Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock (+)

“When are we gonna get another case, Sam? Surely the local lawbreakers must miss our esoteric brand of personalized criminal justice!”

It has been a while, but Sam & Max, the self-titled freelance police, are finally on the job again. After a 1993 Sam & Max Hit the Road, the franchise has scraped past a Fox Kids cartoon show in 1997, and the canceled Sam & Max Plunge Through Space of 2002, and then again in 2004 when Sam & Max: Freelance Police was canceled by Lucas Arts, Sam & Max: Culture Shock has finally arrived.

Sam & Max: Culture Shock is the first installment of a 6-episode series by developer Telltale Games. The episode-format is supposed to offer short games released much more often, and gamers can purchase the individual episode or the season. After all the struggle to produce a Sam & Max game, and the culmination of Telltale Games’ episode format, how is the game itself?

It’s ridiculous. Appropriately ridiculous. And pretty darn good. This point-and-click detective adventure game has a beautiful shading and visual system designed to make it appropriately feel like you’re playing a cartoon, has a great jazz musical style that puts you in the mood to solve ridiculous mysteries, and is filled to it’s short episodic brim with the traditional esoteric dialogue so indispensably vital to the Sam & Max experience.

The characters really drive the story and gameplay, as each action triggers a short dialogue, which never fails to disappoint. Sam, the anthropomorphic dog dressed in a detective suit usually delivers long-winded mock-noir fiction sentences, such as “Jiminy Christmas Eve in a padlocked sweatbox”some misguidedly ballsy felons’ napped our phone!” Max, a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing,” is his crazed violent sidekick, who usually responds with short, often violent, retort.

Visually, the game is stunning. Most screenshots do real justice to the concept, but to see it in motion is beautiful. The voices are perfect, and my favorite part is the audio syncing, as nothing gets older faster than a game heavy in dialogue with terrible character face animations. By incorporating the audio so well into the visual world, especially with the music, the world is easy to get into.

The puzzles are pretty simple, but there were a few that I had to really think about. Most importantly though, the game plays like a TV show, because there aren’t any puzzles that are going to stump you so much that you can’t play through the whole episode in one sitting.

On the negative side, it was pretty quick, but that’s appropriate for the cost ($8.95 per episode, or the complete season for $34.95). After having played it there is no real replay value, but that’s true to the adventure genre. One of the great things about it though, is that there are 5 episodes coming out, in the first week each month starting January and ending in May.

Overall, I’d have to give this one a definite plus. Check out some of the gameplay footage, which will give you a good idea of how charming this little diversion can be.

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