Sam & Max Episode 101: Culture Shock


Sam & Max Episode 101: Culture Shock review
Sam, no! The cheese was innocent!

The good:

  • Intuitive gameplay
  • Cutiness of the graphics
  • Soundtrack
  • Lot of "Easter Eggs"
  • Humor
  • A cracking storyline

    The bad:

  • Driving gameplay
  • If you have a lot of humoristic dialogs, after some hours into the game, they're beginning to be a bothering thing


    Sam & Max: Coming from '90s

    Despite having begun playing during the early '90s, my PC world at that time was resuming to this: Solitaire, Minesweeper, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Nashua Games, Monkey Island, Epic Pinball and one or two special educating games (with maths, French language, etc.). I was having more fun with my NES and my Game Boy.

    Then came the golden age of first real fun in titles that weren't adventure games or classic things: Doom II, Rise of the Triads, Heretic and Colonization. And then came the golden age of being definitively a gamer, thanks to Tomb Raider, Half-Life, Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, etc..

    If I've played old games like Woodruff or play again Doom or Colonization (pesting against me now because I do not remember how to do with DosBox), I've never try Sam and Max: Hit the Road.

    And the weird thing is that I do know, before trying the episodic series by Telltale, well, I do know who they were, the impact they had at that time and the fact that a lot of gamers were just complaining about their come back that wasn't happening.

    Finally, their creator, Steve Purcell, got back the licence about his characters and Telltale just begin to develop a new adventure for the sympathetic but evil rabbit Max (evil in the sense that he's more inclined towards violence) and his friend, Sam, a detective dog, loving Banjo and more inclined towards peaceful actions, errrr, well, it can depend of the situation.

    I've bought the season 1 on a certain auction site but I've never played it until this Friday 23th January 2009. I was curious to play an adventure game (if I can remind you that it's my second favorite genre after FPS) with characters from the golden age of adventure games (LucasArts and Sierre mainly).

    Sam & Max: the second half of the 2000's

    If we're waiting now for a season 3 of their adventure, their come-back is initiated by Telltale Games, a studio that developed also CSI: Hard Evidence and 3 Dimensions of Murder, the episodic series Bone but who are behind the recent Strong Bad's games and who are currently developing Wallace & Grommit Grand Adventure.

    So, in 2006, Sam & Max came in the form of a short game (well, you have some hours of game but not the kind of game that can take days, weeks or years) but it was justified by the fact that Culture Shock was only the first episode of the Season 1 and that you'll have 5 episodes after that.

    The Episodic format was beginning to please: if Sam & Max were probably one of the few to use it back then with Bone or if Valve tried to do it with Sin and decided to do the Half-Life 2 add-ons as 3 episodes, now, we have some more episodic games: Strong Bad (by Telltale) but also American McGee's Grimm, released on a weekly base and revisiting tales. As for Sam & Max, Grimm is divided into volumes, 3 for being exact, with 8 episodes in it. Volume 3 should arrive in 3 weeks on GameTap, if the countdown on McGee's blog is right.

    My only regret is that I can't compare the new Sam & Max with the mythic Hit The Road. But chance is that I'm used to independent and free games using a similar gameplay from '90s and that I'm also used to the point-&-click genre.

    Sam & Max 101: Culture Shock

    Sam & Max return in their office, just resting. Well, they need a case, that's right but apparently, the town doesn't require their help. Until that phone call. A vague of vandalism is happening, involving the Soda Poppers, three former children stars. So, it's up to Sam & Max to arrest them, well, to try to understand what is causing then.

    But before even being given the case, Sam & Max have to free their phone as the rat living with them kidnapped it and will give it back against a ransom of cheese....

    Sam & Max: Non-sense Scenario

    Well, if I'm saying that it's a non-sense scenario, you shouldn't jump to the conclusion that it's not well-written. Nope. Sam & Max being an humoristic series, it's somewhere normal that the scenario is having non-sense. Former children stars only being vandals? No murder? No deep mystery? It's probably games like The Longuest Journey, CSI or Ben Jordan series and Chzo Mythos that are influencing me with their more serious tone.

