The Penal Zone is a day (mere hours really*) away from launch for PC/PS3/Mac, and reviews are starting to show up across the internet. Here are a few I've found. I'll be doing my best to update the thread as more are found!
(Note that while these reviews don't go overboard with the spoiler, if you are the sort of person who is looking to go in "clean," you may want to avoid reading, beyond the excerpts.)
When a game makes you laugh heartily with its first line of dialogue, you know you're in for something special, and such is the case with The Penal Zone, the opening episode in the third round of monthly Sam & Max adventures.
It's been a whole two years without a new adventure for the Freelance Police, but the wait has been worth it, at least for one episode. Whether this high quality continues throughout the rest of The Devil’s Playhouse remains to be seen, but The Penal Zone is a very strong start of what looks to be another season of whimsical comic destruction.
4 color rebellion
The game’s puzzle design has advanced right along with the solving mechanics. It would be easy to worry that giving the user more tools to solve puzzles would make the puzzles easier. If Max can just teleport, why couldn’t you use that in every situation? Fortunately, outside of the opening tutorial, you’ll never run into anything that straightforward. The puzzles have gotten smarter right along with the gameplay. While I hesitate to give specific examples – spoilers and all – I will say that The Penal Zone contains some of the most satisfying adventure puzzles that I’ve seen in years.
Gaming with Children
In their first episode of a five part season, an intergalactic space gorilla has landed on Sam & Max’s street in New York City. At first he offers peace and technological exchange, but Sam & Max soon discover that General Skun’ka’pe, or Skunkape as they call him, is pure evil bent on taking over the world. During their adventures, Max (the rabbit thing) discovers mysterious Fischer-Price spoofed toys that give him psychic powers. Will he be able to use his powers to trap Skunkape in the Penal Zone and stop him once and for all? One thing’s for sure, lots of sci-fi parodies such as The Twilight Zone and V are sure to make an appearance.
Yet good as the games have been, they have never quite managed to capture the gritty odd world of the comic books. The humor was there, as were the oddball characters, but the graphics just seemed a bit too polished. And while the games were plenty strange, they were just a little off from the world Steve Purcell originally created.
With The Devil's Playground, Telltale has promised something more similar to the comics, and if this first episode is anything to go by, they have taken some major steps toward getting it right.
Because The Penal Zone is odd. Very odd. That, by the way, is a good thing.
Perhaps the most enjoyable element of The Penal Zone is the audio. The soundtrack itself is excellent, with stirring orchestration and very well-performed voiceover work. These characters exhibit real personalities, and a true mastery of comic timing. (When Sam hopes that Skun’ka’pe “gets sucked right in the penal zone,” you appreciate the effort, in spites of its crassness.)
The Adrenaline Vault
Telltale has also made some general improvements on their previous episodic series. The graphics in Penal Zone are brighter, more colorful and more detailed, conversation threads are greyed out when all possible responses have been heard (you can still click on them if you need a refresher), and a notebook in the game menu is automatically updated to help you remember what you’re doing should real life intrude on your gaming time. But thankfully, one thing hasn’t changed: the sharp and witty dialogue that has become the hallmark of Telltale’s adventure games.
Alternative Magazine Online
Overall, this is a strong start to the new series of Sam & Max. The beginning seems confusing at first but then pays off. The new controls agitate initially before soon becoming second nature. Finally, the vocals talents of David Nowlin and William Kasten never do any less than live up to the larger than life personalities of Sam & Max. I laughed out loud constantly whilst playing for the five hours or so that The Penal Zone lasted. The music is, as always with this series, a jazzy delight.
Visually, the episode has some remarkable elements. Skun'ka'pe (boy, am I getting tired of typing that) arrives in a ship that is truly epic and, at once, one of the most ridiculous and terrifying spaceships we've ever seen. Max's use of his powers is accompanied by some remarkable still images, particularly when you finally get a look at where he goes in the midst of his teleportations. It's exactly that sort of impression you get from the public domain stock footage effect on Willy Wonka's riverboat.
Sam & Max.co.uk
For the first time in any Sam & Max game, you really get a sense that they actually live in a city. A new map feature allows you to drive to other locations in the neighbourhood, no longer tying you down to the street. You don’t just jump in the DeSoto and find yourself inside somewhere; you’ll see Sam & Max driving, then park outside and continue from there.
Also taking a leaf from the comics are the character’s more expressive and varied movements. All the new animations, ranging from Sam’s pronounced grin or Max’s furrowing brow, make everyone far livelier than they were before. It’s such a joy to watch that I felt inclined to leave the subtitles off, an adventure gaming first for me. Overall presentation across the board is equally as impressive.
In basic terms, this is more Sam & Max. This is probably the strongest episode Telltale have put out, with good writing, clever puzzles and interesting new gameplay mechanics. Again, as usual, you will be playing this for the humour and characters more than anything. But it’s great fun and is well worth playing if you’ve liked anything else Telltale has done.
