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Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock (Windows)

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MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.8
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5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  vicrabb (6984)
Written on  :  Jan 30, 2009
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

Sam, no! The cheese was innocent!

The Good

I've grown up with DOS games. I played Colonization, Doom II and some other games. My experience gaming for adventure games is mainly Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis.

The weird thing is that I've never played Sam & Max Hit the Road but before touching a single thing about them when I arrive on MobyGames and Neoseeker, I did know who they were, the impact they had at that time and the fact that a lot of gamers were just complaining about their come back that wasn't happening.

I don't know why I didn't try the original game before playing Sam & Max 101: Culture Shock. But what is weird is that I don't want to try it. Not that Culture Shock was bad enough to disappoint me (and well, it's not my opinion). I suppose that when it comes to games from my childhood, I just want to play those who marked me and feel again the sensations I felt.

Finally, their creator, Steve Purcell, got back the licence about his characters and Telltale just begin to develop a new adventure for the sympathetic but evil rabbit Max (evil in the sense that he's more inclined towards violence) and his friend, Sam, a detective dog, loving Banjo and more inclined towards peaceful actions, errrr, well, it can depend of the situation.

I've bought the season 1 on a certain auction site but I've never played it until this Friday 23th January 2009. I was curious to play an adventure game (if I can remind you, that it's my second favorite genre after FPS) with characters from the golden age of adventure games (LucasArts and Sierra mainly).

If we're waiting now for a season 3 of their adventure, their come-back is initiated by Telltale Games, a studio that developed also CSI: Hard Evidence and 3 Dimensions of Murder, the episodic series Bone but who are behind the recent Strong Bad's games and who are currently developing Wallace & Grommit Grand Adventure.

So, in 2006, Sam & Max came in the form of a short game (well, you have some hours of game but not the kind of game that can take days, weeks or years) but it was justified by the fact that Culture Shock was only the first episode of the Season 1 and that you'll have 5 episodes after that.

The Episodic format was beginning to please: if Sam & Max were probably one of the few to use it back then with Bone or if Valve tried to do it with Sin and decided to do the Half-Life 2 add-ons as 3 episodes, now, we have some more episodic games: Strong Bad (by Telltale) but also American McGee's Grimm, released on a weekly base and revisiting tales. As for Sam & Max, Grimm is divided into volumes, 3 for being exact, with 8 episodes in it. Volume 3 should arrive in 3 weeks on GameTap, if the countdown on McGee's blog is right.

My only regret is that I can't compare the new Sam & Max with the mythic Hit The Road. But chance is that I'm used to independent and free games using a similar gameplay from '90s and that I'm also used to the point-&-click genre.

Sam & Max return in their office, just resting. Well, they need a case, that's right but apparently, the town doesn't require their help. Until that phone call. A vague of vandalism is happening, involving the Soda Poppers, three former children stars. So, it's up to Sam & Max to arrest them, well, to try to understand what is causing then.

But before even being given the case, Sam & Max have to free their phone as the rat living with them kidnapped it and will give it back against a ransom of cheese....

The storyline is basic, with a lot of humor and without depth. I mean, this is not a twisted story, with pure evil or twisted minds, it's just a parody. Even the bad guys are just caricatural: it's not dominating the world by bringing chaos, it's just dominating the world for being loved.

Sam & Max being serious would not be Sam & Max.

Sam & Max: Hit the Road was already a point-&-click game or something similar. Telltale didn't change anything in it. They're used to that gameplay: Bone and mostly the CSI series are example of it.

You're Sam in the game. Max is moving by himself and is only speaking when you're looking an object. For moving Sam, you have just to click where you want him to go. For interacting with an object, just click on it. Normally, the cursor should be green for it. Sam will either look at it or take it.

For talking with everyone, including Max, just click on it. Then you can choose any dialog proposed. Some will make you advance in the game, some not. Also, sometimes, you can also choose Max's lines. It can be helpful. Max being violent, his lines is generally something like that. It's a great manner to incorporate Max in the game, as the player isn't controlling him. My main problem here is if I can understand that a lot of dialogs are humoristic, sometimes, it's too much. Less dialogs could have saved the game from some bored moments.

Object are stored in an box at the bottom of the screen, click on it for seeing them. Choose one and then interact with it by clicking on other objects or on characters. Also, if you're using weapons, you can choose your target. For coming back to your normal cursor, just right-click.

As you can see, the gameplay is really simple. All the actions can be done with a simple click, without having to choose what you want to do, like in the old gameplay. I remember Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis with different buttons for actions: walk, observe, speak, use, push, pull, give, take, etc. etc.. Contrary to the CSI series, you don't have to choose something in particular for getting what you want. So, it's maybe simple (some will complain that it's too simple) but it's efficient for playing and it's also intuitive, something that some are inclined to forget. A too-complicated gameplay isn't a good thing for that type of games.

