Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sam & Max: Season One Review

Sam & Max: Season One, developed by Telltale Games and published by The Adventure Company.
The Good: Simplified interface, good sense of humor, nice graphical style, great music and sound design, mostly intuitive answers, can’t fail, slight changes in gameplay for successive attempts
The Not So Good: Limited controls means reduced complexity, the occasional oddball solution, poor handling in driving sequences, no “current objective” list
What say you? A simple, funny, and entertaining adventure game: 7/8

As I have stated previously (I can’t seem to remember when, but I did), downloadable titles are the future of PC gaming. It’s cheaper and you don’t have to be a big publisher with deep pockets to get your game distributed around the world. One of those downloadable games is Sam & Max, released in six episodes over half of a year. This resurrection of an adventure game is now available in CD format and at a reduced price for the entire collection. Those of us who were hesitant on purchasing small, three hour snippets of a game (albeit at a low price) can now pay a reasonable sum for the whole set. Will Sam & Max: Season One make all of us believers in the adventure genre once more?

For what is essentially an independently produced title, Sam & Max: Season One has some high production values, especially for the adventure genre. The game plays out like a classic 2-D point-and-click adventure game, but the game is rendered in 3-D and each of the small environments look good. The level of detail is well done and there is a nice cartoon theme to the entire game, from the appearance of the buildings, characters, and objects in the foreground to the dynamic background images. Sam & Max: Season One feels like you are playing a cartoon, and since the source material is a cartoon, this is a good thing. The dialogue sections and cut scenes in the game don’t become annoying or overly drawn out and are rendered using the game engine, instead of popping in a movie file that takes away from the flow of the game. The game also features some high-quality background music and good voice acting to make the world of Sam & Max feel authentic, at least in a cartoon sense. Both the graphics and the sound of Sam & Max: Season One are impressive for an adventure game; if only all titles in this genre could have the same attention to detail.

Sam & Max: Season One comes with all six episodes that were released online. Each episode takes about three hours to complete and you can play them in any order, although doing them in the proper order is recommended because events in later episodes reference earlier ones. This CD version also includes some bonus material such as trailers, the soundtrack, behind the scenes extras, and other things. It’s not enough to make people who already own the single episodes to buy the collection, but for those of us who missed out on the original run will enjoy these additions. Although each episode is short (for a total of about 20 hours in all), there are changes in some of the missions for subsequent plays. Most of the multi-task missions (where you have to complete three different objectives) have five or six possible tasks assigned randomly each time you play. This is pretty neat and it adds some replay value that is completely absent in most adventure games.

The controls are very simple: it’s just the mouse. Sam & Max: Season One is purely a point-and-click adventure game, and everything is done by clicking on objects, selecting items in your inventory (displayed across the bottom when you select the box), or moving the mouse in the case of driving the car. While this method works well for the most part, making Sam & Max: Season One accessible to a wide audience, the driving could be more precise. You will command Sam (the dog) during the game; text appears when your mouse hovers above functional objects (eliminating a lot of hunting). You will also click to move, which is tedious on default levels when moving large distances. The camera angle is done from the side like a classic adventure game, though the levels are rendered in 3-D and the camera rotates automatically when appropriate. While I do like the third person camera angle better than a first person view, it makes accessing objects off the side of the main screen more trouble than it should be. These simple controls means anyone can play this game in a matter of minutes, but the tradeoff is that the puzzles aren’t as complex as in some other games where a more complete suite of commands are used.

Sam & Max: Season One maintains the great sense of humor of the comic. There are numerous moments of hilarity in the game, and most of them don’t feel forced like in a lot of games that try too hard. The level of humor is appropriate for the “Teen” rating the game received. Most of the puzzles in the game are fairly straightforward and intuitive; all of them “make sense,” though some puzzles are a bit “wacky” in their sensibility. Since you can’t lose or die in the game, it’s just a matter of time before you figure out to steal the cheese or cover up the cow with the lampshade (obviously!). Thankfully, there aren’t any combining puzzles and normally you just use a single object on a target. I would like to have a current objective list, as I tend to forget exactly what I am doing. Since the objectives change each time you play, it’d be nice to see a list of your current missions without having to talk to the person who assigned them. Other than that, though, Sam & Max: Season One is a high-quality adventure game with a good sense of humor, well thought out puzzles, and a streamlined interface that should appeal to many experience levels.

Sam & Max: Season One is a high-quality adventure game with a good sense of humor, well thought out puzzles, and a streamlined interface that should appeal to many experience levels (wait…didn’t I just say that?). The game as a whole is engaging: the great graphics and wonderful sound design draw you into the gameplay, while the odd characters and interesting storyline keeps Sam & Max: Season One moving. The slightly demented sense of humor is appreciated, and most of the jokes work well without feeling forced. The controls are simple, although the driving mode is lacking and the basic controls don’t lend themselves to complex puzzles. An objective list would be nice, but the puzzles are uncomplicated enough where you don’t really need one. I’m not the biggest fan of adventure games, but I found Sam & Max: Season One fun and you should too. Since most of the tedium associated with adventure games has been removed, Sam & Max: Season One is a well crafted adventure game that will appeal to a wide audience.