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Sam & Max 204: Chariots of the Dogs (PC) artwork

Sam & Max 204: Chariots of the Dogs (PC) review

"Weíre now at the point where the game even makes fun of itself for these limitations, and, while taking pot-shots at the forth wall is a Sam & Max staple, itís a little hard to poke fun at crimes you commit yourself. Get ready for the jarring change of tone, though, folks, Iím about to tell you why I loved Chariots of the Dogs anyway."

Iím ten titles in to the newly revived Sam & Max. Ten. Six episodes from the first season and, as of now, four into the second. Well, technically, eleven, as I also had to play Season One all over again for the retail release, but mentioning that would just be nitpicky. Of course, as Iím a professional video games reviewer, nitpicking is my job so, yeah, weíll call it eleven.

Ramble aside; eleven is a lot of games to play through. Sure, these games are bite-sized, released monthly and affordably priced, but thereís always going to be the overhanging problem the series will stray into redundancy. Of constant, mind-numbing repeating and retreading the same ground over and over again. And, if I want to be a cynical hack (and I do: I remind you of my aforementioned job) Sam & Max do this a lot. The games are always gong to revolve around a few set locations; thereís always going to be the pairís office, a few key locations such as Boscoís shop or Stinkyís diner. Efforts are made for at least one new location to be provided each title, but even thatís expected now. It could be argued that this is what we signed up for so long as we expect our new chapterís delivered to our desktops monthly, and itís a fair point. Just look how bungled the Half Life episodes have been handled. They may offer more changes than Telltaleís point and click series, but weíre lucky if these are delivered annually.

Weíre now at the point where the game even makes fun of itself for these limitations, and, while taking pot-shots at the fourth wall is a Sam & Max staple, itís a little hard to poke fun at crimes you commit yourself. Get ready for the jarring change of tone, though, folks, Iím about to tell you why I loved Chariots of the Dogs anyway.

If youíre going to recycle and rehash, then itís vital that you do something to make each location different from the last time we saw them. Sam & Max has not always done this and has been somewhat guilty of hiding these flaws behind an always-strong script and constant stream of genuinely funny gags. Last month's episode, Night of the Raving Dead, thrived off the seriesí strongest villain yet and by cleverly keeping the focus on the German vampire more interested in trend-setting than stereotypical vampirisms and away from the Ďbeen there, done thatí element of the locations and puzzles. Chariots of the Dogs tries to bring a new twist to the locations; they are not what you remember them to be.

Chasing down the missing Inconnivance Store owner, Bosco, leads the detective duo into his store-turned-hi-tech-hideout. By following the trail of clues left behind in his store, the pair activates a signal and are promptly abducted by time-travelling aliens and besieged for help by a slightly odd looking Bosco. Too much messing around in the time stream has left him slightly differently than you may recall him. Unless last time you saw him he had udders, four hoofed feet and cattle horns.

By using a discarded converted carbon dater (that you stole from Sybil in an earlier episode) that you can scan other people and travel through time to those same locations youíve seen before, but all with a fresh twist. Visit Boscoís store in the í60s to discover it run by his feminist mother instead. While you can visit the Freelance Police office in real-time, you can also visit in the future, where Future Max will tell you that the pair spent all their lives wandering around the same old streets over and over again and a senile Max (housed in the darlek-like future chair sci-fi nerds may recall was used by Captain Pike in that kooky episode of Star Trek where they take him back to [snip Ė too nerdy]) will lurk in the corner uttering forgotten phrases from the original Hit The Road title.

To get the best of 204, you really need to have played the rest of the games because perhaps its biggest strength is how it ties up almost every loose end the series had flapping around. Thought that ink ribbon left in the Zombie Factory last episode was just a sly dig at Resident Evil? Youíre wrong! Itís actually the by-product of vandalising a UFOís printer and discarding the unwanted ink ribbon into a handy nearby time portal. Some of the earlier chapterís shenanigans show up to be more than random acts of craziness designed to get cheap laughs and instead fall into place brilliantly to complete a look at a much bigger picture. Little pockets of earlier games suddenly sharpen up with newly-obtained clarity. Your goofy grin quickly becomes a knowing smile.

Add to this some of the wittiest writing yet, the decision not to include some of the more overplayed members of the cast and capped with a lesson on exactly how to make a cliff-hanger ending sell the final episode to the masses (but ignore the ease of the puzzles because Iím trying to end the review on a positive) and youíll see Telltale have all the ingredients to finish off the second season of Sam & Max on a real high.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (April 14, 2008)

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.

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