“I learned all my best
tactics in first grade.” Sam
Finally! The much anticipated sequel to one of adventure gaming’s
classic games is here. Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock delivers
a seamless blend of humor and mayhem. The happy result -- excellent
entertainment! While it doesn’t contain the deepest story, nor does it
provide groundbreaking graphics, it delivers a lot of fun stuffed into one
In case you don’t know, Sam and Max burst on the scene in 1987 in their
premier comic book, Monkey Violating the Heavenly Temple. This
ludicrous title provided a foreshadowing of the madcap adventures to
follow. In 1993, Lucas Arts produced the hugely popular adventure game,
Sam and Max Hit the Road. In 1997, the demented duo starred in a
Saturday morning cartoon. A second video game was planned but never
produced, leaving many disappointed fans waiting and hoping for more.
Telltale Games has ended that wait with Culture Shock, the first
release in a series of six planned episodes. Each episode is a complete
mystery, but all will combine to form a larger story.
He’s a former child
star. Just lock him up and throw away the jail.” Bosco
So, what’s it about? It seems that Straight Street has been invaded by
those most dreaded of evil beings, the Soda Poppers. These former child
stars, long past their prime, are dedicated to converting the world to
Eye-Bo, “the world’s foremost ocular fitness program.” It’s up to the
Freelance Police to save us all. Sam and Max set out to do just that in
their own “shoot first and ask questions later” style.
Sam and Max romp their way through this mystery, terrorizing motorists
and rescuing maidens -- well, one maiden anyway -- in distress. As you
play you will ask yourself earth-shaking questions such as, “Who or what
is behind this strange invasion? Is the whole world doomed? And oh yes,
what decade is Brady Culture’s hairstyle from?”
“Can we still be mean
if we are unconventional?” Max
Culture Shock provides a
generous amount of character
interaction. Our stars, Sam (a six-foot-tall dog) and Max (a
three-foot-tall maniacal rabbit) are surrounded by players as outlandish
and idiosyncratic as themselves. In typical comic book style, many have
exaggerated proportions, such as Sybil’s oversized glasses or the Soda
Poppers’ extra-large heads.
Culture Shock endows its non-player characters (NPCs) with
unusual and memorable personalities. These include Jimmy Two Teeth, the
wisecracking rat, Sybil, the tattoo artist turned psychiatrist, and Bosco,
the paranoid conspiracy theorist. Watch for Lou -- the game’s most unique
Lip synching is normally well done, but I noted a time or two when it
was just a bit off. Expressions change a bit, but not a great deal. In
this instance, the theory “less is more” works well.
“Oh, a boon. Why don’t
people use that word more often?” Max
Dialogue is front and center in this game. It’s witty, funny,
sarcastic, over-the-top and almost always tongue-in-cheek. Sam and Max
banter between themselves as well as with the game’s NPCs. Along the way
they take long-winded verbal pot shots at nearly everything.
There’s scads of dialogue in Culture Shock. Most of it is
humorous, with clues tucked tantalizingly among the irrelevant jests.
Occasionally you can answer as either Sam or Max. Sam’s lines are often
facetious, while Max’s are outlandishly waggish.
Dialogue displays in a standard dialogue tree. Right clicking skips
responses. However, I listened to and enjoyed it all.
“Jumping Lon Chaney in
a boffo fright wig.” Sam
Cartoon graphics in full 3D provide a surreal setting suitable to Sam
and Max’s outré behavior. Culture Shock juxtaposes the known and
real with the freakish and unreal, while successfully blending comic
brightness with street weary grunge. The four locations you’ll visit brim
with sight gags.
Sam and Max’s office is on a litter-lined downtown street complete with
a bent parking meter and a convenience, or should I say, Inconvenience
Store. Their seedy office suggests an old fashioned, down at the heels
detective. But a closer look reveals bullet holes in the walls, a
goldfish inside the water cooler, Jesse James’ mounted hand (with
signature), and a rat hole equipped with a mailbox.
The player controls Sam, who saunters along in a fluid motion as Max
wanders nearby. They patrol the streets (if patrolling it can be called)
in a classic Desoto. Oh, and did you notice? The sky is yellow!
Most objects appear smooth. For example, Jimmy Two Teeth’s fur is
gray, but slick. Brick walls are texture free.
“That’s just the sort
of ridiculous lucky break I need.” Sam
Professional voicing contributes much to the game’s success. These are
not the original voice actors from the first Sam and Max game, but
each voice suits the character well. Brady’s voice reminded me of Shaggy
from the Scooby Doo cartoon series. The occasional whiny Soda Popper
annoyed me, but that was the voice actor’s intent.
Ambient sounds play a supporting role. I noticed Sam’s footsteps,
occasional doors opening and closing, traffic noises, and the whoosh of a
passing train. While adequate for their assigned role of filling out the
game, they are not immersive.
The background music is jazzy and upbeat. It succeeds wonderfully in
setting and sustaining a carefree mood. Every now and then, it seemed to
pay tribute to the music typical of detective shows of days past.
