Warning: Do not read this review unless you have completed both The Penal Zone and The Tomb of Sammun-Mak. This review contains spoilers that will ruin one of the biggest surprises in Sam & Max history. Don't worry, I will wait for you to finish, those episodes will only take you a few hours to complete. Trust me, you will never forgive yourself if you snoop below and accidentally see what the big deal is about. You have been warned.
So, with that out of the way, let's talk about the newest episode of The Devil's Playhouse, They Stole Max's Brain! As the title suggests, somebody has snuck in, sawed Max's head open and stole his rude, destructive, violent brain. The result is the darkest episode yet. This is the episode where we finally see Sam take off his hat and get angry. This is a Sam that isn't afraid to use forceful interrogation, knock people off the road and pull a gun on an innocent tourist. This is one dog you don't want to mess with.
It turns out that General Skunkape has somehow found a way out of The Penal Zone and is plotting his revenge on Sam and Max. To make things worse, the demon summoner from the second episode is back too, and he's still holding a grudge for something that happened a hundred years ago. Together they team up to take down these two crime fighters and harness the special (and I do mean special) power of Max's brain. Trust me; this is going to get sticky.
What sets this episode apart from the rest isn't the narrative (though, that is unique as well), but rather the idea that for much of this episode Sam and Max are split up. But that doesn't mean you won't have a partner, because this episode redefines what it means to be a sidekick. Without giving too much away (and trust me, some absolutely crazy things happen in this episode), you'll spend a lot of the time trying to get Max back ... in a number of different ways.
What's great about this episode (and this whole season, actually) is that we get to see the world of Sam & Max in a different light. This is another one of those episodes that radically redesigns the sets you've come to know and love over the past three seasons. Because of the actions you take, Sam & Max's world is turned upside down. It's fun to see this alternative reality and how all of our favorite characters adjust. Unfortunately that's about all I can say without stepping into huge spoiler territory.
Suffice it to say, this episode sends you on an emotional rollercoaster. The good news is that behind all of the grief and anger, there is still a lot of humor. In fact, because this episode is so tonally different from past outings, the writers are free to joke about things we've never seen in a Sam & Max game. Even if this episode isn't as strong as the rest of the season, I still found myself glued to my computer monitor. This has been an unusual year, and this third episode definitely keeps things consistent.
Speaking of keeping it consistent, the controls and graphics are exactly the same as the last episode. The character models still look good and I love all of the small details thrown around the sets. By this point in the season everybody knows what to expect from the controls and presentation. If you haven't played the first two episodes then you definitely shouldn't start here, and everybody who has played the past episodes already knows what I'm going to say. So let's move on.
They Stole Max's Brain is a dark episode that isn't quite as strong as last month's quest, but fits rather neatly in this season of twisted tales. Even with its dark tone, I can't wait to see what happens next (especially after the cliffhanger at the end of this game). Fans of Sam & Max have nothing to fear with this game ... unless you are squeamish when it comes to swapping brains.