Comic book writer-artist Steve Purcell created a comic cartoon duo in Sam and Max in the 1980ís. Originally created as an independent comic book series, Purcell later joined LucasArts where the talking well-armed dog and naked rabbit duo appeared in cameos in LucasArts games. There was even a Saturday morning cartoon show that ran for one season in the mid 1990ís. Itís safe to say, however, that Purcellís creation is most well know for Sam and Max Hit The Road, the legendary LucasArts 2D adventure game.
Two attempts to revive Sam and Max for games were cancelled. One, for Infinite Machine, shut down due to the company itself closing, while the other attempt by LucasArts itself was cancelled well into its production a few years ago after the management of LucasArts at the time decided that adventure games, no matter how good they might be, wouldnít be profitable.
Now Telltale Games, formed by expatriate LucasArts members, finally bring Sam and Max back to PC screen for the first time in 13 years with the release this week of Sam and Max Episode 1: Culture Shock. Having tested the waters of episodic games with two segments of their Bone adventure game series, Telltale is releasing a total of six Sam and Max episodes. While we do have some reservations on how the game is being distributed thereís no arguing that Culture Shock is a worthy follow-up to the classic game.
Since this is the first part of an six-part story with each episodic only having a few hours of gameplay itís sort of silly to reveal too much of the storyline or the puzzles for Culture Shock (letís just say a storyline that begins with a mouse stealing Sam and Maxís telephone turns into something far different). Besides, storyline was never the strongest part of any Sam and Max game but rather the fun gameplay and the terrific banter that the two talking animals exchange with each other. Thankfully, both aspects are in ample supply here. The game may be in 3D but the folks at Telltale have remembered the look and feel of the 2D original. Puzzles for the most part are rather simple but there are a few that are pretty challenging and thereís even a short semi-action sequence in Culture Shock. The interface couldnít be simpler with the mouse cursor identifying objects in the game world and the inventory (pictured as a cardboard box) allowing for easy access to your collected objects which are needed to solve the puzzles in the game.
The other aspect of the original Sam and Max thatís retained in Culture Shock is the over the top humor. You will be smiling all the time and laughing out loud a lot of the time just hearing the crisp and funny dialogue in the game from Sam and Max as they solve their mysteries and puzzles in the game. Visually the game is a treat to look at as well with impressive 3D character models and great looking cartoon backgrounds. Some people who remember and played the original Sam And Max Hit The Road might complain that the voice actors who portray the title characters in the Telltale game are not the same as the original but itís likely that most people who get the game and the other five episodes will never have played the original. For our part we found the voice acting to be excellent and certainly on a higher plane than most voice acting in games.
Our biggest complaint about the game is its distribution system. In order to play the game at the moment you have to sign onto the Gametap broadband delivery service for $9.95 a month. The service has hundreds of games but you donít actually own any of them, including Sam and Max. if you decided to cancel your subscription to GameTap, you canít play Sam and Max anymore. We suggest people wait to get the game directly from Telltale when they release it separately on their web site on November 1 for $8.95 per episode or if they want to take a (small) risk, they can pre-order all six planned episodes for $34.95.