Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock

Max: Why don't I get an inventory?
Sam: Where would you keep it?
Max: That's none of your damn business, Sam.
- Sam & Max Hit The Road

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/ss-12.thumbnail_0.jpg)

Once upon a time, the graphical adventure game was king of the genres. Set the wayback machine for 1993 and you'll arrive at a time before first-person shooters, hooker-beating simulators, and massively-multiplayer time sinks dominated the shelves. CD-ROM drives were just becoming mainstream, bringing lush soundtracks and spoken dialog to gaming. This was the year Myst was released, a multimedia experience that changed what we expected from a new title. It was the year the market started to shift away from adventure games toward shooters and strategy titles. It was also the year LucasArts released one of their greatest point-and-click adventure games: Sam & Max Hit The Road. With its left-field humor and beautifully drawn artwork, Hit The Road became an instant classic, just in time to see the king of genres dethroned.

Anyone who thinks the adventure genre died back then, however, is dead wrong. Telltale Games is introducing the psychotic freelance police to a new generation of gamers in Sam & Max: Episode 1: Culture Shock. And it's every bit as good as the original.

The characters of Sam and Max have been around since 1980, when Steve Purcell, an illustrator and animator, created the characters from his brother's childhood doodles. Purcell took a 6-foot dog in a suit and a rabbit-like homicidal maniac, made them private detectives, and dropped them in a surreal landscape. In 1987, he published the first full-length comic featuring the duo while working at LucasArts on animations and backgrounds for their legendary Scumm-based games. The characters became immensely popular among LucasArts employees, prompting the company to develop a game based around the duo. Sam & Max Hit The Road introduced gamers to the darkly comic world that Sam and Max inhabit, becoming a milestone for adventure games.

The newest game in the series comes from Telltale Games, an indie developer created by former LucasArts employees. Rather than releasing a 40-hour point-and-click fest, Telltale is following the digital distribution trend, presenting the game in episodes featuring shorter, self-contained stories. Much like watching Lost or Battlestar Galactica, playing Episode 1 makes me long for the next episode. Sam & Max feels like the first issue of a comic book series brought to life.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/ss-6.thumbnail_2.jpg)

The first episode is titled Culture Shock, and it begins with the Freelance Police in their office, waiting for a case to present itself. Soon enough, you're exploring the neighborhood, meeting ransoming rats, conspiracy-theorist convenience-store clerks, and former child stars resorting to lives of crime. The game's interface is remarkably simple. Using the same engine as Telltale's Bone series (another comic book adaptation), players interact with the world through a simple cursor and inventory system. Culture Shock doesn't waste time reinventing the interface wheel, making the game easy for beginners to pick up while invoking warm and fuzzy memories to adventure veterans. The visuals are rendered in 3D, bringing the (sur)reality of Sam and Max's world to life with bright colors and beautiful polygons. Culture Shock takes the demented beauty of the first game and makes it pop off the screen. The audio in Culture Shock is equally superb, with catchy music and hilarious voice work. The dialog is so well done that I found myself reloading sections of the game just to hear Max's manic one-liners and Sam's over-the-top exclamations. Everything you touch in the game brings a laugh; you'd be hard-pressed to find a funnier game.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/oldoffice.thumbnail.jpg)

The old office...

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/newoffice.thumbnail.jpg)

... And the new office.

Playing through Culture Shock takes about five hours if you explore every dialog tree and click on every item. That may not sound like a lot of content, but it's five hours of consistently entertaining content, with more on the way. In December, Telltale will release Episode 2, then put out a new episode every month until April. Finishing Culture Shock leaves you starving for more, and unlike other groundbreaking episodic titles -- I'm looking at you, Half-Life 2 -- you won't have to wait over a year for the next installment. This is how episodic content should work. If Culture Shock is an indication of the quality we can expect, we're in for a treat.

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/sodajerk.thumbnail.jpg)

Sam & Max: Episode 1: Culture Shock is a return to form for the adventure genre, a blend of classic LucasArts gameplay and modern technology. The game is available today for subscribers of GameTap, a service that already deserves your attention thanks to their upcoming release of Uru Live, the next Myst game. Telltale will also be offering the game on its own website starting November 1st, with more episodes to come.

I can't wait.

Sam: Take that, you lawbreaking dairy products!
Max: Sam, no! The Cheese was innocent!
Sam: Innocent? I think not.
- Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock

Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock
Official Site
Telltale Games
October 17th, 2006 (GameTap)
November 1st, 2006 (Telltale Games)

Comments

Sounds awesome. I think I may have to subscribe to GameTap in large part because of this game.

I just subscribed actually, after which I discovered that Torment, the Homeworld series, the Myst series and a bunch of other cool games were in there that I didn't know about. Worms Armageddon too! And uplink apparently.

On top of that, I never even thought to look at the kids titles, which are INSANELY great, and a phenomenal deal.

I'm all of the sudden Gametap's biggest fan.

Yet another reason to get Gametap?!?

I'll be checking this one out. I hope GT continues to open up more to the indie devs, I would think that this would be a (nearly) ideal platform for them.

Just an FYI: It appears to be available on GameTap only to paying members. You can't access it during the free trial period. That's not a particularly obnoxious requirement, but I'm kind of disappointed because I signed up for the free trial to see whether it was worth sticking around for further Sam & Max episodes.

This may be what finally pushes me to subscribe to Gametap. I didn't realize they had kids stuff too. That's a great idea.

