Sam and Max : The Devil’s Playhouse – Episode 4: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls (PC)

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‘Beyond the Alley of the Dolls’ is the fourth episode in the current season of Sam and Max games, and it should be made clear from the start that in order to get the most enjoyment out of this episode, you really should play the first three games. The story follows on, and some scenes reference the previous episodes. Yet if you wanted to take the plunge and jump into episode 4, then you won’t be hindered too much.

In the penultimate episode of the Devil’s Playhouse, our daring duo faces their worst nightmare: an army of zombie cloned Sams, all clad in nothing but shiny underwear! Who is behind this dastardly act? Who is out to get Sam and Max? Will they succeed and make it to the next episode? Well, yes, obviously, there are five episodes planned and they would be rather silly if the main stars did not make it into the last episode!

Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 4 Screenshot 1

At the end of ‘They Stole Max’s Brain,’ Sam and Max banish Samun Mak, but just when they think all is well in the world, they are overrun by the clones. Episode 4 starts with them taking cover in Stinky’s Diner, which is promptly surrounded. First order of business: escape the diner. Second order of business: find the cloning machine. Third order: stop the evil mind behind the cloning.

The gameplay of the Sam and Max episodes has not changed at all, and since this is episode 4 of 5, I did not expect it to change too much. Max still has his special abilities, and as seems to be the trend with the episodes, each power gets a lot of airtime in the different episodes. This will no doubt prepare you for the final episode next month. The power of choice in this episode is the ability to read minds. A lot of puzzles involve you asking a person about a certain object. The person will then answer, but in a negative way. Reading their mind gives you their thoughts on what it is you need to ask them about. It gets a little too predictable and once you realize that mind reading is the power the episode focuses on, the rest of the puzzles will seem easy.

Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 4 Screenshot 2

There is a bit of variation though, and puzzles including sheet music and dials with different effects are nicely spaced and a welcome change to the routine. It seems a little random, but paying attention will make them easy to solve. If you find these puzzles too hard or too unforgiving, then adventure gaming is just not for you.

The humour carries the game, as it did all the other episodes. If this was a game about any other investigative pair, it would not have been this good, even if it was a direct word for word conversion. Sam is the ever calm and loyal dog with a propensity towards resolving mental challenges. Max is still the maniacal non logical rabbit thingy, and some of his comments are real crackers.

Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 4 Screenshot 3

Story telling in Sam and Max has always been a wacky affair, from finding Bigfoot to exorcising Santa Claus. This episode is no different, and an army of Sam-clones would have been the last thing I would have thought of. Solving the mystery of whom, why and how will also reveal a few surprises, most of them a bit wacky.

A lot of characters are starting to make reappearances and quite a bit of the story is starting to tie together. Some puzzles are easily resolved as you have seen the solutions in previous episodes. How it will all tie together in the climactic episode is still to be seen, but in the previous seasons the seemingly random storylines tied in very well. I mean, who would have thought Satan was a good boss and it was Santa’s elves that are evil?

Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 4 Screenshot 4

This brings me to the ultimate flaw on the game: it’s just an average game with great characters. The controls are obviously the same as the first few episodes, and the sound effects are starting to sound really sparse and cheap. All of these are trademarks of the series, so it’s hard to fault it on this basis alone. But when you get to episode 4 they start to grind away at your patience. No longer is Sam and Max the ultimate in adventure gaming. If they want to impress me in the final episode, they need to do something exciting and fresh.

So Sam and Max might be the king of adventure games for now, but with smaller independent games like Jolly Rover snapping at their heels, it becomes harder and harder to recommend them above the others. If you like the duo and have followed them through their adventures up to this point, you will not want to stop now. The climactic finish is still to come and will probably surprise all of us. If it does not, then Sam and Max needs to go back to the drawing board for their next season and work a little bit harder to impress.

The good: Still the same old Sam and Max; nice and short.
The bad: Limited innovation; getting a little stale.
The scary: Hundreds of Sams dressed in shiny underwear…

Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - Episode 4 Screenshot 5