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Critical Reception: Telltale Games's  Sam & Max Episode 2: Situation: Comedy

Critical Reception: Telltale Games's Sam & Max Episode 2: Situation: Comedy

December 27, 2006 | By Danny Cowan

December 27, 2006 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Telltale Games's Sam & Max Episode 2: Situation: Comedy, the latest installment in a "season" of six serialized PC adventure titles.

Fans of point-and-click adventure games regard 1993's Sam & Max Hit the Road as one of the genre's best, and for more than a decade afterward, many remained puzzled as to why a sequel was never produced. After years of rumors hinting at a Hit the Road follow-up -- followed by the announcement and subsequent cancellation of a Sam & Max sequel in 2004 -- the franchise was given new life in October of this year with the release of Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock.

Culture Shock's sequel, Sam & Max Episode 2: Situation: Comedy, is currently available for download from the subscription-based game distribution network GameTap, and is scheduled to see a general release via Telltale Games's website in January. New Sam & Max episodes are planned for release on a monthly basis afterward, leading some critics to question whether the series's expected quality can hold up under such a tight release schedule.

Despite being released only two months after Culture Shock, however, Situation: Comedy is receiving favorable review scores from critics, currently bringing in an average score ratio of 80% at Gamerankings.com.

Though GameSpy's Allen Rausch was a fan of Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock, he admits that the series debut was not without its faults. "The biggest problem with Episode 1: Culture Shock," he says, "was that it seemed to lack the razor-sharp satirical edge the duo is known for."

However, Rausch is impressed enough with the follow-up to award it with a score of 4.5 out of 5 stars. "The great news is that where Culture Shock was hit or miss, Situation: Comedy hits dead-on," he explains.

Rausch elaborates: "Culture Shock felt a bit too compressed to adequately present the kinds of interesting characters Sam and Max really need as foils. With the second episode, Telltale is beginning to throw in more recurring elements that tie each episode into a larger narrative, and they've gotten better at presenting interesting people for the pair to screw around with."

"Sam & Max is turning out to be an interesting experiment in episodic gaming content," Rausch concludes. "It's a bit shorter than Episode 1 (mostly due to slightly easier puzzles), but the script is much sharper and funnier this time around, which makes it a more than adequate trade-off. Telltale Games is finally hitting its stride with this series and we couldn't be happier."

Evan Dickens of Adventure Gamers holds similar optimism for the series, though he is more critical of its latest installment. "This is again a beautiful, vibrant game with fantastic art direction and flawless animation," he praises in his review, in which he scores the game at 3.5 out of 5 stars. "The audio aspects of the second episode actually surpass the first, especially in the area of supporting character voices, which are much stronger than the first episode."

"Unfortunately," Dickens notes, "the writing is one of the few areas that takes a step back. It's a slight step to be sure, and this will not be a universal opinion, but for me there were fewer truly memorable one-liners and cutting jokes this time around."

Dickens continues: "This episode accelerates the direction of Culture Shock towards what can only be described as 'safer' humor--it's still very funny, very intelligent, but it's often missing a true sharp edge."

Despite this, Dickens feels that the game remains a worthwhile play. "On its own merits," he summarizes, "Situation: Comedy is a great-looking, great-sounding game that is a fun two-hour diversion. The next episode is only a month away, though, and that will really be the acid test for how well this episodic experiment can maintain interest while still taking steps forward with each episode."

Meanwhile, at PC Game World, David Pettitt emphasizes that Situation: Comedy lacks the length and complexity that one might expect from an adventure game. "Sometimes less can be more, but in the case of Situation: Comedy less is just that; less," Pettitt explains in his 71-out-of-100-rated review. "Specifically, there are fewer puzzles, items, and dialogs, and the puzzles themselves are easier. That's how it felt to me, at any rate, especially with a measly running length of 2.5 hours."

Pettitt claims that this was a problem that affected the previous episode as well, but argues that Situation: Comedy makes better use of its limited gameplay length. "If anything the plot is even more threadbare this time around," he says, "but I have come to grips with fact that this is how Sam & Max works. The plot is just an excuse for outrageous situations and off-the-wall commentary, and Situation: Comedy certainly improves things in this regard."

"I can't help but feel that I enjoyed Episode 2 more than Episode 1," Pettitt admits in conclusion. "I must, however, reiterate my warning/suggestion that those who enjoy more substantial games should purchase the complete season and wait to play it all through at once."

Thus far, Telltale Games's experiments in serialized gaming appear to be paying off, as both Culture Shock and Situation: Comedy are being received warmly by critics. If similar quality can be expected from subsequent releases, adventure gamers will have many more hours of enjoyable gameplay to look forward to in the coming months.


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