|You ain't dreaming. Former Lucasarts employees have gathered together via newly created dev house Telltale Games to resurrect one of PC gaming's most cherished of franchises. Excuse me, I have something in my eye...|
Despite my recent (and violent) late night rantings
against the PC in light of Neverwinter Nights 2's colossal disappointment (and I promise to give that game another chance soon), the PC is actually going through a minor renaissance right now. Well, perhaps that's a little too hopeful, but it's certainly enjoying its annual big arse end-of-year release-fest if nothing else. Battlefield 2142's doing the online rounds, Dark Messiah is giving FPSers a pleasing new twist, and perhaps best of all, now we have Sam & Max back from the dead too...arguably the closest thing the PC ever had to its own mascot.
For those too young to remember it, the original Sam & Max game - subtitled Hit the Road - was not only one of the high points of the Lucasarts golden era from the early '90s, but arguably from PC gaming in general. A bona-fide adventure game classic.
Lucasarts were kings back then. Monkey Island. Full Throttle. Day of the Tentacle. Fate of Atlantis. The Dig. And of course, Sam & Max. Computer gaming at its very best, no one could ever deny. Funny, touching and captivating rides that I'd even go as far as claiming introduced the first genuinely interactive game worlds into our favourite hobby. Oh, the memories.
Let's be honest though, eh? When the point 'n' click adventure genre died out in the late-90s, Lucasarts inexplicably lost a lot of that early magic. I ain't the hater that so many are - in fact I find a lot of their home-grown Star Wars tie-ins pretty bloody under-rated - but no one could deny they went from comic gods and video gaming magicians...to really just another games developer. Us old timers soon went into deep depression as a result, and we've longed for the return of the good old days ever since.
With all that in mind, it's really rather sacrileges how under-the-radar this game is. Yes, Sam & Max are back on the PC, in a new game entitled "Culture Shock". And yes, in their good old-fashioned point 'n' clicky glory to boot. Just how you remember 'em. So I ask you, where's the hype? Where are the smiles? Where's the party, motherfuckers? Perhaps the adventure game genre really is dead after all. Does no one give a shit about the return of our boys!?
Well someone does. I fucking do, dicks.
Blast From the Past
|Even the good old office returns, complete with dartboard and coat hanger antenna|
Strangely, this game doesn't come courtesy of Lucasarts themselves though. Many of the original developers are on board, sure, but this time under their new "Telltale Games" moniker. This relatively fresh young company has seemingly been created with the sole intention of reviving the point 'n' click genre from the ground up, and although not their first release, Sam & Max seem to be playing a large part in that strategy. So far, I like the cut of their jib.
It's really rather strange playing one of these games again after all this time though. The adventure game genre has mutated into something so very different over the years, that this feels like quite a shock to the senses really. I mean these days you've got your hack 'n' slashers like Fable and Zelda. You've got your more serious interactive movies like Fahrenheit and Condemned. You've even got your good old RPGs of the Final Fantasy and BioWare variety. Yet even though one could argue many of these genres were all but spawned from early point 'n' click adventures in the '80s, we haven't seen a genuine take on the original style itself in bleedin' ages. What gives?
Sam & Max: Culture Shock is different. This is pure old school adventure gaming just as it was. There's no button bashing. No reflex tests. No hour long FMV cut-scenes. Just simple, solid, by-the-numbers clicking....and it's a relief, to be frank. Some things it seems, are indeed sacred.
I'm glad Sam & Max haven't been raped.
|Minor driving mini-game aside, this is a genuine point 'n' clicker plucked straight outta the old school. Heck, even the driving bits remind me of Full Throttle in many ways|
It starts out nice and simple. Sam - talking canine extraordinaire - and Max - his evil rabbit sidekick - are chilling in the office of their freelance police HQ, just where we left 'em. The phone rings with a new job - one quite hilarious in its mundanity - and just like that, our boys are back on the case. Where things go from here though, I'll resist the urge to spoil, but I doubt you'd believe me even if I told you. Needless to say, you'll point, you'll crack wise, you'll click, and you'll laugh. It's like time never passed.
