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Game Review – Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock by jimmycanuck
November 4, 2006, 3:13 am
Filed under: gaming, reviews

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If you’re the type of gamer that thinks the term “point and click” has about as much relevance to today’s gamescape as two white paddles and a roundishly square ball, you need to take your head out of the sand.  Adventure gaming is alive and well again, and nowhere is it’s triumphant return more noticeable than in the resurrection of the genre’s most two beloved protagonist’s, Sam and Max.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of Sam & Max, here’s a brief primer to get you up to speed.  Based on a comic by Steve Purcell, LucasArts released what most consider to be one of the brightest moments in the history of point and click adventures, Sam and Max Hit the Road.  Unfortunately, rather than continue to make the brilliant adventure titles it was known for, LucasArts eventually shifted gears and focused more heavily of putting it Star Wars license to use – resulting in everything from the utter unplayability of Masters of Teras Kasi to the crown jewel in the Star Wars gaming library, Knights of the Old Republic.  Unfortunately this didn’t leave much time for continuing with the company’s legacy of high quality adventure games.  A sequel to Sam & Max was scheduled for early 2004, but got the axe just before it’s anticipated release.

Luckily, a number of veteran team members involved in the production of such LucasArts classics as the Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, and even Sam & Max founded a new development company – Telltale Games.  After releasing it’s first new adventure title, Bone, Out From Boneville, they announced that they would be returning to their roots to bring us another excellent adventure of everyone’s favourite Freelance Police, Sam & Max.

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Coming from such a pedigree, it would be fairly easy to assume that the high expectations this would place on the game would be hard to meet.  I’m pleased as punch to tell you this isn’t the case – Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock is easily the best adventure game I’ve had the pleasure of playing since I first brought home a copy of Grim Fandango nearly ten years ago.  Not only does Culture Shock improve on the bizarre humour the franchise is known for, but it does so in a way that is completely faithful to its source material.  The plot revolves around the strange behaviour of some former child stars from the 70’s, “The Soda Poppers.”  I’m afraid that this little teaser is all I can really touch on about the story line.  The shortness of this title means that all of the action that takes place is so essential that to mention any more would give away too much.  Let me assure you though, you’ll meet a fantastic cast of characters whose strangeness even surpasses that of our seemingly homicidal rabbit pal Max, and you’ll be taken to places that could only exist in the world of Sam & Max.

Both the art direction and music create the perfect 40’s cartoon noir atmosphere.  It feels like what Chinatown would if had been directed by the ACME Corporation.  Puzzle wise, the game is relatively straight forward.  There may be a few times where you’re scratching your noodle, but with a bit of patience you’ll find the answers are always right in front of you.  It’s just difficult enough to provide a challenge, but not so hard that you’ll want to walk away.  Telltale seems to have found that sweet spot in difficulty that so many games are lacking.

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Because Sam & Max is being released episodically, Culture Shock is a relatively short game.  Don’t mistake its brevity for weakness though – I may have completed this title in an afternoon, but it’s still the most fun 4 or 5 hours I’ve had with a game in a long time.  It’s the sort of product that bridges the gap between video games and movies – so much of the game is about wanting to know what Sam and Max are going to do or say next that you almost forget that you’re in control.  It takes the term “interactive media” to a whole new level – and that’s exactly what a good adventure game should do.

Thankfully, the price reflects the episodic nature of this series.  At only $8.95, you’d need to have a serious head wound to not want to pick this up.  Telltale’s website assures us that new episodes will be available every month until the season is complete, so you won’t have to wait long to get your next fix.  I’m a big believer in episodic content as the future of gaming – in this day and age, most adult gamers just don’t have the time to commit to a 40+ hour title.  Bite size chunks like this are exactly what the doctor ordered.  It’s single serving gaming, and with any luck, it’s here to stay.

You can purchase Sam and Max Episode 1: Culture Shock from the official website for only $8.95.  Telltale is also offering a pre-purchase of the full season – all six episodes – for $34.95.  There’s even a demo available on their site just in case you want a little taste.

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Heehee, I downloaded the demo and played it just now. How fun! It’s really early and I’m a noob, so it took me far too long to figure out what to do, but really fun all the same. I think I’ll be purchasing the full version when I have some spare time.

Comment by jenifesto

i downloaded the demo too and I’m addicted!
I love the new version just as much as I loved the old Lucas Arts version 🙂

Comment by Boo Radley




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