The Penal Zone is without a doubt, the greatest start to an episodic series I’ve seen. It does enough to please fans, while changing things to make the series more accessible to newcomers. If this is any indication, The Devil’s Playhouse will be the best series of Sam and Max ever. Bring on The Tomb of Sammun-Mak!
Sam and Max: The Penal Zone ends on a great cliffhanger that makes me really, truly want to see the next episode (entitled The Tomb of Sammun-Mak). If the next episode is anything like this one, it’ll be the best Sam and Max game yet. The Penal Zone has something for everyone: interesting puzzles, references to previous chapters, and more inventive dialogue than you can shake a stick at.
By the end of the episode I was still just as impressed as I was at the start. It filled exactly what I wanted out of it: technical upgrades, fresh and funny dialogue, new gameplay mechanics, references to previous seasons, and a climactic close. I had a great time with it, and I can’t wait for Episode 2: The Tomb of Sammun-Mak next month. The Penal Zone is one of the best first episode’s in a Telltale series to date. You owe it to yourself to play this game.
Games, Gold, and Glory
Like the rest of the Sam and Max seasons and episodes developed by Telltale, this one is only a fraction of the story. Small details in this episode may pan out to be massive plot focuses in the coming months. But things have changed at Telltale, and now they are much more one giant story, rather then loosely connected stories that all come together at the end. I was a bit saddened to think we'd never see another episode like Ice Station Santa or Abe Lincoln Must Die! again, but after completing this episode, I can safely tell everyone reading this that the story feels much more genuine. Sam and Max get more connected with the story this way, and I really felt like this was one epic comedy opera for the ages.
Gamers Daily News
By mixing the franchise’s warped humor with some new mechanics that make Max more relevant in many puzzles, they have staved off some of the repetition that might otherwise set in. While there were a few interface quirks and other minor problems that I hope will be addressed in future episodes, The Penal Zone starts season three off right and it will be interesting to see where things go from here.
In this section, which I cannot actually read or understand, I will attempt to add some "international flavor" to the review lineup. What this most likely means is that I will embarrass myself by posting quotes totally devoid of context, which somehow also manage to insult me in the process. Based on the mumblings of my poor hobo interpreter, Google Translate, these guys seem to like the games well enough, and have interesting things to say, though, so enjoy. :)
Adventure-Treff (German) Fun with Google Translate
The Penal Zone ist ein gelungener Auftakt zu der bisher sicherlich aufwändigsten Sam-&-Max-Staffel. Aber eben auch nur ein Auftakt, der Luft nach oben lässt. Mit Unmengen an Animationen, Schnitten, Kamerafahrten und grafischen Effekten setzt Telltale seine optisch eigentlich nur mittelmäßige 3D-Comicwelt brillant in Szene und akustisch gibt es sowieso so gut wie nichts zu meckern. Spielerisch darf Telltale aber ruhig noch ein Schippchen drauflegen, was mit neuen Superkräften aber problemlos gelingen sollte. Auch die Bedienung des Inventars kann noch verbessert werden.
Das Recycling von Schauplätzen dürfte in der Staffel wesentlich geringer ausfallen als in den früheren Staffeln. In Episode 1 sind einige Örtlichkeiten zwar bekannt, wie die Straße vor dem Büro der Freelance Police und Stinkys Delikatessenladen, doch auch die sind grafisch stark überarbeitet worden. Wo auch immer es uns noch in den kommenden Folgen hinführen wird, wir freuen uns schon jetzt auf den Rest von „The Devil's Playhouse“.
Hraj Mobil (Slovak) Fun with Google Translate
Nuž milý čitateľ, pokiaľ si to vydržal až sem, už musíš mať jasno vo veci tajomna. Vidieť hlbiny neprebádanej mysle podivného králičieho čosi a jeho partnera psa detektíva. Podivný svet, kde na vás čaká dobrodružstvo prvej epizódy, ktorej rozsah odhadujem na niečo medzi 4-5 hodinami hracieho času (samozrejme, podľa šikovnosti hráča). Vstup do novej sezóny sa tak Telltale Games nad mieru vydaril a nám už ostáva len čakať, či si ďalšie epizódy budú viesť aspoň rovnako dobre, ak nie lepšie.
MeriStation (Spanish) Fun with Google Translate
Pero la gran novedad es sin duda poder controlar a Max y sus poderes. En el inicio de la aventura tendremos acceso a 3 de ellos, pero en la gran parte de la misma sólo tendremos control sobre 2: clarividencia y teletransporte. El primero nos permite observar acontecimientos futuros de lugares o personas que nos ayudarán a adelantarnos al enemigo o cambiar el devenir de la historia. El teletransporte es quizás el poder que más juego da en este primer capítulo y que nos permite teletransportarnos a las inmediaciones de un teléfono concreto. Sin duda, los puzles que mezclan ambos poderes resultan muy divertidos y bastante originales.
* More hours than you can count on a hand, obviously, but not that many in the grand scheme of things.