I'm sure that Telltale were more than aware that by taking on a Monkey Island project that they would be floating just above a deep sea of hungry critics who were waiting for them sink. And even I wasn't exactly blown away by the first two episodes. Last month I compared The Siege of Spinner Cay to a world more fitting to a Zelda game than Monkey Island and I hoped that Lair of the Leviathan would improve on that.
Luckily Lair of the Leviathan doesn't require you to find a map and a compass, nor do you have to escape from Jabu-Jabu's belly. In fact, right from the off the game demonstrates some qualities that make it very noticeably a Monkey Island game.
The opening puzzle introduces the great (and fanatical) explorer, De Cava, who has been trapped in the Manatee's belly for a long time. Although he is sceptical at first, De Cava finally warms to Guybrush when he tells him that Morgan is his wife and that they are only tourists. To prove this De Cava runs a sort of gameshow type puzzle which ends up with Guybrush falling deep into the Manatee's belly.
This is where the majority of the game's story takes place. It is a small area but allows Guybrush to interact with five different characters ? De Cava's crew (who all have their own unique personalities), Morgan, and an ever determined and equally demonic, Murray. Guybrush must convince De Cava's crew to let him be a member of their brotherhood so he can set the manatee back on course and free himself.
Each character in the game is a unique character with their own personality and it was really good to be able to interact with all of them. One of the major problems people had with the previous two games was the reuse of character models. I'm glad to say that this has been improved, or at least masked a lot better.
The music was on top form too. If I'm honest, I didn't think much of the music in the last two episodes. I know that so many people have been saying how good it was but I actually turned it down (nearly off) previously because it was interfering with my enjoyment of the game. That was not the case this time round. Maybe it was the same music, I don't know, but whatever it was about it in this episode it just fit. It reminded me a lot of the music in Curse of Monkey Island, and I really liked it!
I also didn't notice any problems with voice compression, another complaint that emerged after the launch of episode one. I played the game on a laptop with headphones on so it's possible that people with better quality sound equipment might still have problems but for me it was fine.
In terms of gameplay all the puzzles (and the game is full of them) I found to be relatively easy. But don't let this put you off - they were fun to do and I did get stuck at parts, but I felt that they were a little easier than I expected. There was one hard puzzle I should mention and it happens towards the very end of the game. It's a little bit like insult sword fighting and it is challenging. The fact that the puzzles are easy nearly works as a positive for the game though. It allows the player to interact with all the characters, and because the area is so small you end up exploring everything anyway.
One thing worth mentioning is the length of the game. This took me the longest to finish of the three games so far, despite the easy puzzles. Just when you think it's all over and that the game isn't long enough, you're outside on your ship solving more puzzles with more areas to cover. This was great. For me, the length of the episode was perfect.
However, the humour is what made the game for me. The opening sequence between Guybrush, De Cava, Morgan, and Winslow is very funny. Also the interaction with Murray is great. I'm sure it can be difficult to re-introduce a character like Murray with the same level of quality but I have to say Telltale hit the nail on the head with him. Murray is as deluded about his power as ever and is laugh-out-loud funny right till the very end. There are also a few movie and gaming references that brought a smile to my face, most notably Raiders of the Lost Arc, and the Godfather. And finally, Guybrush was most definitely at his funniest in this episode. Telltales funny department deserve a promotion, and lets hope they keep this quality for the remaining two episodes.
My biggest disappointment with the game is that we didn't get to see much of LeChuck, Elaine, or even Winslow in this episode. I loved their input into the game up to this point so all I can do is hope that they will be introduced early in chapter four (along with Stan!)
To conclude, I felt the Lair of the Leviathan was by far the best of the three episodes to date. While I'm still not overly swayed by the story I do feel that Telltale are doing a good job with the franchise. The puzzles are there, the music and the humour.
At this half way stage it appears as though Telltale are going to safely swim their way past the critics. Lets hope they can keep it up.