Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock Review
|Release Date:||October 17th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||James Barlow (Malis)|
A hound-dog with a loaded magnum and nothing to lose. A giant goldfish swimming past the window. The murder of innocent cheese. Thundering jellyfish on a squishy road to mayhem, and a psychotic rabbit beating up three former child stars with a boxing glove. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Sam and Max are back.
It's been some time since we last saw the fearless freelance police, and in that time we've seen point and click games rise and fall from grace. Starting life as comic book characters, the duo's one and only foray into gaming was a much loved gem, released in the golden era of adventure games alongside Monkey Island and Indiana Jones. Now, over ten years later and Telltale Games have let loose the manic pairing of Sam and Max upon us once more. In a gesture that harks back to their serial-based comic roots, gamers are now being offered Sam and Max in episodic monthly doses. Short and sweet, like an episode of your favourite cartoon, Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock ticks all the right boxes.
As you can see from the screenshots, there's no denying that Sam & Max' visuals ooze anything other than class and charm. Looking as though they've stepped from the page into glorious 3D, the visual style of Culture Shock is a joy to behold. Scenes are littered with throwaway details and are always vibrantly coloured, immediately drawing you in. With direct control over Sam, you'll amble about the feisty scenes, with Max always following you at his own pace. It's almost as if the LucasArts games of old have been transformed from flat drawings into a towering, deranged pop-up book.
Clearly, Culture Shock is absurd, and if you aren't prepared to brave the warped world of a deadpan canine and violently crazy rabbit, you'd best steer clear. If you're into some zany humour though, you'll feel right at home. The dialogue is superb and the voice acting well above average for this sort of game. Max' voice in particular stands out as fitting his permanently grinning features. Much of the laughs extends directly from the banter between our two heroes - click on an object with Sam and your insane buddy Max will always have a humorous opinion, often resulting in Max spouting something utterly abstract and psychotic.
Verbal humour is also mixed with physical, some of the funniest moments occur from Max wandering off as you explore a scene. He'll go up to windows and press his face against them, or jump out from behind objects to surprise you. If you're lucky he might even use his armpit to make fart noises in your general direction. If Sam is exploring and Max gets in the way, he'll have no qualms about slapping his buddy out of the way. It's a refreshingly dynamic and amusing relationship. Sure, the jokes don't always work, but when they're coming this thick and fast, you never dwell on the duds.
Of course there's some game-play to go along with all this fun. Limited to around six scenes in total, Culture Shock offers around 3-4 hours of play, depending on how well you can wrap your head around the puzzles. Whilst not too tricky, some of them require you to pay attention to the dialogue for clues and apply items with warped logic. Disguising plain cheese as Swiss cheese by shooting it with your gun is one example of the sort of challenge you'll be presented with. Only once did I bang my head in frustration; during a segment involving repeated dialogue choices. The right combination of choices is needed to complete the puzzle, but fail and you have sit through it all again. I can certainly appreciate the nature of the puzzle, but the joke wore thin after going through it multiple times.
Whilst Culture Shock is indeed short, it entertains for the duration of the ride. Whether you're exploring the backdrops or discussing the merits of teaching plants to fetch water themselves with Max, or indulging in a driving mini-game, the game never fails to hold your attention. The feeling of playing through an interactive story is more present in the three hours offered here than in any lengthier adventure game I've played. This is actually to Culture Shock's credit; it truly feels like you've dived into a cartoon and have some sort of directorial relationship with a pair of deranged actors. Simply put, Culture Shock appears to be the definition of short but sweet.
I had a blast playing through Sam & Max' first foray into episodic gaming. Lovingly crafted, with dialogue that keeps you exploring and clicking away, there's a host of nice touches that really lift this above it's peers in many areas. Sometimes the looped music can get repetitive, and I'd like to see Secret Files: Tunguska's 'search scene' button implemented as standard in all point and click games (the frustration of missing a puzzle item against the background need no longer be an issue), but overall it's hard to find any real fault with Culture Shock other than it's length. But for $8, who's complaining? Here's hoping Episode 2 is even better.
- Superb visual style
- Generally good voice-acting
- Nice change of pace from normal gaming
Not so good stuff
- Looped music can get repetitive
- Will be over quickly if you're on the ball
- Items can be hard to spot against backgrounds on occasions
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