Sam & Max: The Penal Zone (PC) Review

Author: Gabriel Vega
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, April 26th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (
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Alien invaders, psychic powers and mystical toys granting unimaginable power -- not every day finds for a violent rabbit and dog partner acting as freelance police but that's what they're getting in Sam & Max: The Penal Zone. The General Skun-Ka’pe has arrived on earth, claiming peace and healing for the residents of the planet. While many are eager to welcome the new visitor, Sam & Max have already seen a glimpse of the fate to come. With no time to spare and a handful of vague clues, it all falls on the duo to solve the case and save the day.

For those unfamiliar with the Sam & Max series, their cases come in the form of a traditional adventure game. Action comes through picking up clues and unlocking new leads to advance the story line. With a limited world and short episode delivery, Telltale works to squeeze every ounce of play potential from the games to challenge and deliver satisfaction. The latest episode brings a new twist to their exploits: the ability to see limited spans of the future to help speed the case along and solve problems posed by the extraterrestrial foes. With Max’s new powers guiding the duo, new avenues of investigation and travel emerge.

In this first episode, the delivery comes in with a Twilight Zone narration moment, giving a glance of the future to come and then shooting far back before any of it occurs. The teaser sets up some of the items to come into play and acts as a mini tutorial while preserving the story line. Once set off into the world, the duo act fast to tackle the visions they’ve somehow both encountered as the clock runs against them. As the mysterious talking brains and ghouls guide the freelance police, the future looks strange and to some extent doomed. It’s up to players to follow the right visions and use the tools available to survive this alien invasion.

Graphically, the models and general lighting are friendly to a wide range of users. While increased shadow and lighting effects highlight the quality a maxed out system can provide, the details remain when dropping to the middle range; the quality of the scenes and animations are still there and the stylized textures allow for easy scaling. While Sam & Max have the same look from when they started, the space ship and Skun-Ka’pe have incredible detail in facial animation and fur to keep the game on par with the rest of the field. The greatest asset to The Penal Zone is the art direction, which ensures the game doesn’t need a maxed out system; we enjoyed the dedication to eye candy at maximum settings and the same attention four levels down the graphic scale while reducing only the intensive settings that would slow down hardware.

The sound and voice acting in The Penal Zone are standard to the Sam & Max franchise, which is to say the actors invested themselves into the property for a more enjoyable experience, though the synchronization to the models has slight lag. The dialogue scenes branch out with many choices and players can mix up selections to get new results. The future vision ability packs various unexpected responses from objects and characters in the game. We spent much of our time exploring the fates of everyone in the game; Telltale packed in enough extra dialogue to set us off on side adventures to find out how to trigger those in the present.

We spent hours in The Penal Zone to explore the game and feel out what it was bringing to the table this time around. With experimental features about Max’s new powers, it was a leap for Telltale to make with such a settled franchise. The result delivers a new depth and a chill down the spine to think of the chaos that will erupt over the course of the new story line. For those that are fans of the series, we can safely say the game delivers great fun and a modest amount of gameplay hours. Those new to the series can start here without prior experience, but the experience will suffer. With the previous seasons priced low online, it would be a great investment for a series that Telltale has shown such commitment to.


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