Sam & Max

Sam & Max

We’ve waited for over a decade for the return of Sam and Max, the caricatured freelance detectives from the deranged mind of Steve Purcell. After LucasArts’s controversial cancellation of the duo’s highly anticipated adventure in 2005, Telltale Games came to the rescue to bring these lovable gumshoes back to PC gaming. We’re happy to report that fans will not be disappointed.

Episode 1 -- Culture Shock

The first of six planned episodes for the invigorated franchise quickly reacquaints you with the twisted world of Sam & Max before immediately launching you into a puzzling case involving washed-up child actors and fitness gurus. You control Sam, the laid-back canine with a sharp wit, who is followed by Max, a maniacally insane rabbit who provides most of the game’s physical humor. Fans will love the faithfully re-created style and art direction from the last game (but now in stunning 3D) and will appreciate familiar set designs and characters. Yes, the DeSoto is back, too!

You’re charged with investigating the strange behavior of the Soda Poppers, a group of former child stars vandalizing the town and harassing Bosco, the “inconvenience” store owner. The puzzles that must be solved to unravel the mystery range from completing very simple acts (dropping a bowling ball on someone’s head) to undertaking obscure challenges involving car chases and tear gas. We were sometimes stumped by the more difficult puzzles near the end of the game, but exploring hilarious dialogue trees for clues and revisiting each location eventually did the trick. The designers have ensured that solving a tough puzzle to progress the story is incredibly rewarding, but also that you’re consistently entertained by the minor details of the game world, even when you’re stuck.

One thing we would’ve liked is the inclusion of more minigames to further extend the life of the game. We completed the story in about five hours, including exhausting all possible conversation paths we could find. But for less than a Hamilton, you’re still getting a lot of great game. This first episode is a success not only for the adventure-game genre, but for episodic gaming as well. The crafty writing and well-polished game design prove to be winning ingredients in a long-awaited dish.

Episode 2 -- Situation: Comedy

The second episode of Sam & Max not only brings a new case to the private eyes but also hints at the overarching mystery that’ll tie the entire season together. Characters from the first episode return to take on new roles, and the puzzles get harder in order to stress your problem-solving skills. The novelty of the dynamic between Sam and Max wears off a little, but we have to give props to the writers for continuing to create laugh-out-loud scripts for the game.

This time, an Oprah-esque talk show host is holding her audience hostage, and it’s up to you to find a way into her studio. The mystery is clearly broken down into three challenges that you can complete in any order: filming a television pilot, winning a recording contract, and being featured in a tabloid. The Soda Poppers come back to judge an American Idol–inspired singing competition, and Sybil (who was a psychiatrist last time) returns as a gossip journalist. Many of the environments are reused in new capacities (Bosco’s store, the office), but plenty of new sets keep the episode from feeling like too much of a rehash.

You might breeze through much of the first episode, but the puzzles here would have even MacGyver scratching his head. In one segment, we baked a cake with lard and squid tentacles but weren’t given any indication of how or where to use it. We ended up trying to “apply” it to every object and character in the game before getting it to the right person. One suggestion: Be sure you save before the final scene—branching dialogue options make it easy to get lost if you’re not paying close attention.

We walked away from the second installment satisfied but not as enthralled as we were after playing the first. Like any good serial, the whole (so far) is more enjoyable than its individual parts. We can’t wait to see how the rest of the arc pans out.

Bosco is Back...

Sam & Max re-creation stays faithful to its original--and goes above and beyond with "stunning" 3D.

...But Leaves Too Soon

This game is entertaining to say the least, but more mini-games would have helped prolong the fun.

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