Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Unfathomable Well Of Something

Sam and Max – Culture Shock

I have very fond memories of the original Sam and Max adventure game that was released when I was a teenager. Like so many of the old Lucas Arts games it was genuinely hilarious in a goofy cartoony way and it also combined elements of the black but surreal humour of the comic strip it was based on to become a genuine classic of the genre. Fans of the game comprise a rather large cult following, and as a group we were delighted when Lucas Arts announced a sequel a few years back, then disappointed when they cancelled it, then delighted again when it was picked up by Telltale Games. Of course with such a rocky road to production it was possible that the expectations placed on it would be too much and it would turn out to be a disappointment, but I am happy to report that this is not the case.

The new Sam and Max series is being released in episodic form, much like the Half-Life 2 Episodes series but hopefully with a more punctual schedule. In the first episode Sam and Max, freelance policemen by trade, come against a troublemaking gang of mind controlled washed up former child celebrities. The humour doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, but it's very hard for indiscriminate vigilantism not to be funny and there are plenty of laughs to be had. For some reason I couldn't get enough of pulling over random motorists and charging them with nonsense crimes like 'worshipping false idols'.

As a game this first episode is mostly excellent. Adventure games can often devolve into boring scavenger hunts but Sam and Max consistently provides you with puzzles that actually involve logical thinking, while at the same time being quirky and entertaining. One of the best set pieces of the game is taking a psychiatric test and having to emulate the symptoms of a particular disorder in order to proceed. The lateral thinking part of it is fun and there's plenty of absurdist humour to be had in having Sam re-enact his dreams for the psychiatrist. Towards the end some of the puzzles turn into pointless 'go fetch' scenarios but most of the game holds up well. The next episode is out on the 5th of January, but I'm not sure if this is through Gametap (I refuse to sign up to this, it's too easy for me to find time wasters as it is) so I might have to wait a little longer before I can play it.

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