At the conclusion of the last episode of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, Sam had just finished learning about his ancestor's dealings with the evil Papierwaite and the all-powerful depository of psychic artifacts, the Devil's Toybox. However, Sam also became distracted enough to miss his buddy's brain being carved out of his skull, giving rise to the newest episode, They Stole Max's Brain!. Continuing the streak of witty, intelligent and original stories and games that Telltale have been producing for this latest season of Sam & Max, They Stole Max's Brain! is yet another feather in the company's cap.
With Max brain dead, even more so than usual due to his brain being missing, we're treated to a side of Sam that we've never seen before. Far from the casual, metaphor spouting canine that we're all used to, we see a Sam without Max who is rabid, dangerous and a fan of film noir. Taking on a more disheveled appearance, and becoming prone to beating suspects at the drop of a hat, Sam becomes determined to find out what has happened to Max's brain. The first act of the game indulges heavily into film noir, taking inspiration from classic movies such as The Maltese Falcon. In fact, a new dialogue option opens up for this section, exclusively devoted to allowing Sam to monologue in a 'noir' tone depressingly.
This first act of the game also features a new gameplay type for the series as well. Instead of directing Sam around with your mouse cursor and picking up inventory items, you're entirely involved in dialogue with a number of witnesses. You can hear their stories, tell them to hurry up, interrupt them and even question them if you think they're lying. It's true that it does bear some similarities to the Ace Attorney series of games, but then we've never seen Phoenix Wright punch his witness casually in the face to extract information. It's a refreshing change of pace, although it is less interactive than we are perhaps used to in the series, but thankfully it does not consume the whole episode.
After this section, it's back to the tried-and-true point and click adventuring of Sam & Max. The story takes various twists and turns from here on which we dare not spoil, but suffice to say that elements from the previous two episodes are tied together here, and new characters are introduced that create some very imaginative puzzles. Our only problem is a certain few challenges near the end, which all rely on the same solution. We took a while to solve them all at first, believing that the same solution couldn't possibly work so many times, but it did. However, in the context of the story, the puzzle works really well and it's only a minor complaint. We realise that we are being quite vague with our description of this part of the game, but that's because there is a major twist that we absolutely think players should find out for themselves. It may sound over-the-top, but we haven't been this surprised by a twist since the World of Ruin in Final Fantasy VI. Obviously, this is a smaller game, but it's that element of surprise that also changes the way you have to deal with the game that's ultimately very satisfying.
We tried to think of a funny caption, then we realised that there's a space gorilla in a beret shooting a laser at an anthropomorphic rabbit.
They Stole Max's Brain! certainly has a lot of style going for it. The noir scenes at the opening of the game are very well done, especially shots of Sam driving the Desoto through the streets of the city at night, or chasing a rat down an alley with the headlights on full. The lighting is moody and perfectly suited to the tone of the game. Later in the episode, some brighter scenes are shown that contrast nicely and show a completely different perspective of the same locations from the beginning of the game. Voice acting is uniformly hilarious, and we especially liked the return of one of Skunk'ape's henchmen who now works as a sign spinner, but has a whole litany of personal problems to deal with as well.
Telltale really seem to have taken all the lessons they've learned which each of their episodic series and are using them to make The Devil's Playhouse their best and most consistent season yet. While They Stole Max's Brain! may not be quite as clever as The Tomb of Sammun-Mak, it is definitely stylistic, hilarious and refreshing. If you needed a reason to jump on board this season, rest assured that the first three episodes are all excellent, and given yet another cliffhanger ending, we can't wait to see where the series goes from here.