    But it's interesting to see that behind the vandals, you can find something a little more devilish. Well, it's not really something harmful, I mean, it's not like the world is going to be destroyed or controlled by evil people wanting powers. But the "evil" character is only a parody. He's really in the tone of the series.

    That's why the storyline is good. Everything is a parody. Because it's Sam & Max. A Sam & Max being serious wouldn't be a great direction.

    Sam & Max: Telltale loves Point-&-Click

    Sam & Max: Hit the Road was already a point-&-click game or something similar. Telltale didn't change anything in it. They're used to that gameplay: Bone and mostly the CSI series are example of it.

    The short way to describe it is to take the gameplay I've written for Neo.

    "Players are Sam in this adventure game. They can interact with their environment with mouse-based action, talk to others characters, pick up objects and use them for solving puzzles. They can also drive Sam's car."

    In the longest way, you're Sam in the game. Max is moving by himself and is only speaking when you're looking an object. For moving Sam, you have just to click where you want him to go. For interacting with an object, just click on it. Normally, the cursor should be green for it. Sam will either look at it or take it.

    For talking with everyone, including Max, just click on it. Then you can choose any dialog proposed. Some will make you advance in the game, some not. Also, sometimes, you can also choose Max's lines. It can be helpful. Max being violent, his lines is generally something like that. It's a great manner to incorporate Max in the game, as the player isn't controlling him. My main problem here is if I can understand that a lot of dialogs are humoristic, sometimes, it's too much. Less dialogs could have saved the game from some bored moments.

    Object are stored in an box at the bottom of the screen, click on it for seeing them. Choose one and then interact with it by clicking on other objects or on characters. Also, if you're using weapons, you can choose your target. For coming back to your normal cursor, just right-click.

    As you can see, the gameplay is really simple. All the actions can be done with a simple click, without having to choose what you want to do, like in the old gameplay. I remember Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis with different buttons for actions: walk, observe, speak, use, push, pull, give, take, etc. etc.. Contrary to the CSI series, you don't have to choose something in particular for getting what you want. So, it's maybe simple (some will complain that it's too simple) but it's efficient for playing and it's also intuitive, something that some are inclined to forget. A too-complicated gameplay isn't a good thing for that type of games.

    My main complaint is for the driving gameplay. You can drive Sam's Desoto. It's great to add this sequence, because it's changing from the main core of the game and it's giving an action touch.

    Unfortunately, the driving gameplay is also a point-&-click one. I'm used to ride cars with my arrows keys. It's more natural to do that than click on a point for getting the car going in this direction. And think about the number of clicks you have to do in the pursuit sequence because the van is loosing boxes and that the pavement or sidewalk, choose your favorite term, the only place where you don't have boxes, can slow you because of sofas placed on it. It's not intuitive and it can be frustrating.

    The driving isn't only about driving, you can try your horn, you can also shoot cars and you can ask them to pull over - Max being the one to do that. If that part of the driving gameplay is pleasant, unfortunately, it's occulted by the driving itself.

    In definitive, the gameplay is efficient, simple and intuitive except for the driving part. It's bringing down the quality of it but fortunately, it's only two sequences, so, it's not a dramatic downing.

    Sam & Max: Sam & Max in 3D

    Sam & Max is in full 3D but not with realistic graphics. It's not a Half-Life or a Call of Duty. It's an humoristic game and as nearly every game in this category, graphics are more inclined toward a comic design, colorful, well, everything that can remind that we're in a parody and not in a dramatic game.

    It's sometimes angular but I feel that it's not because of an old engine, but more because it's like a parody and that it needs some angular lines. But it's probably one of the few minor flaws for Sam & Max.

    For me, the graphics are just in the mood of the series and they're perfect for it.

    Sam & Max: Groovin'

    There are three things in the sound department: voice acting, sound and music.

    Usually, I don't speak about voice acting. I'm playing games in French and unless the voice acting is bad, I'm not writing about it. I prefer to speak about English voice acting when I get a game with it.

    And it's the case here. I don't know if I can turn the game in French (after all, it's a multi-language package) but I don't regret to have it in English, I understand it perfectly so, it's not a problem for me. You can also enable subtitles, so, it's very easier for me for getting the story.

