What is it?
Sam and Max are Freelance
Police. Sam is a dog in a slightly overlarge suit and a fedora who’s fond
of a wisecrack or two. Max is a white long-eared lagomorph (or possibly a
rabbit, if you prefer) whose main preoccupation is with violence and the
dealing of it, in preposterous quantities, to others. They are the
crime-fighting stars of a long running series of comic strips by Steve
Purcell, and it was in a more comic strip form that they first hit the
shelves of computer game stores back in 1993, in Sam & Max Hit the Road.
Now we’ve moved fourteen
years on, and despite a hiccup a few years ago with the cancelled Sam &
Max Freelance Police, we finally have a new Sam & Max game: Sam &
Max: Season 1; only this time it is being released as episodes over
the course of six months. Other GameBoomers reviewers have taken episodes
1 through 4, and now it’s my turn, with episodes 5 (‘Reality 2.0’)
and 6 (‘Bright Side of the Moon’).
Season 1, it turns out, is
not a set of isolated incidents in the glittering career of our eponymous
(almost) heroes, but a series of interrelated crimes all stemming from the
power-mad mind of a super criminal… whose name I shall not, of course,
reveal. There seems to be something of an underlying theme of hypnotism as
well <cue Twilight Zone music>.
In Reality 2.0, Sam &
Max take on the Internet and the C.O.P.S. (no I’m not going to tell you
who they are) in a mixture between reality (insofar as Sam & Max’s cartoon
world is vaguely real), and Reality 2.0 – a multi-user online simulation
of reality that is currently in beta testing. Not unlike most multi-user
online simulations we know, then.
Assuming Sam & Max survive
their electronic ordeal, there is Bright Side of the Moon… okay,
obviously they survive, otherwise there wouldn’t be an episode 6 to
discuss, now would there?
In Bright Side (a
fairly obvious paean
to that other homage to madness, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side
of the Moon), Sam & Max travel to the moon in their old DeSoto
convertible. Don’t ask me how, although I’m told they’ve done it before!
There’s no indication how such a vehicle could achieve low earth orbit,
let alone reaching the moon. Once there, Sam & Max must finally deal with
the criminal mastermind behind all their hypnotic troubles.
There’s online bank fraud,
electro-biological warfare, spoon bending, a roller-coaster, Tic Tac Doom,
massive constitutional change to the USA, a moonquake, and, worst of all,
amateur magic! Not to mention an interplanetary plot to hypnotise every
living thing on the Earth.
Episodes 5 and 6 are entirely
point-n-click adventures in a number of 3D worlds. Unlike some of the
earlier episodes, there are no arcade sequences to challenge your mouse
skills. Regarding the rest of the user interface, all six episodes are
nicely consistent. The menu is pull-down (by pressing Escape) from the top
of the screen, with Save/Load, Options, New Game and Quit, and your
inventory is found in a cardboard box in the bottom left of the screen.
Clicking upon an inventory item makes it the cursor object, so you can
click on things in the world, though there is no combining of inventory
items. Right-clicking on inventory items will get Sam to comment on the
The puzzles in these episodes
are mostly dialog puzzles (getting the right character to say the right
thing) and inventory puzzles. There are neither mazes, sliders, colour
discrimination, nor tone-based puzzles. Thanks to a little co-operative
play-by-email between myself and a certain web diva of high
walkthrough-writing renown, none of the puzzles were too mind-bendingly
difficult, though some were somewhat obtuse. Of course, that means that
there was some challenge to the games, despite the initial appearance
(based on the lack of size in the downloads) that each episode would only
take a couple of hours.
Technically, the Sam & Max
episodes were very stable. The few issues I had were more connected with
pre-existing driver issues on my PC, and not the games themselves. I
played episode 5 on both my desktop PC and my laptop to see how they
compared, and as it happens, there was no significant difference between
the experiences on the two environments, despite the yawning chasm between
the specifications of the two machines (see below).
All the episodes are
introduced by a monochrome credits sequence (black and some other lurid
colour – a different one per episode) accompanied by a wild theme tune in
a Big Band style, composed by the wonderfully named
His musical score in both episodes was consistently upbeat
and fun, without ever being distracting or jarring.
The key characters of Sam and
Max are joined by a curious bunch of oddballs, some of whom are limited to
a single episode, and some of whom (Sybil Pandemik, Bosco, and Jimmy
Two-Teeth in particular) make regular appearances throughout all six
episodes. In addition, a number of other key characters from the earlier
episodes return in episode 6, in one form or another, making episode 6
really rather busy. Not that the plot suffers for it, quite the opposite;
it makes for a rich reprise of the story so far.
The main novelty in these
games is the episodic nature of Season 1. I think
Telltale Games and
GameTap are onto a serious winner here. The individual episodes are
nicely self-contained, but all contribute to the overall story arc, so
that as soon as you complete an episode, you’re eager to see the next one.
I was surprised by the
graphical and music quality in these games too. For a full-length game
these days, we’ve come to expect that the game will come on DVD (hinting
that the game takes something in the region of 2-4 gigabytes of data), and
even the downloadable demo might weigh in at 150 megabytes (some are even
more). With Season 1, the sum of all six episodes is a full-length
game, but the total download is under 450 megabytes, including the
duplication of a lot of graphics, music and the game program itself! Quite
Now clearly we’re looking at
a game for which you ideally need broadband, but at roughly 75
megabytes per episode, it isn’t actually out of the question on dial-up.
In addition to reviewing
episodes 5 and 6, I was given the opportunity to investigate the earlier
episodes too, and therefore I am happy to say that the quality of the
games (technically, graphically, musically, plot-wise and puzzle-wise)
seems to be very consistent throughout.
I had a lot of fun with the
wit of the eponymous anti-heroes, even unto their own self-parody late in
episode 6. So if you haven’t already played any of the episodes, I fully
recommend the whole of Sam & Max: Season 1. Of course, if you’ve
already seen the earlier episodes, you know perfectly well by now that
you’re going to buy the last two episodes, to complete the tale.
you need to play it?
Windows XP or Vista,
32MB 3D-accelerated video card
(I used a custom built Win XP
Pro SP2, AMD Athlon 64 3500+, 2048 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon X1950 Pro 512MB
graphics, and a Dell laptop PC with Win XP Home, Intel Celeron M 1.6GHz,
1024 MB RAM, and 128MB Mobile Intel 915 video card)
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