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Sam & Max: Season One
Review By: Nick Arvites
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Adventure
ESRB: Teen
# Of Players: 1
Online Play: No
Accessories:
Buy Now: Buy Sam & Max: Season One at Amazon.com!

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You wouldn’t know it by looking at the present state of the market, but the PC gaming scene used to have more to it than random shooters, The Sims, and MMOs. Adventure games were one of the first genres to appear on the PC gaming platform in the form of text-based titles. They evolved and eventually became a PC gaming standby, with top quality titles coming from multiple studios. The big two in the genre were Sierra Entertainment and LucasArts (before the former became an in-name-only publisher and the latter became a Star Wars-themed shovelware house). While not the flagship adventure title for the genre, LucasArts’ Sam and Max Hit the Road is one of the funniest adventure titles ever created and stands out as one of the best titles ever released by LucasArts. The quirky and bitingly sarcastic humor combined with the comic-styled artwork and classic adventure game feel created one of the classics of the genre. An “obvious” Sam and Max sequel fell into development hell, with LucasArts apparently finding numerous downright bad titles (most of which were Star Wars cash-grabs) more worthy of development time. A sequel was announced in 2002 by LucasArts, but was cancelled shortly before its scheduled release in 2004. The series then found itself in the hands of creator Steve Purcell and the studio Telltale Games (made up of many LucasArts vets) and they announced an Episodic Sam and Max series.

Episodic games are still in their infancy, and episodic games have experienced some massive growing pains. The highest profile examples of episodic content are the expansions to FPS standard Half-Life 2. While the Half-Life expansions are successful both critically and commercially, they are not examples of episodic content in terms of short experiences that have a short time between sequels. The oft-forgotten SiN franchise attempted to revive itself with episodic content, only to die after one episode due to poor sales. Sam and Max: Season 1 now hits the retail market poised to give the world an example of how to truly produce episodic content. Sam and Max delivered a full season on time with only months instead of years between the episodes, and the episodes stood on their own merits while tying together into a larger story. Overall, Sam and Max Season 1 is the first true example of episodic content done right.

Sam & Max: Season 1

The game puts you in control of Sam, a good-natured dog detective with an expansive vocabulary. Max, a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing,” is your partner. Max mostly follows you around, but never hesitates to offer his opinion or actions (most of which involve over-the-top violence or something otherwise maniacal). The controls are as basic as you can get: point-and-click to move and interact with the environment and other characters. Inventory is relatively limited (a stark change from the classics in the genre), and most of the puzzles and actions are decided with a simple click on an object. The controls are simple, but they work. They allow the player to just get immersed into the game without having to manage an inventory or try a series of action-combinations to figure out what works (example: talk to, look at, use, open, examine, etc). Each episode in Season 1 starts out in Sam and Max’s office. From there, the pair gets an assignment from the commissioner and makes their way out into the neighborhood. Each episode revolves around a few central recurring characters in the neighborhood. Bosco, the owner of Bosco’s Inconvenience Store, is the source of paranoid conspiracy theories and high priced Boscotech weaponry. Sybil Pandemik occupies the store across the street from Sam and Max’s office and changes her occupation in each episode.

While the episodes take similar approaches (get a case, initial investigation, obtain Boscotech, advance case and conclude case) and appear to be a repetitive pattern, they work. The “limited” locations surely helped to keep the game on a development track (each game generally has the office, neighborhood stores, and one other location), but they offer enough to do and enough sources of humor and interesting situations to not feel repetitive.

The largest strength of Sam and Max Season 1 is that the deeply sarcastic and witty writing is still present. The game feels like a natural successor to the Sam and Max comics as well as the prior Sam and Max game (even over a decade later). The dialog is fresh, smooth, works together, and retains a biting edge and deeply rooted sarcasm that keeps the game downright hilarious and true to its roots. Each episode attacks a different topic, ranging from technology to politics to television shows. Much like most television shows, the later episodes are better than the earlier ones. However, the overall product is strong as a whole. The next page of the review is going to briefly discuss each individual episode.

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Posted: 2008-03-01 12:12:14 PST