GameTap is exploding. I just signed up too. 1 Year for $60 is too good to pass up. In other news they just formed their own publishing label to work with independent developers and publishers. They already have relationships with a lot of good companies like Sierra, Introversion and Konami. Maybe they'll be able to revive more series and bring the latest cool independent titles to the public.

PC versions of the MGS series would be a nice addition.

Poly:

FREAKING BRILLIANT.

This is the netflix model. Build a distribution channel that disintermediates the status quo, then go buy all the hot new stuff and sell it direct. Word has it that Netflix is going to the next sundance with a massive pocketbook and is just going to buy anything it can.

Ely,

They have all the good "bailey's book house" titles, Jump Start, and Reader Rabbit, plus most of the good lego titles. Total steal.

Friggin nice. This just might get me on the bandwagon as well. Not to mention the wife won't get on me since I will be getting titles for the young'ins as well.

Just discovered that GameTap is only available in the US :(. Guess because of license issues, but still this service was perfect for me, I play so many old games. I will go through the list to have some good memories come back.

Argh. Curses. Blast.

*shakes fists at the sky*

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!

For some reason I'm having a minor issue with a few 2600 games.

But I started S&M last night, and it's already worth it. They have Space Ghost cartoon reruns too. And the Sam&Max cartoons, which are hella fun.

I didn't get very far into S&M......waitaminit......

Anyway, great game so far - and I agree: this one alone is pretty much worth the $5.00 a month. I hope they sort out the licensing/billing issues asap so it's not just for US customers. I believe they are adding Canada any day now(?), so that's a start, I guess.

I'm sure they've been seeing record subscriber growth in the past 2 weeks, so I'm thinking they'll take the hint now.

Sam & Max is great. I was laughing the whole time, which reminded me that I haven't played a funny game in a very long time. I guess Sierra and LucasArts seeded their games with so much humor, so many bad puns and so much goofiness that no other genre felt like it should attempt it.

I didnt get very far in the game, my adventure gaming skills are rusty. Took me forever to knock out 'Peepers' and I thought the solution was a little on the edge of what anyone would think of, but that's adventure games for you. It reminds me that one of the things I liked about the Quest for Glory series is that most problems had a number of solutions. Usually it pertained to what class you are, but you could pull off the 'fighter's way' sometimes as a thief and so on. You hit an absolute wall a little less often that way.

I also got a crash once. The between scenes loading takes a long time if you've never been there yet (on my machine) and once it just stalled and crashed. I didnt lose much thanks to the auto-saves though.

Gametap also needs to work on getting the latest versions of its games and integrating them a little better. Prince of Persia doesn't seem to have a quit option, at all. Uplink is version 1.0 on gametap and has an infuriating bug that will take the focus off a box you're typing in at random, forcing you to click or tab back to it. Thats murder in the middle of a hack. Customer support says the files are encrypted, so users cannot install a patch, and Gametap is only licensed to use 1.0. Hooey I say. Go get patches ye bastages, they're free for everyone!

I also got a crash once. The between scenes loading takes a long time if you've never been there yet (on my machine) and once it just stalled and crashed. I didnt lose much thanks to the auto-saves though.

I didn't have any performance/crash issues with my review copy. I'm not sure if that has something to do with how Gametap is integrating the game or not. Just for the record.

The actual gameplay was fine, very fluid and I like that instead of being taken to a loading screen, we get a transition as the characters leave the current screen, focusing on the Relax sign in the psychiatrist's, for instance, but with my machine (2ghz, 1gb ram, 128mb vidcard) there were occasionally very long pauses between scenes where I wasnt sure if the game was still responding or not. I may have caused the crash by not waiting long enough.

Anyways,

Demiurge wrote:

This is how episodic content should work. If Culture Shock is an indication of the quality we can expect, we're in for a treat.

Definately definately definately! I hope more teams are building a world and characters first, then the stories that take place in them. According to one of the preview videos on Gametap they're not only doing the 6 monthly game episodes but also a bunch of non-interactive stories done in the game engine (machinema) to go along with the games. This is going to be a fun ride and by the end of April we will have seen so much more than any other game has given us in this amount of time. We can only hope some game developers are watching and learning.

"Sorry, Gametap is only available in the United States." I hate you, GameTap. Now I have to wait until November 1st. Well, at least I have time to finish original Sam & Max again. Sweet goodness, thy name is ScummVM.

I just finished the episode last night. Really a lot of fun. I can't wait for the new episodes, and in the meantime my wife and I are enjoying some of the other games on GameTap. What other GameTap games are people are enjoying?

Space Quest V, Gigawing is a kinda cool twitchy shooter, dabbled in a little Sonic, gonna play Planescape Torment again, Uplink...

Still finding cool new things in the library. 710 games is a lot to absorb.

For the non-US people, there's some browser tricks around it. Once you get around their browser trick, they take your billing info and non-US visa or mastercard fine. I think it checks based on IP or something, not sure.

polypusher wrote:

Space Quest V, Gigawing is a kinda cool twitchy shooter, dabbled in a little Sonic, gonna play Planescape Torment again, Uplink...

Still finding cool new things in the library. 710 games is a lot to absorb.

Thanks! I also found Homeworld on the system, which I've never played. I loaded it up yesterday.

Poppinfresh wrote:
polypusher wrote:

Space Quest V, Gigawing is a kinda cool twitchy shooter, dabbled in a little Sonic, gonna play Planescape Torment again, Uplink...

Still finding cool new things in the library. 710 games is a lot to absorb.

Thanks! I also found Homeworld on the system, which I've never played. I loaded it up yesterday.

You are in for a treat, my delicious little pastry.