Sam & Max Episode 1 - Culture Shock (PC) review
"Your enjoyment of Sam & Max: Culture Shock will depend on why you play adventure games: if you play for the genre staple of awesome plots and comic-like personation, this will not bother you. Flying through the puzzles within will simply allow you to progress more quickly for the fantastically insane plot and keep the new sight gags and witty on-liners flowing freely. But should you play for a sense of achievement, of working out one's brain by undoing some devious tasks, you may find yourself disappointed in the offerings here."
I found myself in a familiar office. Next to a rickety door hung a ragged dartboard littered with scars and bulletholes. The crumbling decor of the room sported a similar motif, boasting clear evidence of small-arms fire being a regularity. A large desk sat overflowing with paperwork that could not be crammed into the stuffed filing cabinet, a smaller desk situated but a few feet away, one engraved with infantile carvings and with one rotten leg replaced by a sink plunger. A tied noose hung from the coat-rack and a content goldfish swam around in the water cooler. From somewhere, a phone rang and the scene exploded into chaos as a suited dog and a shark-toothed rabbity-thing scrambled frantically to be the one who answered it.
And straight away, I was back in 1993.
In 1993, Sam & Max: Hit the Road became an instant cult classic. Using the then-popular point 'n' click engine that Lucasarts spearheaded, it presented players with a zany 2D adventure which saw Sam, a hulking dog in a cheap suit complete with kipper tie team up with Max, the aforementioned slightly psychotic snow-white rabbity-thing to do some sleuthing as only such an oddball pairing could. The off-the-wall banter between the two highlighted a comic-book story full of visual gags and belly laughs. Although a sequel was planned by Lucasarts some years later, it was predictably scrapped in order to make way for Star Wars XXVVI: Almost as Many Games as Mario. Series fans sighed regretfully and trudged off to Youtube to watch the trailer of the now nuked game and veg out in front of the Sam & Max animated show.
But it would prove not to be the end. A bunch of talented individuals would get bored of lightsaber spamming and escape Lucasarts via the sewers while their bosses watched the pod racing scene from Episode 1 and formed their own company, Telltale Games. The rights to Sam & Max were bought and a sea of gamers held their breath.
They will not be disappointed.
A lot of fears manifested upon the announcement of Sam & Max: Culture Shock. Would the new 3D graphics engine still maintain the charm of the 2D original? Would the new voice actors live up to what existing fans expect? The answer to both questions is yes; while indeed hearing our twin protagonists wield new vocals may be a bit jarring at first, both roles are pulled off superbly. Sam maintains a deadpan noir voice perfectly slotting into the Bogart
parody tribute it's meant to maintain. Max, on the other hand, sounds demented and slightly unhinged -- fitting his profile exactly. A great deal of effort has been put into the presentation of Culture Shock; the graphics engine manages to exhort the same comic-book feel that has served Telltale's other episodic franchise, Bone, and sat so well on the 2D scale with Hit the Road. The laid-back ambience summoned up by a playful jazz score does nothing but aid this.
But it's a sense of familiarity that is both the game's most recognisable strength and biggest drawback. While exploring the office that I still hold fond memories about from all those years ago, I spied a bowling ball. Straight away, I knew that it would be used for some zany scheme, some evil and calculated plot that the pair would delight in that would ultimately conclude in bouncing the ball off someone's skull. I was not to be disappointed in this regard, but I was in the ease in which this was accomplished. The puzzles housed within Culture Shock will rarely challenge the gamer, and when they do, asking Max about the conundrum will often supply you with a thinly veiled answer.
Your enjoyment of Sam & Max: Culture Shock will depend on why you play adventure games: if you play for the genre staple of awesome plots and comic-like presentation, this will not bother you. Flying through the puzzles within will simply allow you to progress more quickly towards the fantastically insane plot and keep the new sight gags and witty on-liners flowing freely. But should you play for a sense of achievement, of working out one's brain by undoing some devious tasks, you may find yourself disappointed in the offerings here. Emphasis has been firmly placed on presentation here, and it pays off. It's just a shame that more effort could not have been ploughed into making the game a bit more of a challenge.
A shame, yes, but far from game breaking. neither is the expected shortness that episodic releases are always going to have. A confident outlook can be realistically suggested based solely on the work Telltale have already accomplished with their Bone franchise. Whereas the first of the series, Out of Boneville, was a little too straight forward and easy to be considered a must-buy, the problems were recognised and fixed in the second offering, The Great Cow Race.
Without the brain-busting puzzles to slow you down, you are left free to dive into a world dripping with a sense of personalty and colour. Retrieve your stolen phone from Jimmy Two-Teeth before strolling outside your office to do some light shopping in Bosco's Inconvenience store, a corner shop guarded possessively by a paranoid conspiracy freak with a hankering for large scale weapon manufacturing. Or maybe Sybil's place across the road will serve you better where you can enjoy a chat with the retired tattoo artists turned psychotherapist. You can find her humble abode right next to the now-closed up Lefty's Tool Hire.
.... remember that time when Max drove a #3 screwdriver into Lefty's eye? Good times.
But even if you don't, you'll still get swept up in a story full of ex-child stars turned vandals, a new fitness craze called Eye-Bo that tones up your opticals and an egomaniacal villain with a buffoon on steroids. Culture Shock is more than just a stepping stone into the second episode of the new Sam & Max franchise; it's an experience that came a lot closer to recapturing the old game than I had dared to hope.
My dog doesn't carry an oversized firearm or wear a kipper tie, and my little sister's rabbit has never shown any desire to employ shark-like teeth in an attempt to gnaw my leg off. With this evidence in mind, I put it to the reader that Sam & Max are officially better than real life. And this game does most things right in capturing that.
Staff review by Gary Hartley (October 28, 2006)
Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.
More Reviews by Gary Hartley [+]
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