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Game: Sam & Max Season 1 Episode 1: Culture Shock
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Year: 2006
Reviewed: 2008
Platform: PC
Genre: Adventure
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

Well, only 13 years later and Sam and Max get a new game. After the disappointment of Lucasarts cancelling their in progress sequel to concentrate on ruining some more Star Wars games, it’s great that someone else has got the license to make something instead. And while this new game might not have the flair that the Lucasarts classics had, it still stands up as one of the better modern adventure games, and captures the style of the original extremely well.

Sam and Max S1E1 Office
It was hard to get a screenshot with Max since he wouldn’t bloody well stay still, but I managed it! MWAHAHAHA! Also pictured, Jesse James’ severed hand (not a playable character).

Sam and Max Season 1 Episode 1: Culture Shock, to give it an overly long title, brings the characters into full 3D. Fortunately, unlike when Lucasarts did the same themselves with Grim Fandango, the controls are still the standard easy to use point and click. It’s been streamlined since the old adventures; you no longer have to choose from a variety of actions, simply clicking on an item will look at it, use it or pick it up depending on the context. While it’s nice to not have to fight the interface to get to what you want to do, it does have the negative effect of oversimplifying the gameplay, in a similar way to most modern adventure games. Especially given the small size of the game, it means that most of the puzzles are fairly obvious since there’s such a limited range of options to try.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean the puzzles are actually bad. They’re inventive and follow the same sort of violent cartoon insanity of the old game. They also manage to make some of the puzzles quite original too, with a section involving being psychoanalysed by a tattooist turned therapist. This particular puzzle also involves a funny, completely bizarre dream sequence which is used in a puzzle, although I won’t say exactly how as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might play it themselves. There’s actually quite a good range of puzzles for such a short game. The main disappointment is the lack of ability to combine inventory items, which limits the possibilities. Another interesting sequence is a car driving mini-game, which despite its appearances, isn’t an arcade game but actually a puzzle in disguise.

In terms of story and humour, fortunately it’s true to the Sam and Max spirit. It’s not really surprising, since Steve Purcell, the original creator of the characters, was involved in the making of the game. Sam still remains his calm, verbose self, while Max still has his characteristic love of ultra-violence. The cast of side characters are also reasonably well done, consisting of the aforementioned therapist, a conspiracy theorist who runs the local “inconvenience” store and three former child stars known as the Soda Poppers. The latter are probably the weak links, being a bit too annoying, although that makes it all the more satisfying when the puzzles involve knocking them unconscious.

Sam and Max S1E1 Driving
The latest GTA game really took the series to a whole new level.

The humour doesn’t always hit the mark, and especially near the beginning there are some baffling exchanges. At times it seems almost as if they’re trying too hard to fit jokes in and are forgetting that jokes are supposed to be funny. Take the following exchange for example:

Sam: It says they've bred a horse with eight legs!
Max: Does it run twice as fast?
Sam: No, but it does eat twice as much.

It sounds like it’s a joke. It follows the format that you’d expect a joke to follow. There’s just the small fact that it fails to be funny since it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. At times like these it seems like they’re aiming for randomness and not realising that it takes more than that to make something funny. These are only occasional instances though, and overall the game is a success.

As has been mentioned earlier, this game is very short. It’s only around three hours long in total. But then it is an episodic game, and unlike most other attempts at this, it’s doing it properly. Each episode costs less than £5 and the whole box set can be picked up in a shop for the price of a normal game. Given how short most games are these days, this probably works out even cheaper for once. For the price, it’s definitely worthwhile for any adventure fans. And being only the start of a series, I just hope it’s going to get even better.

Save System Review: Not only can you save anywhere, but there’s also an autosave system which saves whenever you leave an area having achieved something.
Graphics: Brilliant cartoon style graphics that fit the style of the game perfectly. The only negative is the lip synching is a bit off at times, but it’s nothing too serious.
Sound: The voice acting sounds a bit strange at first if you’re used to the actors from the original game, but once you’ve become accustomed to it, the acting is of a high quality. The sound effects are all fine for what is needed, and the music is good.
Bugs: I didn’t find any bugs at all.
Gameplay: The puzzles are interesting and sometimes inventive, although the interface can be a bit too simplistic.
Storyline/Dialogue: The storyline isn’t incredibly complex, but it’s not important for a Sam and Max game. The humour is there, and the dialogue is mostly good, and that’s what matters here.

Arbitrary Final Score: 3.5 stars

Like the episode, or is the new installment too much of a shock? Let us know your opinion on the forum!