    Voice acting is very good. Max sounds really like an insane rabbit and Sam like a peaceful dog. Even the secondary characters have good voices.

    The sounds are also appropriated but you do know that I'm not speaking about it.

    My main praising or complaining is always about music. I love music videogames. And this episode is getting some great music. I was feeling like in a '70's series (well, thanks to re-airs on TV, because I'm born in 1983, far away, from 70's series and I can't remember 80's). It was a grooving tune and I really love that.

    Sam & Max: Episodic = Credits

    Sam and Max is presented like a TV series: you have beginning credits with music, special graphics and you have also the ending credits in the same ambiance. These ones are black and orange, much more cel-shaded, but they're efficient for getting you in the game. If I remember correctly, only the 6 Days A Sacrifice and Trilby's Notes credits did strike me, not even the original credits from Call of Duty did that, though the case 7 from Ben Jordan series has a good ending credits.

    Sam & Max: Going back

    Yep, the replay value is high. In fact, mostly of the dialogs that are not important for the game are there for the "Easter Eggs", or the "Did you try..." as written on official websites. Generally, it's not bringing something to the story, it's much more for getting funny things. For example, you can cause an accident outside the office or you can also hear about all Sybil's jobs (as she's always changing job: she's a licensed psychiatrist in the game but she was before a tattooer and in the next game, she will be something different).

    If the replay value is high, the lifetime if you're playing it again and again will be much longer than a simple play. I've told you that it was a short game, the lack of lengthiness justified by the fact that it's an episode from a bigger game. Put all the episodes from season 1 and you'll have a reasonable game in terms of lifetime. Each episode was released on a monthly base and downloaded digitally. For different reasons, I'm obliged to wait a DVD release. But the DVD release isn't bringing something new to replay value or lifetime, just some goodies.

    Sam & Max: My Max side

    My Max Side? It's just because I can be evil when it comes to give the points...

    Gameplay: 8/10 - I would have given a 10/10 if the driving was more intuitive and following the usual gameplay without a racing wheel. Doing a point-&-click gameplay isn't intuitive in that case. Apart that, the gameplay is intuitive, simple to master and efficient.
    Graphics: 9/10 - I love the engine and graphics are really sticking with the Sam & Max Universe. It's colorful, tending to a comic/anime design and you don't have bugs/glitches for it.
    Soundtrack: 10/10 - One of the most efficient soundtracks I've known. Just sticking to the series and even voice acting is great.
    Replay value/lifetime: 7/10 - Yes, it can be a severe note but it's not for the shortness or for the easter eggs. It's just that sometimes, I wished that it was less longer with all these dialogs or just a little longer with a more elaborated storyline.
    Storyline: 7/10 - Simple storyline, far away from what I'm used to play, without having a deep plot. I love twisted stories, like FEAR for example. That doesn't mean that Culture Shock is having a poor storyline but for me, it's not deep enough.

    Bottom line: 7/10 - Culture Shock is promising us to get Sam & Max episodes of quality, probably with more humor, with other "Did you try..." and is a real beginning for getting new fans for the duo. Everything in the game is of high quality, except for the driving gameplay and the mixed feeling about the dialog. I've perhaps not played Hit the Road but I can easily imagine what was the game at the time. Culture Shock isn't probably getting far away from what the first hours fans have known and it's with a great pleasure that I've discovered this game. Sam & Max will not turn me into an adventure game geek, as I'm really into FPS. Don't trust the number of adventure games I've reviewed, it's just I'm always fearing that for FPS, I will not give justice to the game, I'm afraid to provide reviews about my favorite genre and to forget to speak about a lot of things, so, it's easier for me to write about adventure games or casual gaming.

    For concluding, if you don't have Culture Shock, go for it, it's really worthy of your money. If you don't have a choice but to buy the Season 1 DVD, go also for it, after all, you have some goodies that can pleasure you.

    The cheese was perhaps innocent but it was fun to shoot at it.

    was this review helpful to you?
  • Comments

    No comments posted yet. Please log in to post a comment.
    In order to comment on this user review you must login
    About the author
    Based on 1 reviews
    Write a review