Freelance police Sam and Max are back for the second episode of their third season of adventures — The Devils Playhouse — for the Sony PlayStation 3, Mac, and PC from Telltale Games, but this time the series delivers a little bait-and-switch by relegating our heroes to the sidelines in which they watch a film of their great-grandfathers, Sammeth and Maximus. Set in the early twentieth century, this episode chronicles the elder pair's quest to recover The Devil's Toybox from a cast of sinister characters that seek to snatch it for themselves. Ultimately, "The Tomb of Sammun-Mak" takes the long way around to resolve the cliffhanger ending of the previous episode, "The Penal Zone". While the characters and setting are different, the song remains the same when it comes to the basic controls and concept. As one would expect from episodic gaming, this installment of the series brings more what one would expect: more puzzles, more jokes, more eccentric characters, new psychic powers, and another shocking cliffhanger.
The new twist in this episode involves the ability to skip back and forth across the four reels of the film that Sam and Max watch where the reels are just a different way of thinking of locations or levels. A puzzle in the first reel may have its solution buried somewhere in the third reel, for instance. Consider a group of Santa's elves in the first reel that will not hand over an item that Sammeth and Maximus need unless they are given an idea for a new toy. Sammeth spitballs a few ideas that the elves reject (including point-and-click adventure games; the elves don't take kindly to that one), and this reel becomes a dead end unless the player switches to the third reel and follows that portion of the plot for a while. As later reels are further along in the story, it's possible to learn about the toy idea Sammeth gives/gave the elves in the first reel, then return to that reel to hand over the idea. It's a little like having a time travel ability without actually traveling through time. While the player has a limited omniscient point of view over the adventure, Sammeth and Maximus proceed through events in a linear fashion.
While the reel switches turn up the difficulty in this episode, some of the puzzles are just plain challenging. There's a sequence that involves convincing mortal Jurgen to run into a vampire that seems far more complex than it should be, plus there's an encounter with a family of guardian moles in an Egyptian tomb that involves juggling curses and using psychic powers at just the right instance. I ended up having to consult an online guide at these two points to finally move on after exhausting what I thought was every possible option. Here's this episode's trailer that shows a few of the situations and jokes up for exploration:
Sammeth and Maximus behave, speak, and look exactly like their descendants with the exception of wardrobe and Sammeth's vintage mustache. It's unclear why Telltale saw the need to take us on a detour with characters that would be Sam and Max if not for the different time period, particularly since we know their fates as soon as the game begins: they will become the skeletal remains beneath the freelance police office building. The mystery lies in how they end up that way, I suppose, but I was never invested in Sammeth and Maximus since I knew that they would be discarded by the conclusion of the episode.
While I did like "The Tomb of Sammun-Mak" in the end, I have to say that I preferred the previous episode, "The Penal Zone" more than this one. "Tomb" comes off feeling like a filler episode considering the departure from the main Sam and Max-centric storyline that is still in progress from "Penal", but it looks like the cliffhanger at the end of this adventure is preparing to lead us back into action with characters we actually know and not their Generation Xerox ancestors. Now I look forward to the next episode, "They Stole Max's Brain!".