I've just a problem with the driving gameplay. By chance, the driving isn't only about driving, you can try your horn, you can also shoot cars and you can ask them to pull over - Max being the one to do that. If that part of the driving gameplay is pleasant, unfortunately, it's occulted by the driving itself. Despite that point, the gameplay is efficient, simple and intuitive.

Sam & Max is in full 3D but not with realistic graphics. It's an humoristic game and as nearly every game in this category, graphics are more inclined toward a comic design, colorful, well, everything that can remind that we're in a parody and not in a dramatic game.

It's sometimes angular but I feel that it's not because of an old engine, but more because it's like a parody and that it needs some angular lines. But it's probably one of the few minor flaws for Sam & Max.

For me, the graphics are just in the mood of the series and they're perfect for it.

Usually, I don't speak about voice acting. I'm playing games in French and unless the voice acting is bad, I'm not writing about it. I prefer to speak about English voice acting when I get a game with it.

And it's the case here. I don't know if I can turn the game in French (after all, it's a multi-language package) but I don't regret to have it in English, I understand it perfectly so, it's not a problem for me. You can also enable subtitles, so, it's very easier for me for getting the story.

Voice acting is very good. Max sounds really like an insane rabbit and Sam like a peaceful dog. Even the secondary characters have good voices.

My main praising or complaining is always about music. I love music videogames. And this episode is getting some great music. I was feeling like in a '70's series. It was a grooving tune and I really love that.

Sam and Max is presented like a TV series: you have beginning credits with music, special graphics and you have also the ending credits in the same ambiance. These ones are black and orange, much more cel-shaded, but they're efficient for getting you in the game. If I remember correctly, only the 6 Days A Sacrifice and Trilby's Notes credits did strike me, not even the original credits from Call of Duty did that, though the case 7 from Ben Jordan series has a good ending credits.

The replay value is high. In fact, mostly of the dialogs that are not important for the game are there for the "Easter Eggs", or the "Did you try..." as written on official websites. Generally, it's not bringing something to the story, it's much more for getting funny things. For example, you can cause an accident outside the office or you can also hear about all Sybil's jobs (as she's always changing job: she's a licensed psychiatrist in the game but she was before a tattooer and in the next game, she will be something different).

If the replay value is high, the lifetime if you're playing it again and again will be much longer than a simple play. I've told you that it was a short game, the lack of lengthiness justified by the fact that it's an episode from a bigger game. Put all the episodes from season 1 and you'll have a reasonable game in terms of lifetime.

The Bad

My main complaint is for the driving gameplay. You can drive Sam's Desoto. It's great to add this sequence, because it's changing from the main core of the game and it's giving an action touch.

Unfortunately, the driving gameplay is also a point-&-click one. I'm used to ride cars with my arrows keys. It's more natural to do that than click on a point for getting the car going in this direction. And think about the number of clicks you have to do in the pursuit sequence because the van is loosing boxes and that the pavement or sidewalk, choose your favorite term, the only place where you don't have boxes, can slow you because of sofas placed on it. It's not intuitive and it can be frustrating.

The Bottom Line

Gameplay: 8/10 - I would have given a 10/10 if the driving was more intuitive and following the usual gameplay without a racing wheel. Doing a point-&-click gameplay isn't intuitive in that case. Apart that, the gameplay is intuitive, simple to master and efficient.

Graphics: 9/10 - I love the engine and graphics are really sticking with the Sam & Max Universe. It's colorful, tending to a comic/anime design and you don't have bugs/glitches for it.

Soundtrack: 10/10 - One of the most efficient soundtracks I've known. Just sticking to the series and even voice acting is great.

Replay value/lifetime: 7/10 - Yes, it can be a severe note but it's not for the shortness or for the easter eggs. It's just that sometimes, I wished that it was less longer with all these dialogs or just a little longer with a more elaborated storyline.

Storyline: 7/10 - Simple storyline, far away from what I'm used to play, without having a deep plot. That doesn't mean that Culture Shock is having a poor storyline but for me, it's not deep enough.

Bottom line: 7/10 - Culture Shock is promising us to get Sam & Max episodes of quality, probably with more humor, with other "Did you try..." and is a real beginning for getting new fans for the duo. Everything in the game is of high quality, except for the driving gameplay and the mixed feeling about the dialog. I've perhaps not played Hit the Road but I can easily imagine what was the game at the time. Culture Shock isn't probably getting far away from what the first hours fans have known and it's with a great pleasure that I've discovered this game. Sam & Max will not turn me into an adventure game geek though.

For concluding, if you don't have Culture Shock, go for it, it's really worthy of your money. If you don't have a choice but to buy the Season 1 DVD, go also for it, after all, you have some goodies that can pleasure you.

The cheese was perhaps innocent but it was fun to shoot at it.