Second look at Sam & Max Culture Shock


You know how after you get used to driving a stick shift car, then you switch to an automatic transmission, you’re all of a sudden thrown off and confused by the simplicity of it all? That’s what Sam & Max Culture Shock feels like.  In the age of first person shooters, third person RPGs, and multi-button MMOs, Sam & Max is a pleasant deviation.  Players like me, who have gotten used to complicated controls and the need to memorize what button does what, can breathe a sigh of relief at the one button control scheme.  For those unfamiliar with Sam & Max games, players only need to click in a general direction to get Sam to walk there, and then click on one of several hotspots to interact with objects.

Gone are the charming 2D graphics of yesteryear’s Sam & Max.  While the game still plays in the 2D world with regards to movement directions, characters are fully rendered in 3D, giving the game a Toy Story-type feeling.  Fear not, fellow gumshoes, our anthropomorphic heroes still look the same — they just have more shape to them now.  Environments are still as detailed and packed with hotspots, which is both a good and bad thing.  The plethora of interactive objects gives life to the world, but can also throw players off as to what could be clues and what are just there for amusement.


As expected, sound for Sam & Max has also been revamped.  Background music is a non-annoying type of swanky jazz, appropriate for our detectives.  It’s good to see the developers also added ambiance sounds, like cars driving by while the detectives are walking on the street.  Sam’s voice actor is superb, while I found Max’s voice to be jarring and too smart-ass (even for Max) sounding sometimes.  Luckily, a right-click of the mouse button can skip through most audio dialog.  Other characters have accents to distinguish from one another.


The gameplay is essentially the same. Why fix something if it isn’t broke?  Although a new driving section has been added, it doesn’t detract from the main game.  In the driving parts, players just have to rear-end other cars on the road to interrogate drivers for hints or to accept unholy amounts of cash.  Like the rest of the game, driving is done with a click of the mouse, so don’t expect something like Burnout.  Puzzles and problem solving are as good as ever.  Some puzzles took me a few minutes to think out, but after arriving at a solution, the puzzle usually seems perfectly logical, which is a well-needed break from the, "Why the hell am I pushing boxes around?" type of puzzle from recent games I played.


One of the best features of Sam & Max game has been the humor and Culture Shock is no exception.  There are fitting jabs at pop culture, such as tae-bo and terror alerts.  While this may make the game dated in the future, it’s still rewarding to see a joke and think, "It’s funny because it’s true!"


Unfortunately because of its new episodic nature, I was unable to fully delve into the game’s main plot.  The psychoanalyst, Sybil, whose practice is across the street from Sam’s office, offers our detectives psychoanalysis sessions, which I still don’t quite understand.  There are inkblot and free association questions, but the choices for answers are limited, so I’m not sure what purpose they serve.


Sam & Max veterans won’t be disappointed by this installment.  At the same time, newcomers should feel welcomed by its quirky humor and easy-to-get-into gameplay.  Anyone who enjoys a good Scientology joke will enjoy Culture Shock.


+ Pros:

– good transition to 3D

– voice acting and funny accents

– puzzles that make sense

– jokes poking fun at pop culture


– Cons:

– loading stall between scenes sometimes feel like the game hung a few times

– has Max’s voice always been this smart-alecky?


Overall: Faithful to the original, but modernized for people new to the series.

Louise Yang