“What kind of steroids
does he use on his hair?” Max
Culture Shock offers a mixture of inventory and logic
puzzles. All are well integrated into the story line. Some offer a fresh
and innovative approach. My favorite puzzle literally had me “head over
Puzzle difficulty is well matched to the tone of the game --
light-hearted and fun. None are tricky, but the answer is not always
obvious. Though I was stuck a time or two, it was never because the clue
was obscure or illogical -- at least not given the context of this game.
I was very pleased to find no sound, timed, or slider puzzles. I also
did not find any mazes, puzzles requiring color discrimination,
mini-games, mechanical puzzles, or any requiring quick reflexes.
“I think his brain is
stuck. Is the Taser charged up?” Max
Culture Shock is a mouse-controlled, third person game. While
linear, it allows the player great latitude of action. Certain puzzles
must be completed to trigger key elements. However, sometimes you can
complete a section of a puzzle, then work on another puzzle, or enjoy some
quality time in the Desoto. Practice sidewalk driving or 360 degree
aerial flips. Then, return to puzzle solving.
Though advertised as two to three hours in length, I played
considerably longer than that the first time through.
Better.” Mysterious villain
Culture Shock downloaded via GameTap on my DSL line in about
twenty minutes. It was completely stable during play. The well designed
interface is intuitive and easy to use.
My favorite option allows you to control the volume of each sound
component individually. Other options include graphics quality,
subtitles, pop-up text, and warp drive. Warp drive affects the speed of
the Desoto. While too fast for my taste, it is perfect for those of the
There are twenty-four save slots which is a gracious plenty, and you
can save at any time. You cannot name your saves. Instead, saves are
identified by a largish screen capture, date, and time. Additionally, the
game auto saves with each location change.
Your sparse inventory is held in an amusingly appropriate cardboard
box. A click spills the contents to allow their use, and another click
picks them up.
The camera follows Sam’s movements. The gamer cannot control it.
Occasionally, Max wanders off screen, but eventually reappears at Sam’s
“He’s a complete whack
Though obviously well designed and well implemented, I have a few small
I was surprised to find slower than expected transition times between
scenes. Sadly, the game is not Alt+Tab friendly. And lastly, my computer
“hung” for approximately a minute each time I exited the game.
Since I played Culture Shock via GameTap, any or all of these
problems may be related to that. But, then again, maybe not.
“Now, let’s discuss
this calmly.” Sam
Currently, Culture Shock is available only by download, either
Telltale Games (starting November 1, 2006) or via
GameTap. Each episode releases on GameTap about 15 days before it
becomes available at the Telltale site.
GameTap release dates for future episodes are:
December 21, 2006 - Sam & Max Episode 2
January 25, 2007 - Sam & Max: Episode 3
February 22, 2007 - Sam & Max: Episode 4
March 29, 2007 - Sam & Max: Episode 5
April 26, 2007 - Sam & Max: Episode 6
Episodes may be purchased individually from Telltale ($8.95). Those
purchasing the entire season in advance receive a discounted price and a
CD containing all six parts. Obviously, this CD is not available until
Episode Six is released. For GameTap users, Culture Shock is
available at no extra charge.
“I had the weirdest
Just can’t get enough of this vagarious dog and his aberrant
side-kick? Check out the extras. New animated shorts are available
weekly on both the Telltale site and GameTap. In addition, GameTap is
rerunning the TV series from 1997. Also, Telltale has many activities
available on their site for Sam and Max addicts, and you can even get the
“A rare case of reverse
shoplifting.” Sam “Shop dropping.” Max
I love games which make me laugh, and this one does that in spades.
Humor abounds both in the settings and in the dialogue. The absurdity of
the characters and the story line invoked many chuckles. Sometimes, I
laughed out loud. The puzzles are diverting; some are novel. The
interface is simple. Voices and ambient sounds are pleasant and
appropriate. Background music reflects and enhances the flavor of the
game. The graphics deliver plenty of unusual and farcical details.
Because I am a member of GameTap, I don’t mind the short playing time.
While this game will not suit everyone, it fits my gaming tastes like a
glove. I enjoyed almost every aspect of this game, and eagerly await the
rest of the series.
24 save slots
Save at any time
Lots of character interaction
Plenty of humorous dialogue
Voice, sound effects, and music
all professional and well done
Episodic -- this is Episode 1
of 6 planned
Each episode is a complete game
Advertised as 2 or 3 hours of
Available only as a download
Telltale Games or
No glitches or fiddling
Puzzles are inventory or logic
A couple of fresh puzzles
Not Alt+Tab friendly
One use of minor profanity
Extras available on producer’s
Exclusive extras available to
I played Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock via GameTap on:
OS: Win XP Professional SP1
Processor: 3.2 GHz Intel
Mem: 1 GB Dual Channel DDR400
DirectX Version: 9.
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce FX
5200 Ultra 8xAGP
Sound card: Creative SB Audigy