The Freelance Police returns in this inspired and great looking follow-up.
The original Sam & Max: Hit the Road was released in 1993 by Lucas Arts and quickly became one of the funniest video game ever released. The game featured awesome cartoony looking graphics, intricate puzzles and a pretty distinctive musical score, but it was widely known for its ridiculous story and bizarre characters. Years later a much awaited sequel was announced, but it was cancelled later on because of the decline of the graphic adventures in the early 2000s. In fact, the genre became less and less popular in the mid and late 90s and not many companies developed these kinds of titles. But fortunately, by 2005 somebody was willing to take a risk: Telltale Games. After acquiring the rights of Sam & Max from Steve Purcell, Telltale decided to develop the games in an episodic form, 6 episodes per season, each episode being much shorter compared to a full adventure game. The approach taken to release Sam & Max is really interesting as each episode corresponds to a different case, so it suits the universe perfectly. Interestingly enough and for those who don’t want to immerse themselves in a very complex story, each chapter in the story is independent to another and can easily be played separately.
The opening scene of Culture Shock is very reminiscent of the original game; all the elements make a reference to it, the music, the atmosphere, the places and the tone. This sets a particular mood to introduce the main characters, which by the way you’ll be able to identify and recognize quickly, in fact, the only thing that changed completely is that they are now in glorious 3D. Their funny remarks are present here and are a treat to listen to, especially if you are a fan of the original game. The story quickly unfolds, the commissioner asks Sam & Max to find three former child stars formerly known as the Soda Poppers; these stars are shoplifting and painting walls to promote Brady Culture’s new video. Our heroes meet their neighbors soon enough, first we have Bosco, the lunatic storeowner, and then we meet Sybil, a psychotherapist and former tattooist. Your ultimate objective is quite easy; you have to capture the Soda Poppers and Brady before they ruin the city.
Fans of the series will be very happy to know that this sequel is surprisingly funny. There are a lot of intricate jokes, difficult to understand tongue twisters and some obscure references, but overall they are great and hilarious. The puzzles though can be frustrating for newcomers and too easy for veterans as some of the solutions can be relatively simple while others can be way too overwhelming. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be stuck for hours or anything like that, but if you haven’t played many graphic adventures in your life you may have to look for a complete FAQ or Walkthrough to finish the game.
The gameplay in the game is pretty similar to the old Lucas Arts games as they follow a similar pattern, it’s point and click and you watch the story unfold from a third person perspective. The interaction with your surroundings and objects is easy and natural as the names of the things you select light up when you move the mouse over them. Your inventory is represented through a little cardboard box in the bottom left corner of the screen and it holds various items that you’ll need to solve puzzles. What’s interesting is that the updated graphics make the game feel exactly like the original, but in 3D. The characters look great and their facial expressions are outstanding, providing details that match the comic book style proper of the series. The voice work is astonishing, new actors were casted for the roles of Sam and Max (Davin Nowlin and Andrew Chaikin) and they are simply amazing. It would be unfair to compare them to the actors of the original game but they have done a terrific job of providing a unique personality to each character.
Culture Shock isn’t really long, it should take you about 3 to 4 hours to finish your first playthrough, remember that there are some minigames and dialogues to keep you entertained for a while, like the driving sequence. The game has replay value as there are many unrelated elements to the story and many unnecessary conversations to be had, and even when you have finished the game you can still find new jokes or interact with the same characters in a different way.
In conclusion, Sam & Max Save the World Episode 1: Culture Shock offers an awesome homage to a classic game with new graphics, funny jokes, an interesting story, a more than accurate voice work and great music. The game feels like a true sequel to the original and fans will be glad to know that the story is absurd and ridiculous but veterans probably won’t find much of a challenge in here. But if you have the slightest interest in the hilarious problems Sam & Max usually get into, do yourself a favor and play this game.