Sam & Max, Episode 1: Culture Shock
It's been a long time in coming to our computer screens, this second appearance of Sam & Max. Like the Bone cousins (also featured in an adventuring series from Telltale Games) Sam & Max started their zany adventures in a comic strip. In fact they were the first of the two to graduate to the computer screen back in the early 90s in the rollicking adventure Sam & Max Hit the Road. It was a huge hit and swept up a multitude of fans. Then there was a long hiatus before Sam & Max were set for a comeback around 2004 in Sam & Max Freelance Police. Sadly they missed this appointment because the game was cancelled amidst a rage of protest. Now at long last they've made their return, and we can smile and breath a sigh of relief.
Sam & Max: Culture Shock is the first in a series of bite size adventures from Telltale Games, with a bite size price to match. Like the original Sam & Max, it's an adventure game with adventuring puzzles, including a chance to take Sam's flashy black Desoto out for a spin. Don't panic if you're not an ace driver, neither is Sam or Max, and you don't need to be. You can't get hurt, and you can't hurt anyone else, just have fun and try to keep to the road.
If you haven't met Sam and Max before, Sam's the big one, the dog in a blue-grey suit, and Max is the naked white rabbit. They're a policing pair with a difference. Freelance Police to be precise, so they have their own peculiar ways of doing things, and a knack of making you laugh.
This story begins with a dreadful loss... the phone has disappeared! No phone, no work, so your first task is to find it before you can get the call and get cracking on this current case. The Soda Poppers, child stars of a 70s TV show (and they haven't grown up very much) are behaving badly, and Sam and Max need to sort them out. Enough of the story, it's short and sweet, just wait and see what's going on.
Sam & Max: Culture Shock is a real joy to play, I laughed from the word 'go'. It had a lot to live up to, and it's come through with flying colours. There are not many characters apart from Sam & Max and the Soda Poppers, but they all shine with their quirks and foibles. I particularly liked Sybil in her psychotherapist phase — she's sampled lots of other occupations. Her 'understanding' (read patronising) responses to the antics going on around her made me smile. And, of course, Max is his usual manic self with lots of good ideas for some gratuitous violence, and Sam is still patient, relaxed and easy going, leading the show on.
The humour and dialogue are excellent, just as I'd hoped. Short, snappy quips flying back and forth, always set to raise a smile or a chuckle. Sam and Max play off each other perfectly and Max, literally, flies on a regular basis when he gets within swiping distance of Sam. Whee! In conversation mode Sam does most of the talking, but when Max gets a chance to join in, he usually livens up the conversation and maybe gets something happening.
The voice acting is top notch, I thought, not the same voice actors for Sam and Max as in the original game, but just as entertaining. The other voices are perfectly fine too, remember the Soda Poppers aren't meant to be kids you'd want around you all day long. For conversations it's just a matter of selecting a line from a dialogue box. Simple. A tiny graphic of Max will appear when he has something to say to join in. All the dialogue is subtitled.
Sam & Max: Culture Shock is a mouse driven game, simply point and click to get things done. There is a small range of problems to overcome and they're all fun. Sometimes you need to collect items to get by, a couple of the challenges rely on the correct dialogue selection, and one of these worked a treat. I can't say more here, but I had a great time sending the characters through the correct motions to get the right outcome. One puzzle, though, was pretty much a repeat of a previous one. Though it was clever in one respect, I did rather wish for a different solution considering the brevity of the game. You will move through the game fairly quickly because the puzzles aren't too tricky, especially if you watch out for visual clues and listen carefully to the cues in conversations.
That leaves the graphics and background sound, and Sam & Max Culture Shock looks and sounds great. The background music is a string of light jazzy numbers, not too intrusive and very professional. The graphics are clear and colourful and the characters move smoothly around to your bidding, although Max likes to dart here and there and do his own thing when you pause for a while. As you move, the camera angles automatically change to give you different views of each location. One of the things I did appreciate was the amount of interaction in the gameworld ... you can look at extraneous objects and, of course, get a clever description from Sam and a smart response from Max, or vice versa. I chuckled when I met Lou the bowling ball, Mr Spatula the goldfish, and Hubert the pot plant that Max is training to fetch it's own water.
All in all Sam and Max are sure to entertain with their own brand of mirth and mayhem. It's a great little play for adults and kids. Kids will love the driving. The game is fairly short, around 3, maybe 4, hours of play, but they're a fun-filled few hours.
Sam & Max: Culture Shock is now available for download exclusively through GameTap for North American residents. From November 1st it will be available worldwide through Telltale Games. This is a PC release, the Mac release is coming very soon.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2006.
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, 230MB available hard drive space.