Sam and Max Season 1 (PC) – Review

Sam and Max Season 1When LucasArts canned Sam and Max Freelance Police back in March 2004 (as well as a sequel to Full Throttle) despite the team making good progress on the game, many fans feared that killed off any hopes for the adventure game genre. However, as word got around that Telltale Games had acquired the rights for the Sam and Max franchise and were working on a new game, joy spread out across the land. Telltale Games, working along with Steve Purcell, creator of the dog/lagomorph duo, has created a 6 part, episodic approach to adventure game, which was released roughly monthly over an 8 month period through several channels, including through GameTap as well as downloadable versions direct from Telltale. Sam and Max Season 1 is definitely a return to classic form for the adventure game as well as appealing to Sam and Max fans everywhere, though the episodic nature of the game does limit the difficulty of puzzles that can be put in while keeping each episode playable without having completed the rest.

Story: A

Sam and Max, the Freelance Police, finally get a case or more as reports of people falling under mind control surface. While the cases start off small, they soon start to affect not only the nation, but eventually the whole world. Only one dog and one hyperactive lagomorph-type thingy can prevent the complete conversion of the human race into mindless zombies; unfortunately, all the world has is Sam and Max to save them.

Season 1 is divided into 6 episodes, roughly of equal length; each episode’s story is standalone, though common characters and elements run throughout, though at the end of each episode, you get a connection into the next. The 6th episode uses some nice referencing back to the other episodes that doesn’t require knowledge of the other episodes to complete but does help to make some of the humor work well. The writing is definitely on par with most of the Sam and Max universe, with great lines set up for Sam and Max to gab at the popular culture. Some of the latter episodes include some rather funny musical bits such as a dance routine spewing the benefits of civil war. If this were a complete game, I would have definitely liked a lot more connection between story elements, but as an episode piece it works well. The game has a lot of references back to Sam and Max Hit The Road as well as the comic and short-lived TV series, and feels like a no-hassle extension of the series.

Sam and Max Season 1 - GraphicsGameplay: A

As with the later LucasArts games, Season 1 is an adventure game presented in 3D with a fixed camera that follows where you are on screen to reveal key details; unlike some of those games, Season 1 uses simple point and click controls as opposed to WASD-type movement that plagued those games. Furthermore, the game avoids having hard-to-detect hotspots by showing the name over anything that can be looked at or interacted with, avoiding the point-and-click-fest that some of the earlier LucasArts games ended up as.

Using this interface, you guide Sam around (with Max faithfully following you) to find clues and objects, and to talk with people. Objects that can be picked up are added to your inventory (the cardboard box), and you can easily access the box and its contents without leaving the main screen. When you talk to people, you get a standard adventure game style dialog tree, sometimes with options for Max to speak in addition to Sam. There’s a few mini-games such as driving around town to “bribe” some money out of an unsuspecting motorist that require the usual puzzle solving with some timed elements, though you have plenty of time and plenty of chances to get the timing just right to complete the games.

Just like in LucasArts games, you can’t die in Season 1, so you’ll free to try to interact safely with every object and every person. However, while you could go around haphazardly trying every possible combination in order to progress the puzzle, there’s usually just too much stuff around to make this effective. Instead, as with most adventure games, you need to pay attention to visual and verbal clues, and a few times think laterally and in wordplay; what may seem to be cue cards for song lyrics can turn out to be easy question cards for a difficult game show. Unfortunately, these lateral thinking puzzles, a staple for the past LucasArts games, really don’t make as much a presence here, and when used, they seem rather obvious. Even overall, most of the puzzles seem straightforward and not difficult at all, but that may be my impression as one that has experienced these types of games before; it may be a good challenge for those that have never had the opportunity to play these types of games in the first place. The episodic nature also weakens the difficulty of the puzzles, as there’s none but a few puzzle elements that cross over the episode boundaries; those that do are generally given enough recap information to let a player that might have skipped an episode to know how to use it right away.

Sam and Max Season 1 - GraphicsThere’s one other element of each episode that makes some of the game too easy, and that is the way which all but one episode have a TV sitcom 2.5 act approach: there’s the introduction, two acts of roughly equal length, and then a conclusion. In the two middle acts within Season 1 for the bulk of the episodes, there’s usually the classic 3 forking puzzles approach; once all 3 puzzles are solved, possibly in order or simultaneously, the act will end and the new act comes along. Certainly, acts or chapters have been done in LucasArts games before (both Grim Fandango and the Monkey Island series have chapter boundaries where most of the puzzles ‘reset’ and you start to have to think anew, with the 3-pronged approach. These basically act as funnel points to guide the player along and are a necessary element to good adventure games. However, the length of each act in Season 1 makes each puzzle along the 3 prongs rather short and simple to solve, and doesn’t have the Rube Goldberg-type machinations that the full games possess. Only one episode, the 5th one, has more of a single act with a conclusion, and uses some more complicated puzzles than the other episodes, as the full “act” here is about the same as a full chapter in the previous LucasArts games.

That said, the puzzles aren’t all walks in the park, and there’s definitely an enjoyment factor of figuring out some of the more difficult ones, if not only to make yourself proud but to see the humorous effects that result from the solution. But compared to Sam and Max Hit The Road, I was hoping for just a bit more meat to this series, since there’s presently a big gaping hole for such adventure games in the market today.

Value/Replayability: B

Like most adventure games, once you’ve played through once, replaying changes little (there are a few random elements but not too many, and the approach to solving these puzzles remains the same), but I think that if I let this sit for a couple of years and pull it out again, I would be perplexed on a few steps. Each episode is about 1.5 to 2 hours long, making the whole game on the order of 10 to 12 hours. While I played it off a GameTap subscription, the cost of the complete game direct from Telltale at around $35-40 may be just a tad steep if this were anything but an adventure game with a lot of scripted dialog. But I’d say it’s just about right for this genre. As rumor has it that Season 1 will make its way to consoles in the near future, that value may be lost if these are priced at next-gen console game prices ($50 or $60), but again, this may be a case where voting with your dollar to promote more Sam and Max and adventure games in general could be useful.

Graphics: A

The game engine uses a sufficiently decent rendering engine that gives a good balance of performance and quality. The 3D characters have just enough detail to be visually appealing without bogging down even a low-end system, and there’s additional graphic settings that can be adjusted as necessary to match the game’s system to your PC. Movements are pretty well done, though some of the ‘acting’ is a bit stilted as the characters stay rooted in place; there’s very few dramatic scenes that involve a lot of action on screen. The artists got much of the Sam and Max comic/cartoonish world down nicely using many askew corners and very few rectilinear features, and with bright, solid colors used most everywhere.

Sound: A

While they could not get the actors that did Sam and Max for Hit The Road, the ones they did use do a great job for both characters in this game. The supporting cast is also voiced well, with most of the actors getting into their parts well. Music throughout the game is well done, including a few musical numbers interspersed in the episodes.

Overall: A-

It’s definitely great to not only have Sam and Max back (particularly after the cancellation of Sam and Max: Freelance Police by LucasArts), but also to have a contender for revitalizing the adventure game genre. Compared to what some consider to be a failure in Half-Life 2‘s episodic post-game, the episodic approach in Season 1 works pretty well, though it does limit how deep and difficult the puzzles can go. The game also lacks some of the more devious lateral-thinking puzzles that were a staple in Sam and Max Hit the Road. But if one considers that the game is more interactive entertainment as opposed to something to complete as fast as possible, and that there’s a complete lack of strong adventure gaming right now, Season 1 is definitely a well-done, accessible game that most everyone should enjoy even if they’ve not played adventure games before.

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One Response

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