Sam & Max, Episode 3: The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball
Sam & Max have always been chaotically on the side of the law. In Max's case more by conviction than inclination perhaps, but in this third downloadable episode their natural proclivities see them well-suited to a life of disorganised crime.
Muscling in on the mob drops Sam & Max right into their element. Will the Toy Mafia make them an offer they can't refuse? Will the temptation prove too strong? And is Max capable of refusing it anyway?
At the end of the second episode, Situation: Comedy, we got an inkling that we hadn't seen the last of the chaos-causing, hypnotic toy bears. Now we learn who is behind their manufacture and distribution. Fortunately the police have a mole in the organisation. Unfortunately, he hasn't been heard from for some time. The police commissioner phones Sam & Max and asks them to infiltrate the Toy Mafia and make contact with the mole, last known to be at Ted E. Bear's Mafia-free Playland and Casino.
Although it links up with the previous episode, Sam & Max, Episode 3: The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball is a self contained story, albeit a short one. Once again it opens in the office of our unlikely crime fighters, and outside the main street is unchanged, a charge that can't be laid against the local traders, Sybil and Bosco. At one end of the street Sybil has given up body piercing, tattooing, psychological counselling, and editing sensational tabloid newspapers to become a full time trial witness. Meanwhile, at the other end of the street, the paranoid Bosco has dropped his British disguise in favour of an equally atrocious French one.
A short drive away is Ted E Bear's Mafia-free Playland and Casino — a fun-filled happy place where the decor is chez MacDonalds and the business-suited staff wear reassuring smiling bear heads. How could this possibly be a front for a gang of ruthless racketeers?
Though the formula is generally a winning one, this particular episode is much shorter than the first two. I played it in one sitting in under two hours, probably closer to 90 minutes. To begin with the story is briefer and there is less to do here with fewer characters to interact with and fewer puzzles than in the first two games. Added to this the puzzles are certainly more straightforward and I felt I always knew just what I had to do next. Familiarity with the previous games no doubt contributed to this, but I couldn't help feeling disappointed when the game finished so quickly.
On the plus side a mafia-style version of 'Whack-A-Rat' makes a welcome return and provides a modicum of easy arcade action along with the obligatory car chase. You also get to cheat at cards, use an organic listening device, and convince the mob that you are worthy of joining them by performing three tasks. But overall the pickings are a little slim. A meatball roll when compared to the three-course meal of the earlier episodes.
The point and click interface makes it easy to get around and to do things and the larger-than-life cartoon-style graphics really set the tone for the whole show. Click on an Item of interest and Sam will describe its inherent nature or provide an anecdote to which Max will usually add a rejoinder. Be sure to listen to the song of the three bear heads on the wall of the casino. The quality of the writing, complete with sly swipes at society's foibles, combined with humour and good voice acting is a continuing feature of this series. I was also pleased to see Max respond with his familiar 'Wheee!' as Sam slapped him out of the way. In the last game (it may have been a glitch in my copy) Max was strangely silent as he soared out of view.
Telltale Games are now halfway through this season of Sam & Max and it is good that we don't have too long to wait between episodes. However, this has resulted in the recycling of initial locations and, to a certain extent, some of the puzzles, which is not necessarily a bad thing as you can easily jump into the game. But the story and gameplay need to build on this foundation. They did this admirably in the first two games but in this one the momentum didn't continue for long enough leaving the gameplay lacking by comparison.
Sam & Max, Episode 3: The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball is still fun to play, despite its brevity, enlivened as always by the snappy repartee between the loquacious canine Sam and his manic white rabbit sidekick Max, who seems to get the best lines. The humour and silly situations guarantee that you will play with a constant smile on your face.
Sam & Max, Episode 3: The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball is available for download exclusively through GameTap for North American residents from 25 January 2007. From 8 February 2007 it will be available worldwide through Telltale Games.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2007.
All rights reserved.
Windows XP, 800MHz processor (if using a video card with hardware T & L), 1.5GHz (if using a video card without hardware T & L), 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended), 32MB 3D-accelerated video card, 240MB available hard drive space.