By Trevor Fehrman . October 17, 2006 . 11:12am
Take me back to a simpler time, when men were men, vegans were confined to San Francisco, and adventure games only required one button. A time when the word “LucasArts” conjured up more than an image of an isometric scrolling of expository yellow text over the starry expanse of space (I’ve heard that John Williams brass so many times it’s lost all meaning). Yes, Virginia: once upon a time great men ruled over these lands, but alas, that time is gone…or so we thought.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise, Sam & Max: Freelance Police began as a comic strip, later branching out into what was to become a classic of the Adventure genre. It was a product of the halcyon years of LucasArts, the very same period that brought us Tim Schaeffer’s much beloved triumvirate of classics: Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and lest we forget (my favorite video game of all time, no less), Grim Fandango. Sam & Max Hit the Road, as the adventure was titled some ten years ago or more, easily holds its own against its brethren and has kept a devoted and well deserved following over the years. The premise is as elegant as it is traditional: fedora clad anthropomorphic dog, psychotic razor-toothed bunny rabbit, reckless use of firearms. Need I say more?
Well evidently I do, because despite the undisputed brilliance of the original title, it took more than ten years for development to start on a sequel, and even when development did finally begin, the project was quickly canned. Fans of the series wept, and all hope seemed lost. Until a startup studio going by the name of Telltale Games entered into the story, that is. Telltale Games has heretofore only been known for their solid work of the Bone franchise. Not being a huge fan of the Bone books to begin with (though, to be fair, I’d definitely recommend at least checking them out) I was still impressed with what Telltale accomplished with them. Here, a small company had managed to stay true to their source material while effortlessly merging it with a purportedly dead genre. Understandably, when I heard that Telltale had their hands on a franchise I could really get behind, my enthusiasm new no bounds.
Well now I’m here to report I’m sure to the merriment of Sam & Max fans everywhere that my enthusiasm has most certainly not led to disappointment, as it all too often does. With my initial playthrough of Sam & Max: Culture Shock (Chapter 1 of what will hopefully be a long running series) I can happily tell you that the series’ trademark brand of zany, dark humor is healthy and thriving in its new home. What’s more is that all the hallmarks of the Adventure genre that are sorely missed these days are in tact along with it: amusing puzzles, excellent attention to detail in the level design, great voice acting etc. It’s a Sam & Max game, no doubt, it’s what you’ve been thirsting for all these years (or, if you’ve never played the original, what you didn’t know you were thirsting for all these years), and it’s…over way too fast.
Now sure, that’s the nature of the beast in this case, I mean this is episodic gaming we’re talking about here, but even so, the game as is can be finished in a night and there are all but six environments and as many NPC’s in the entire package, and this just doesn’t feel like enough, episodic gaming or not. Look, far be it from me to discourage the capable hands at Telltale to continue working on a franchise I love dearly, and if Telltale manages to churn more of these episodes out with a good degree of timeliness I’ll gladly eat my words, but this morsel of Sam & Max goodness only increases my desire to have a good sized adventure thrown my way.
I’ll withhold my final thoughts for the review, but just so there’s no confusion, here’s where we stand: Telltale managed to do all the hard stuff right. The writing, acting, and visuals are all done to Sam & Max perfection. If noticing that in the environment you’re exploring there’s an Esperanto bookstore that’s gone out of business makes you crack a smirk, there’s a good chance this game will be right up your alley. If after witnessing an insubordinate house-rat vomit up a rotary telephone you find yourself in accordance with your avatar as he informs you how he wishes he could “unsee” the event, than this game could be for you. But if you need a little bit more than two to three hours of fairly easy puzzles, as I do, then this game might be like a Dixie-Cup in the desert: much welcomed but insufficient. Don’t tease me Telltale! I need more!