If The Devil's Playhouse didn't have enough dark humour, unique plot twists and Lovecraftian plot influences for your taste, then prepare for a super-sized helping in The City That Dares Not Sleep. As the last episode in the the latest season of Telltale Games' flagship franchise, Sam & Max, this one closes out things with a huge bang. If you aren't yet a fan of the dog and his rabbity thing partner, then pick up the season as a whole to play through it in one go, because now that the final chapter is in place, it truly is a fantastic game.
As every episode in the season has taken inspiration from a genre of film, so too does The City That Dares Not Sleep. With liberal sprinklings of Godzilla, the episode begins with a giant mutated menace plowing through the streets of New York. The catch is that this multi-tentacled travesty against nature is Max, mutated by forces from beyond this dimension, and Sam has his work cut out for him as he tries to figure out a way to get inside the abomination and put an end to its destruction. There are cameos a plenty, for fans of past seasons, as well as some references to the duo's earlier days at LucasArts. But there's also some huge showdowns, honestly bizarre (if not totally unexpected) plot developments and surprisingly quiet moments strewn throughout.
The game also feels quite large, larger than some of the other episodes of the series, and this isn't just due to the fact that it involves a fifty-story tall monster. The puzzles take you from the streets of the city to the monster's surprisingly well-equipped and cosy interior. You'll soon see what we mean. Sam is also tasked with taking control of all of the monster's vital functions, so that the player can ultimately take control of the monster itself. This isn't quite as revolutionary as you may think, boiling down to stomping around a little haphazardly looking for a certain location and hoping you stumble across it.
Nevertheless, there are some good puzzles here, but most are the tried-and-true method of collecting inventory items and using them in appropriate situations, or advancing the plot through dialogue with characters. The old adventure game staples are present, and they still work well. Max's powers are unavailable this episode, for the most part, although the projection device from The Tomb of Sammun-Mak makes a re-appearance. While it isn't used in quite the same fashion as it was in that episode, it's still a welcome return nonetheless. In addition, while there is a little bit of recycling of past characters and locations (alongside the wealth of new content), they are used effectively and in ways we haven't seen before. The fact that this is the last episode means it has to tie up any of the loose ends remaining after the apocalyptic confrontation of Beyond the Alley of the Dolls, and the game does so deftly and extremely entertainingly. There's not really one moment of boredeom or frustration in the game, and with a strong script, fun puzzles and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink attitude, it's a fantastic way for the season to bow out.
We've never seen a rabbit lizard monster before, and we can safely say we never need to see one again now.
Graphically, not much has changed from past episodes. The monster's rampage through the city provokes some entertaining cutscenes, as fleets of giant robots singing pop hits try to destroy it. Perhaps the most striking addition is a handful of scenes taking place in a very secret location in the game, where the visuals turn to Sin City tones of black and white with only a couple of objects highlighted in colour. It works well given the context of the scenario, and shows that Telltale can produce some great graphics that serve the storyline well. Voice acting is top notch, and there are several laugh-out-loud moments provided mostly by Max (or corrupted versions of him).
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse finally closes its doors, and what a playtime it's been. While past seasons featuring the characters have had some laughs and funny characters, this has been the season that has truly lived up to what a next-gen Sam & Max experience can be. We know - that sounds funny - and perhaps it's not the best term. What we mean is that Telltale are no longer trying to live up to the success of the original LucasArts Sam & Max Hit the Road, but rather, are now free to make Sam & Max their own - with their own style, genre parodies and Lovecraftian storylines. There have been some truly inventive puzzles throughout this season, and while The Tomb of Sammun-Mak remains the most original, The City That Dares Not Sleep is certainly the season's most solid. Godspeed Freelance Police, and we look forward to seeing you again next season.