Yet again, the best download games available this week end up being the cheapest. It's been a running theme for some time, but it seems that precious few of the games that demand more of our money are any good. Often caught in a tricky middle-ground between being not boxed product material, but being too expensive to develop to warrant throwing out at an impulse price, it's a graveyard for all but the very best.
Download discounting is everywhere right now, with numerous high-profile offerings including Alien Breed Impact and the entire Sam & Max range (including the still-fresh season 3) slashed in price.
It's hardly surprising. When you see truly great games going for 59p, who would take a punt on something 10 or 15 times the price unless it was absolutely brilliant? As someone tasked with wading through all manner of mediocrity, it's surprisingly rare to come across much worth bothering with above the Ł2 mark. And yet with so much dross released on PSP Minis, WiiWare and DSiWare at well above that level, you have to wonder how anyone's selling anything when there are so many quality alternatives elsewhere at a fraction of the price.
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse Episode 5 - The City That Dare Not Sleep
- PC, Mac, PSN (PS3) / Ł24.99 for the season.
For more than a decade, many of us would have given our left testicle for another Sam & Max game. Nearly four years since the comeback, we would perhaps have settled for just one genuinely brilliant sequel rather than a shedload that never quite hit the heights.
In the epic season three finale (the 16th episode in all), we catch up with the ever-patient doggie detective Sam trying to persuade his demented lagomorph buddy Max to stop being a giant slavering demonic hyperkinetic beast. Having long since dispensed with any vague sense of Sam and Max being a crime-fighting duo, Telltale seems content to follow a thread of surreal excess, with mixed results.
With the gameplay mechanics reduced to a largely predictable run of conversations and (in)appropriate use of objects, The City That Dare Not Sleep feels stuck in a rut much of the time. The season having started in such sparkling and imaginative fashion, this one's something of a formulaic slog by comparison. With the contrived return of season regulars barely raising a titter, there's little to keep you going other than dutiful routine. It's an underwhelming finale.
This far down the line, we wish more than anything that Telltale would have a complete rethink. While it always does justice to the central duo, the rest of the cast provide limited amusement, to the ultimate detriment of the series. Telltale also badly needs to freshen up the visuals and finally ditch the cheap and nasty 3D engine that is light years from Steve Purcell's wonderful art style. Maybe one day Telltale will also be brave enough to pour its creativity into a full-fat adventure game, rather than continue to head down this depressing creative cul-de-sac. We can but hope.