The Adventure CompanyDeveloped by:
T (Teen)Release Date:
August 21, 2007Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
Some may remember the days when LucasArts did more than mercilessly brutalize the Star Wars franchise with a seemingly endless stream of cheap cash-ins. Those of us who remember the early-mid 90s can remember a different LucasArts; a LucasArts that was known more for delivering charming, brilliant and often hilarious “point-and-click” adventure games. One of those games was Sam and Max Hit the Road, based off of the comic series Sam and Max: Freelance Police by Steve Purcell. Nearly a decade after the release of the original game, LucasArts began work on and nearly completed a sequel, which they subsequently canceled after having lost faith in the adventure genre. Years later, Telltale Games acquired the rights to do a whole new game, and with the support of GameTap, decided to deliver it in episodic format; a potentially risky move, considering the reputation of “episodic” content at the time.
Sam and Max follows the adventures of the titular characters. Sam, an anthro-pomorphic dog in a trench-coat, and a Max, who is described not simply as a “rabbit,” but as a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing.” Our heroes are freelance police (a cooler name for private investigators) who have fallen on some tough times since their last adventure. When a group of former child celebrities begin vandalizing their neighborhood in an effort to hock eyeball exercise tapes, Sam and Max are put to work, and find themselves wrapped up in an ongoing plot of conspiracy and hypnosis.
The new Sam and Max episodes follow the classic adventure game formula with no real surprises or twists. It’s a simple point and click interface; you’ll click on objects in the environment, click your way through dialogue trees, and click through your inventory in you attempts to solve one puzzle after another. There’s nothing new here, but there doesn’t need to be: the formula works as well as it always has. Sam moves a bit too slowly and there is no run toggle, which can be trying for those of us who are unreasonably impatient. The mouse pointer is also a bit sluggish and the game lacks any mouse sensitivity controls. Neither of these are major issues, but they can be a tad annoying when you’re going back and forth a lot.
Sam and Max’s episodic, sticom-like formula is one of its strongest points. The basic set-up of each episode is predictable. You can bet that every episode will start with a call from the commissioner, neighborhood entrepreneur Sybil will have yet another new job that will somehow tie into the current investigation. Convenience store owner/conspiracy theorist Bosco will have a new disguise and will be selling a new device that you will need to solve a puzzle. This device will cost a ridiculous amount of money (just add a zero to the previous number in each new episode) that you will somehow have to acquire. The fact that you know what to expect, at least to a certain extent, makes each new episode easier to digest, especially when playing the game as it was intended, with two months in-between each new episode. Sam and Max shows us how episodic content should be done.
Puzzles can be fun and challenging, but are sometimes poorly balanced and uneven. They range from the ridiculously obvious to the painfully obscure, and occasionally just boil down to trial and error. The problem is that the game doesn’t give you the kinds of clues that truly well-made adventure games will give you. That, or the clues come so far in advance, are buried so deeply in a dialogue tree or can only be seen from such a specific camera angle, that you simply forget them or miss them completely. More than once I found myself with some new item and no idea on what to use it. I was forced to simply walk about, using it on everything in the environment, waiting for something to happen. The camera causes issues as well, as objects can be hidden from view unless you stand in a specific spot that triggers the camera to change position and show the object. Still, that only goes for some of the puzzles. The majority of the time, the puzzles are well-designed and able to be figured out through logic and deductive reasoning, just like any good adventure game. I can think of about a dozen games that have had more well-designed puzzles, but that isn’t to say that the puzzles in Sam and Max: Season One are bad; they just aren’t likely to challenge you in any meaningful way.
Of course, the best thing that Sam and Max: Season One has going for it the best thing that Sam and Max has always had going for it: it’s funny. The graphics and art design sell the cartoon look of the game without relying on 2D or cel-shading. The characters are animated and expressive and the aesthetic is always sold. The plots and characters themselves are often absurd and hilarious, from delinquent former child celebrities unleashing hypnosis on the ignorant masses through eyeball exercise tapes, to the Lincoln monument coming to life, running for president, and rampaging through the city, Sam and Max: Season One rarely fails to deliver pure “WTF” moments at their absolute best. The dialogue itself is a mixed bag. Jokes range from the subtly satirical, to the less subtle, more smack-you-over-the-head-with-cultural-relevance kind of satire, to irreverent banter, and just completely random asides between our two heroes. The good news is that the humor only increases as the series goes on, and the voice acting and comedic timing of it all is well executed. The first episode starts off a bit weak, and was an initial disappointment. Just a few episodes in, however, the funny has ramped up significantly, and it continues to rise until the end.
Sam and Max: Season One gets off to a slow start. Aside from some uneven puzzle difficulty and occasional poor design, Sam and Max demonstrates a significant amount of growth as the series goes on. At the end of the day; if you aren’t an adven-ture game fan or a Sam and Max fan, then Sam and Max: Season One isn’t the game that will turn you into one. If, however, you are, and you do fondly remember the days when adventure games reigned over the PC market, and we all thought they would never die, then Sam and Max is almost certain to bring you back to those happy times. It probably won’t happen right away, but stick with it, and you won’t be disappointed. If Season One is any indication, then it seems as if Telltale Games has hit their stride and the future looks very bright for Season Two.8/
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