series The Fish Police. That’s no great surprise, however, since Sam & Max got its start as a franchise with the same publisher, Fishwrap Productions. The dialogue is smart and dry, yet it seems obvious the writers don’t at all take themselves too seriously. There’s a pseudo-psychedelic vibe to the game that’s inviting without being nonsensical.
Folks who’ve played other chapters in The Devil’s Playhouse will likely have no problem jumping right on into the investigating process. Personally, I haven’t played a Sam & Max game since the old LucasArts releases, but the bread and butter of the series is still very much intact. You can opt to use a gamepad when playing on PC, but mouse control is probably the best way to kick back and enjoy the ride.
You’ll play as Sam throughout most of the game, though you will eventually gain control over Max in his monster form. You can left click on characters or objects to interact with them, or hold down the left mouse button to move around environments freely; holding the right mouse button while moving allows you to run. The controls feel good, and everything’s laid out for the player in a very straightforward fashion. My only (minor) complaint is that you are given no control over the camera. It’s not a huge issue when playing as Sam, though it does make getting around the city as Max a clumsy process. The city’s pretty small in relative terms, but there’s no map system or clear landmarks, which makes finding points of interest somewhat tedious.
After years of point-and-click adventures, it’s difficult to imagine how Telltale Games could manage to create content for the genre that is fresh and entertaining. The basic mechanics on offer here aren’t all that different from the original games, but the puzzles are masterfully crafted and brimming with originality.
Most of what makes venturing through The City That Dares Not Sleep so engaging is the way in which the gameplay and humor are intertwined together to make for a single thread of adventure goodness. The hints you’re given are just enough to point you in the right direction without spoiling the surprise. You’ll be asked to think outside the box when it comes to solving problems, and aside from a single puzzle, I found the rest of the game’s little mysteries to be cleverly, and wholly, dependent upon logical deduction.
Though The City That Dares Not Sleep is merely a single episode of the latest season of Sam & Max, it feels like a complete game in and of itself. I had no trouble following the plot, in spite of having not played any of the previous episodes in the series. The opening of the game got me up to speed on the story and characters, and picking up on the gameplay was absolutely no trouble at all.
By the time you make your way into the bowels (trust me, there’s no pun intended here) of the game, you’ll see all of the pieces of the presentation come neatly together to form a cohesive, satisfying experience that is perhaps the perfect bite for fans of Sam & Max. At roughly four to five hours in length, The City That Dares Not Sleep is a pretty short romp. That being said, the game is paced amazingly well, and having the season doled out episodically will likely prove a great value for folks who still relish this style of gameplay.
Though the visuals are far from cutting edge, the facial animations and expressions are some of the very best artistic renderings you’ll see in a current-gen game. Telltale Games are masters in their field, and the game’s graphics play no small part in telling this sordid tale. The camera pans and other visual cues do a great job of adding subtle nuance to plot points, as well as offering direction to the player.
For this review, I played the game on an average PC with a mid-range video card (ATI 4670). There aren’t many options when it comes to tweaking the graphical fidelity, but it’s a sensible interface considering the target audience. The menus are easy to navigate, and though you won’t be wowed by what The City That Dares Not Sleep has to offer in a technical sense, it’s a game that’s quite easy on the eyes.
If there’s one thing that truly stands out above all else, though, it’s the voice acting in the game. You may not find the biggest names in the business populating the credits, but the performances are absolutely stellar. The dialogue is made golden by the flawless execution of the voice talent. The themes and sound effects also do a bang-up job of capping off the vibe of this quirky, loveable adventure.
Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of point-and-click adventure games. I had a great time with the genre back in the early 90s, but my interest eventually gave way to other types of gameplay. That being said, The City That Dares Not Sleep has renewed my interest in this particular series, and I can’t wait to go back and play through the episodes I’ve missed. Though the game’s length might be a bit short for some, I found it to be the perfect slice for my tastes. My only real gripe is that this episode is only available as part of a season package. Telltale Games’ sales approach seems to be counter to the whole notion of episodic content, but folks who are on the fence can still try before they buy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
There’s nothing cutting edge about Sam & Max, but the artistic design is flawless, an excellent presentation from start to finish. 4.0 Control
Mouse controls are a great way to just kick back and enjoy the adventure, though competent gamepad controls are available as well. I had a few minor gripes here and there, but overall, it’s a satisfying game to control. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects aren’t major stars here, but the voice work is fantastic. I fell immediately in love with the world of Sam & Max. 4.5 Play Value
At the time of this review, Telltale Games was offering the entire season for $19.95 (direct from their site for PC). Yeah, that’s roughly $4 an episode. Go buy this game! 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.