Sam and Max Season 1

There is something about violent bunnies that puts me in a shameful good mode. Who does not love the Killer Rabbit scene from The Holy Grail? For the same reason, there is a special place in my heart for Max, of Sam and Max fame.

Some time ago I finished Season 1 of Telltale Games' implementation of Pucells' Freelance Police duo. I had been yearning to play the game since the first episode was released, but not really found the time for it. Then, as the first drops of autumn splashed to the ground, I had the excuse I needed and bought the whole season!

The online deal in Telltale Games' web shop is pretty good: $35 for the full season, downloaded directly to your HD. It also includes including a free bonus DVD that is shipped (still have not received mine). Though, it actually it ads up to a little more than $35, as there is US tax to be paid and Telltale games happen to take out about $10 to actually ship the "free" DVD overseas as well. I can also bet a few coins that the post slip will not say that it actually is a bonus DVD, worth $0. So, the EU customs service will probably want its cut to… Quite sad actually. In any case. It is in dollars, so its not too hefty.

I find it quite interesting that I will probably have to to pay customs on something that is free, just because it is sent to me in physical form. The software I paid for, the actual value, was of course downloaded. Well, I am not opposing taxes in general, so I guess it is OK, but those methods are just outdated.

In case if someone is doubtful to buy the software online (though I see no reason to, the online install worked like a charm and was really fast. No problem there), or scared after my ramblings about the costs, the full season was recently released in stores too. I recommend that you pick up a copy. It is a very nice game!

The season is divided into six episodes. Each probably takes 3-4 hours to play through, depending on how much you fool around. For every episode there is a new case to be solved, however there is also a plot for the whole season lurking in the background. So it does make sense to play the episodes in the right order. Just like the classic LucasArts game this is a point and click adventure. However Telltale has kicked out the already simple interface used in the first game for an even simpler just-click-it-stupid interface. That is it; you click on something and either you can interact with it or not. (OK, to be fair you can use things stored in your inventory too, but the principle is the same.)

To be honest after playing the game I am fairly sure this is a good thing. The designers probably realized that

  1. There is often only one sane, meaningful interaction with an object at one time
  2. Players are not idiots
  3. The kind of puzzles that require the player to do some logical mind-leap like listen to a rock or pull the moon is just messed up anyway.

This is good. No more moronic solution to some sad excuse for a puzzle, will have you testing everything in your inventory with about 20 different verbs. The designers have created cunning puzzles using a simple interface. (To be sure, they are not the first ones but anyway it is good.) This is of course not the same thing as easy or boring. Sure, I do think the episodes was a bit on the easy side. Especially the first ones. But on the other hand the problems are clever and very nicely woven into the story. The solution is not always obvious, but will always make perfect sense when you realize it. The story and the characters are also well written. Sybil, Bosco and the rest of the recurring cast are great fun to follow through the season.

My praise continue: the graphics is very good. I do not mean this in a technical way: the game does not require a state of the art GPU so that it may render about twenty skin diseases and realistic flowing hair. The graphics is good in the real (my former colleagues are going to kill me) art sense. In the way an artist can convey a state of mind with just a few strokes from her pen. In short, the modeling and animation is great. The facial expressions convey feelings using simple means.

The backgrounds - something one does not notice too often in other genres, but of subconceous importance in adventure games - are also beautiful, and there are a lot of fun details to discover. As the actual locations that Sam and Max can visit per episode are quite limited (you have a set of standard locations around the office and typically a few extra unique to each episode), it helps that these are detailed.

The music is on par with the rest of the excellent design. Song texts are witty, and the voice acting is excellent. One of my favorite scenes is a sing and dance number involving Secret Service agents. Genius.

Technically, the only problem I can note is that some loading times can break up sound and make the graphics stutter a bit (at least on my Vista machine, meaning it may not be the game at all…). Sometimes there is also a small annoying lock when you solve a puzzle and an animation for some special moves is loaded.

In any case, this is a great game if you like old-school adventuring. Good story, a fine script and fun puzzles. I laughed several times when playing. Not that it is hard to make me laugh. A snappy comment from Sam or why not let Max violently abuse something or someone off screen.

As a bonus, there are loads of references for old fart gamers that I (and probably you too) played in the angst-filled teen-age days of the early 1990-ies. And a lot of even older stuff, for that matter. Not that you need to be an old fart to enjoy it. I am sure that sarcasm, irony and comic violence appeals to all age groups.

Sam and Max, Season 1, is not only worthy successor to the original Sam and Max; no, dare I say, even better.

You should try it out.