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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Adventure

 

Publisher

Telltale Games

 

Developer

Telltale Games

 

ESRB

TBA

 

Released

October 17, 2006 (Gametap); November 1, 2006 (Telltale)

 

 

Return of the great storytelling and hilarity that LucasArts point & click adventure games were always renowned for

- Seamless transition of an old-school genre into the “modern” age of gaming, including impressive graphics and animations

- Amount of gameplay (four hours) worth the price

 

 

- May not be a “new” audience for a basically extinct gaming genre

- Once you complete the game, you’ll impatiently have to wait for the next episode to be released

- Camera sometimes gets stuck in inopportune positions that conceal the gameplay and cut-scenes

- Could have used a few mini-games to give the title some replayability after you complete it

 

 

Review: Psychonauts (XB)

Classic Review: Sam & Max Hit the Road (PC)

Classic Review: Day of the Tentacle (PC)

Review: Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon (PC)

 

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Sam & Max: Culture Shock

Score: 9.0 / 10

 

Back in the early 1990s, one of the hottest PC gaming genres was the point & click adventure, largely to the credit of developer LucasArts, which churned out great adventure title after great adventure title: The Monkey Island franchise, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and maybe its most popular game, Sam & Max Hit the Road, from the wonderfully wacky mind of Steve Purcell.

 

sam & max culture shock          sam & max culture shock

 

Because 2D graphics was pretty much the standard at that time of “prehistoric” computer gaming, LucasArts relied more on solid, hilarious stories and satisfying gameplay that actually required logical thinking and problem-solving ability to attract a legion of fans. But just as quickly as the point & click adventure genre had taken hold, it was pushed aside by newer (hybrid) genres, including first-person shooters and real-time strategy titles.

 

In 2003, it appeared that the point & click adventure genre would see a resurgence when LucasArts announced it was resuscitating its two most popular point & click franchises, Full Throttle and of course, the screwy sleuths, Sam the dog detective & Max the maniac rabbit sidekick who form the Freelance Police. But 

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soon after announcing the two titles, LucasArts cancelled both, to the dismay of old-school PC gamers who had cut their PC gaming teeth on LucasArts point & click adventure games.

 

But earlier this year at E3, it was announced that Sam & Max would indeed be returning to the gaming world, courtesy of Telltale Games, which signed on Sam & Max creator Purcell and many veteran LucasArts point & click adventure gaming developers to create new, episodic Sam & Max adventure.

 

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The first of the new-fangled Sam & Max titles, Sam & Max: Culture Shock, has just been released, first as part of GameTap, the fee-based gaming site that allows subscribers to play hundreds of old-school titles, then for purchase outright on Telltale Games’ website beginning November 1.

 

As part of the newest game-publishing trend, Sam & Max: Culture Shock is episodic, with a entire “season” planned for release at regular intervals, culminating with the entire season on one compilation disc available for purchase from the developer later (should be six or so episodes in all, based on the price of the compilation disc). The first episode is $8.95. For that, you get a solid four hours of back-in-the-day point & click gameplay, and it’s worth it; you’ll find yourself being impatient for Episode 2’s release immediately after completing Sam & Max: Culture Shock.

 

So, after such a long sojourn, what are everybody’s favorite freelance police up to? Pretty much the same as the last time we saw them, solving crimes in their own unique and hilarious style. Sam’s the crazy-cliché-spewing canine gumshoe that plays the straight man to Max, the furry and frenzied smart-alecky rabbit.

 

Together, they’re out to solve the mystery of who’s trying to use a new “self-help” video to rule the world by hypnotizing anybody who has watched it. The culprit turns out to be one Brady Culture, a former fleeting star of his own television show in the 1970s. Sam & Max discover that Culture has enlisted-through-hypnotism the help of the Soda Poppers, three Gary Coleman-type former child stars, who just happen to have become so popular back in their heyday, that they inadvertently were the cause of Culture’s show being cancelled.

 

sam & max culture shock          sam & max culture shock

 

Naturally, Culture blames them for his show’s demise, and takes his revenge by using them as his mind-controlled minions. Sam & Max must defeat first the Soda Poppers then Culture himself with the help of a few other characters (Jimmy Two Tooth the rat, Bosco the store owner and Sybil the tattoo artist-turned-psychoanalyst).

 

As anyone that’s played a point & click title might expect, Sam & Max: Culture Shock uses a well-crafted and genuinely funny script. There hasn’t been a game released this funny and well written since last year’s critical hit, Psychonauts. Not coincidentally, the creator of Psychonauts, Tim Schafer, worked on Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island while at LucasArts. These former LucasArts fellows sure are greatly funny storytellers, and pretty damn fine game-makers, too!

 

Sam & Max must venture around the rather small environment and use items and clues, through standard point & click gameplay, to throw a monkey-wrench in Culture’s nefarious plan.

 

Gamers must use common sense and logic to find ways to combine items, use the proper item at the right time, or answer the questions necessary to move to the next stage of the game. Typical point & click fare. I’m not entirely sure how well this game will be received by younger gamers that missed the whole point & click wave of popularity, but older PC gamers who played nearly every LucasArts adventure will absolutely love Sam & Max: Culture Shock.

 

One facet definitely lacking was any kind of selection of mini-games that would improve the game’s replayability. There’s only one mini-game type of gameplay, when Sam takes the wheel of the Desoto police cruiser and takes to the streets, looking to write tickets and bring in some much-needed freelance police revenue. That’s it. Unfortunately, the four ample hours of gameplay is what you get, with no bonus gameplay in the form of mini-games.

 

While the story and gameplay remain at a high level, one aspect that improves from the very first Sam & Max PC adventure is the visuals, which move away from the flat, 2D graphics and throws Sam & Max on their keisters into the 3D age. The result is an amazing upgrade that remains true to the character’s roots and spruces them up with modern visual flair. Only a sometimes-schizophrenic camera that can block the goings-on, particularly during cut-scene interactions, deflates the visual experience.

 

Although Sam & Max: Culture Shock doesn’t use the same great actors that voiced our leading " men" in their first freelance policing, the newcomers do an amazing job of keeping the humorous spirit of the original Sam & Max voice actors alive and well.

 

For anybody that was an aficionado of the point & click genre, Sam & Max: Culture Shock is the perfect choice to revisit those fun days of PC gaming past. Enough modernization to upgrade the old-school point & click adventure experience evenly mixed with the same amazing storytelling, humor and problem-solving challenges that the genre was known for make this a triumphant return for both point & click adventures and the zany duo of Sam & Max.

 

- Lee Cieniawa

lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(October 17, 2006)

 

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