What pleased me from a gameplay perspective though was how sensical the whole thing feels now. Thinking back to a lot of the older games mentioned above, some of the puzzles and twists were so ridiculously out-there, solving 'em often bordered on random. I loved those games, but I'm not wrong am I? That's what's genuinely fab about Culture Shock in comparison, it...sorta makes sense now. It seems Telltale didn't just drag this genre back from the ashes, they even improved upon it in a small way.
So when you find yourself stuck in this game - unsure how to proceed - rather than scan the room clicking every bit of scenery with every object in your inventory one by one 'til the ludicrous solution pops up randomly, it instead often turns out to be the first thing you try. Not because the game's easy by any means...it just makes sense. It's alarmingly solid in that regard. There's little in the way of "use the bowling pin on the dead rat foetus" here, these are actually satisfying, fun and well thought-out puzzles that any sane person should be able to figure out via good old-fashioned intellect.
And yet it's still Sam & Max, playing all but identically to how you remember. I like that.
You Crack Me Up, Little Buddy
|This is Bosco. He'll be happy to sell you illegal under the counter firearms...just don't try to steal his cheese|
On the downside? I'm not quite a fan of the new look. Gameplay wise, Sam & Max have de-thawed after 13 years of hibernation almost as if they never left, but visually...they've been brought kicking and screaming into the new millennium. Yes, I'm talking 3D. And I'm sorry dudes, you just don't feel right with that extra dimension. The graphics aren't bad by any means, there's just a certain sterility here that you never had with the more "rough around the edges" 2D games. It's all a bit too clean for me.
Voice acting saves the day thankfully, and it deserves some major props as always. Whether these are the same voice actors from the original game or not, I have no idea, but it sure as hell sounds like 'em. Sam is just as chilled and loveable as ever, while Max provides all the violent threats and sarcasm you'd expect. Ah, it brings a tear to the eye.
The undiscovered "star" of the show though in my book, is newcomer Bosco. He runs the convenience store in which much of this game centres around, coming across like some kinda Mr. T knock-off crossbred with The Simpson's Apu, provoking much in the way of giggles from Dig's obnoxious hyena laugh in the process.
Needless to say, it's a damn funny game then. Perhaps not as razor sharp as Psychonauts, or as physically hilarious as LEGO Star Wars
, but Culture Shock'll still leave you with a big old smirk plastered across your face for the majority of its 3 or 4 hours. This I promise.
|Perhaps it's too much to expect 2D graphics in this day and age. 'Tis a shame, though|
Wait a sec. Did I just say 3 or 4 hours?? Typo time, surely? Alas, not. Culture Shock is tiny, and probably complete-able in half that if you don't wade through every single line of dialogue and take your time as I did. But here's the rub...this ain't the full game, sirs. Much like Valve, Telltale are jumping on the episodic content bandwagon you see, with Culture Shock barely the intro to a far grander story. Yep, more Sam & Max is on its way. And soon.
This means Sam & Max won't be showing up in your highstreet stores I'm afraid. Instead, you have to hop on over to the Telltale web site
, credit card in hand, and order the sucker for digital download. It'll set you back an ever so meagre 9 bucks - approximately 5 quid in Earth money - or you can order in the whole "season" of 5 additional episodes for about 20 quid total. Not bad. You can even nab a CD while you're at it.
Episodic content has been a bit hit or miss so far. The less said about Sin Episodes the better, and although Half-Life - Episode 1 was one of the flat-out coolest
games released this year...have we seen a sequel yet? It appears Valve forgot the "episodic" part of episodic content.
They could learn a lesson or two from Telltale though, as our next Sam & Max instalment is due as soon as January, with subsequent "shows" supposedly appearing monthly after that. Exactly how it should be done, really. What's also interesting is that Telltale promise additional bonus content showing up interspersed between each of these episodes too. Non-interactive shorts and such, further fleshing out the on-going story. That's pretty sweet really, and should prove an interesting experiment if nothing else.
I Feel So Old
All in all then, at just over a quid an hour, Culture Shock could be considered bargain central in my book. For the most part Sam and Max survive their modernised update with aplomb, bringing that same wit, addictive gameplay and all-out sense of fun with 'em firmly in tact. Culture Shock serves as a fab trip back in time for us old school PC gamers who grew up with these guys, as well as...hopefully...hinting towards a future where the point 'n' click adventure game can sit happily next to the MMORPG on the PC rack where it belongs. One can dream, I guess.
Now where's Day of the Tentacle, mofos?