Sam & Max Season 3 Episode 3: They Stole Max’s Brain Review (PC)
Posted by Jim Cook, Jun 22, 2010 05:29
At this point if you’re reading a mid-season review of a Sam & Max episodic adventure game, I’m going to assume you know the basic series tenets. By now I probably don’t need to tell you most of the game is about zany humor and ’use towel on phone booth to create rocket ship’ style puzzles. You probably know that already, so instead of going over the obvious I’m just going to cover the highlights; what parts worked, what didn’t, and my overall opinion as to whether it’s worth your time and money or not.
The episode starts very badly, giving Sam a new game mechanic; the Interrogation system. This sounds great in theory, but in practice it’s basically the game’s regular dialog trees on a timer; you have to figure out what to say and when in order to get clues on how to proceed. Think of it as somewhere between Phoenix Wright’s cross-examination segments and normal Sam & Max conversation on a timer (though if you take too long, you’re just dumped back to the start of the discussion; no real harm done).
The Interrogation segment of the episode is bad for a few reasons. First, you’re ’on rails’; you can only choose who Sam is talking to at any given time, and cannot otherwise explore. Second, you have to go back and forth between a few people to get the info you need to fully interrogate everyone which is pretty tedious. Finally, the writing and acting for this segment is terrible. Sam is supposed to come across as a legitimately furious film noir detective trying to get information at any cost, but his voice actor simply cannot convey this well. This is joined by writing that waffles between being a film noir parody and genuinely trying to be serious about Sam’s rage, and it just doesn’t work.
Thankfully, it only lasts about thirty minutes and after that you’re into the normal adventure segment. The quality of acting, writing, and environment design immediately improve; what started as complaining to the effect of "What? Are you serious?! Ugh, I need a drink..." quickly turned to "Yeah, that’s more like it! Now I’m having fun!" The puzzles took a little while to figure out for a variety of reasons, but enjoyed it even when I was on the wrong track. This was due to both failure giving rise to gradual understanding of what I needed to do, and most of the characters in this episode being either hilarious or interesting. This kind of variety, combined with not running any single joke into the ground like previous episodes had, did a lot to make up for the earliest parts of "They Stole Max’s Brain!"
Each major set of puzzles took me about forty-five minutes to understand, and another half-hour or so to actually complete with any extra time being spent on exploration. I was genuinely interested in the environments presented in this episode, and also wanted to listen to most of the characters at length. Honestly, the only real flaw to the adventure segment of this episode was the final puzzle; I had it figured out in well under a minute, and would have solved it in mere seconds if not for intentionally poking at a few wrong choices just to see what would happen. But that’s okay; the majority of this roughly two to four hour episode (I clocked in at about three and a half hours) was enjoyable, and moved the story in interesting directions.
On the whole, I enjoyed this episode more than I didn’t. The interrogation segment was absolutely horrible and probably shouldn’t be re-used, but it was only thirty to forty-five minutes of my play time. Yet everything after that was wonderful, and this would have been one of my favorite episodes yet if it hadn’t started off so poorly. The puzzles are interesting, the writing is mostly good, the plot is moving along very well. If you’ve been following the season so far, you’ll be well served to pick this episode up too; the good definitely outweighs the bad.
Rating: 5.0, votes: 1