Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse - The Penal Zone
- PlayStation Network (PS3) / Free trial, then £19.99 for five episodes
- PC and Mac / £24.99 for five episodes
- iPad / $7.99 for Episode 1
Oh to be Telltale's random game idea generator. How could you fail to make an interesting game out of a power-mad space gorilla, a talking brain in a jar, and a thirst for mole juice? Answer: you can't.
Seemingly hell-bent on throwing as many barmy ideas into the pot as possible (and then worrying about it later), The Penal Zone - the first episode of five in The Devil's Playhouse - kicks off with probably Telltale's most creative ten minutes yet. Armed with Max's inexplicable ability to teleport himself to a person's cellphone, or turn into inanimate objects, you're walked through a seemingly hopeless situation in a way that leads the proud adventure game tradition into even more surreal territory.
Serving as both a glimpse into the episode's conclusion and a useful tutorial, The Penal Zone's incredible introduction sees the beloved crime-fighting dog n' rabbit duo in the form of their lives. It's a reminder of exactly why we missed them so much in the first place.
Once you're zapped back into the game's 'present', the gameplay takes on a slightly more familiar feel, with the traditional wander-around-chatting-and-grabbing-objects formula. But shaking things up a little in the puzzle-solving department is Max's psychic ability to see the future.
Donning goggles, you get to scan the environment and see what's about to happen to a specific person or place, and such information essentially guides you where to look next, or how you should use a given object. Gradually you build up quite an arsenal of 'toys', all contributing greatly to freshening up the series.
Anyone fearing that the latest Sam & Max might tread water need worry no longer. With the trademark sharp witticisms layered onto challenging and inventive puzzles, this is the best possible start to the new season.
- Xbox Live Arcade / 800 Microsoft Points (£5.60 / €8)
- PlayStation Network (PS3) / £7.99 / €9.99
- PC / coming soon
Released a few weeks back, this land-grab turn-based strategy title has been lavished with praise, and it's easy to see why.
Built around the delicate balance between harvesting and destruction, the game sees each player occupying a series of hexagonal columns and aiming to be the last man standing. With minimal resources to begin with, you can build harvesters to go and gather more resources, but in doing so, you physically consume the very ground that you occupy.
Harvesting reaps resources, which enable you accumulate credits and build the Walkers and Cannons that you need in order to damage your enemy, but it's a risky business. Build you harvesters too soon, or place them unwisely, and the columns will eventually crumble away, potentially taking key adjacent units with them.
Several strategies open up to you, such as bombing enemy tiles from afar, or capturing buildings and cannons. Carrier Attacks, for example, allow you to load up to 16 Walkers into them and fly across to an enemy tile, killing one defender for every attacker you commit.
But with such limited resources available to you, it's usually best to focus on a specific plan of attack - even then, with such a delicate balance you'll rarely know whether you've got the upper hand until late in the game. Sometimes, you'll pull a victory out of the bag from nowhere, such is the unpredictable nature of Greed Corp.
Supporting up to four players at once, the game lends itself brilliantly to playing with your mates (locally or online), but is equally good fun against the computer in the hugely challenging campaign mode. A word of warning, though: the tutorial barely scratches the surface, and unless you're persistent and can deal with plenty of initial trial and error, Greed Corp will take time to appreciate. Once it clicks, though, this is a hugely absorbing and satisfying journey into pure strategy gaming.
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