Sam and Max are known as Freelance Police, essentially do-gooders who work for big stacks of money, but right wrongs in the process. Sam and Max have developed quite a following since their creation, including Sam & Max: Freelance Police!!!, the short-lived 1997 cartoon series which will, in addition to this game, be available via the GameTap service.
With Telltale’s recent releases of the first two episodes of the Bone series, the question now was whether a series as beloved and clever as Sam and Max could find not only an audience, but find a way to be entertaining, close two 13 years after the original game was released.
There are a few things you should probably be aware of before reading my review of this game. For starters, there are a variety of ways to purchase this title, including:
Purchase the individual episode from Telltale Games directly, for the price of $8.95 (available 11/01/06).
Purchase the title via the GameTap service using the $9.95 subscription (available 10/17/06 exclusively for a few weeks).
Purchase the entire season for $34.95, receiving new episodes as they are released and having the option to get them all on a CD at the end of the season.
Sam and Max Episode 1: Culture Shock (SME1) is, at its heart, a tried and true point and click graphical adventure game. This is either the best news you will read today, or perhaps the beginning of a series of disappointing revelations. Running on a graphics engine that is good looking (appears nearly identical to the Bone game engine), and a fairly easy to negotiate inventory system, you would think this game had been created years ago. I personally found it comforting how familiar and easy it was to start playing this game.
As a point-and-click game, be prepared to be assaulted with an array of icons which change as you move across the screen and are almost always followed by something witty said by Sam or Max. With the exception of a driving mini-game, which, after a moment or two of figuring out how to steer and access your loudspeaker, is fairly easy to learn. Like many games of this genre, you will often find yourself needing to click on some of the interactive areas on more than one occasion, in order to fully proceed with your tasks.
Puzzle-wise, you will find that Sam and Max sticks with the standard dialogue- and inventory-based quests, with a small amount of pixel hunting thrown in. This will dismay some of the older gamers, who were hoping perhaps for a little more depth from Sam and Max, but it will make the game more accessible to younger gamers. In fact, the simple act of clicking on everything, trying all of the dialogue choices, and listening to the same dialogue, will provide you with a sure-fire method of completing SME1. Still, as this is a game that advertises a 6-hour duration (it took me four, but I am a graphical adventure junkie), and is offered for as low as $4.95 a month if you purchase a plan through GameTap, you are actually getting more or less what you pay for.
I was pleased to find that SME1 contains all of the humor, atmosphere, and genuine fun of the previous game. The writing is up to the standards of the Sam and Max faithful, filled with humor that is by turns slapstick and subtle, and chock-full of pop culture references that will entertain the entertainment-savvy gamers out there. Without giving away anything severe, the story begins with our fearless heroes sitting in their office looking for their phone. After finding it, they receive a call from Bosco, their supremely paranoid and technologically skilled friend who runs the convenience store down the street. In their quest to help Bosco, Sam and Max will encounter a tattoo artist-turned-therapist, exploited childhood stars, and rich people ready to be shot down and robbed…err…cited for moving violations.
"I was pleased to find that SME1 contains all of the humor, atmosphere, and genuine fun of the previous game."
The music, sound effects, and dialogue in this game were stupendous and truly made it a much more memorable experience than it would have been otherwise. The voice actors will be familiar to long time fans and the music is extremely well suited to the game. For a graphic adventure game to be successful the dialogue must executed perfectly, and I’m happy to say the developers have succeeded here.
Now, it should be easy to see from the previous paragraphs that I greatly enjoyed my Sam and Max experience. Still, I do have a few concerns that I carried away from the game. For starters, many gamers will likely feel that they are not being given enough of a game to fully benefit from the price they are paying. Certainly, nearly ten dollars for buying the game directly or even thirty-five dollars for the entire season, something I have yet to see fully defined, may be a little much to ask of some bargain-conscious gamers. I had a similar experience while playing Bone, but at least while the first episode of Bone felt like a cheap “to be continued” ending, SME1 was more like a complete episode of a show.
Digital distribution is certainly the future of PC gaming and companies like Telltale and VALVe are leading the way in games composed of episodic content. I think the model of these episodes may need to be refined just a little bit, but so far I see solid prospects ahead.
"...the model of these episodes may need to be refined just a little bit, but so far I see solid prospects ahead."
As a graphical adventure game, SME1 follows a tried-and-true formula. You will find no innovation when this game hits your hard drive, just 4-6 hours of entertainment. If you are devoid of a sense of humor, or would rather spend your ten dollars to see a movie that will last 90 minutes (actually, in LA, $10 won’t even get you one movie ticket), then perhaps this title will fall flat for you. When I first played through the game, I found myself struggling with the decision of whether SME1 provided enough entertainment for the price and ultimately I had to admit that for over four hours, I sat in front of my PC and for once played a game through from start to finish. I found this quite a feat and something I like to see from games. So, if you find you and I are of a like mind on this, then please log onto GameTap on October 17th or go to the Telltale Games website on November 1st and see for yourself that Sam and Max are back, and they have been missed.