Sam and Max Episode 2: Situation: Comedy

Review by Scout
February 2007

There's a little hole-in-the-wall Lebanese restaurant a couple of blocks from my house. I go there once a month, regular as clockwork, for a take-out order of their version of lamb schwarma, a delicious dish of rice, veggies, and tender chunks of lamb with a side of freshly baked pita bread. For eight bucks, I get almost three meals out of it. It's always the same: tasty, satisfying, and predictable. I never hesitate to recommend the place to anyone on the lookout for good, no-frills Lebanese food because I know they'll leave with a happy tummy and an undamaged wallet.

What does my love for lamb schwarma have to do with the new Sam and Max: Situation: Comedy? Substitute Telltale for the Lebanese joint and a Sam and Max episode for a white paper bag of carryout, and you have my take on this series. Sam and Max are a safe bet for any fan of third-person, comedic adventure games. Sam and Max will leave you satisfied, fulfilled, and with enough cash left over to pay the electric bill. Just don't go in expecting a four-course meal with dessert, white tablecloths, soft music, and an ever-changing menu displayed on a chalkboard.

Situation: Comedy is pretty much like its predecessor, Culture Shock. It has the same core characters, the same core locations, the same gameplay formula, and the same loving attention to detail. Like Culture Shock, Situation: Comedy is fun, intelligent, and extremely well-crafted. Telltale has honed its operation, settled on a few tried-and-true recipes, and is now busy dishing up servings of Sam and Max to a regular clientele.

In case you aren't familiar with the Telltale series, Sam and Max are, respectively, a big, goofy dog in a private eye getup and a short, certifiably insane rabbit dressed in ... well .... nothing but its own fur. They are freelance police, meaning they have something to do with crimes, justice, and writing their own rules. Mostly writing their own rules. They are headquartered on the second floor of a decrepit two-story brownstone, which is flanked on one side by a convenience store and on the other by a tattoo artist/piercer/therapist/tabloid publisher. Bosco, the paranoid price gouger, runs the convenience store, and Sybil, the profession-fickle entrepreneur, runs the ex–tattoo parlor. Both characters are just as loony as Sam and Max and exist to populate the neighborhood, add color, and provide a few necessary inventory items for use later in the game. There is an old LucasArts adventure game and a long-running comic based on Sam and Max. Steve Purcell is the creator.

Just like Culture Shock, Situation: Comedy starts out with a couple of puzzles set in the 'hood. Once those are resolved, Sam and Max spend the rest of the game in the second, and main, location, a TV studio going by the call letters of WARP. An Oprah Winfrey–like character, Myra Stump, is holding her audience hostage, giving them free stuff against their will. Sam and Max have been called in to break up the festivities and release the long-suffering audience. But to free the audience they need to get on the talk show, and to get on the talk show they need to prove their worth to Myra Stump. This premise is the core of Situation: Comedy, and its resolution takes up the bulk of gameplay, climaxing with Sam and Max's inevitable appearance on Myra's talk show. While this sounds a bit generic and dreary, it's mostly great fun and worth the 2.5 hours it takes to play from beginning to end.

Making a return appearance from the first game are the Soda Poppers, three washed-up child stars called Peepers, Whizzer, and Specs. The Poppers are little media whores, seemingly ageless, changeless, and as about as self-absorbed as media whores can be. There is also a self-absorbed new-age mystic, a self-absorbed situation comedy star, a pretty indifferent cow, and a self-absorbed director with the ability to appear on any one of the connected TV sets a split second before Sam and Max arrive. All of these shows are smoke and mirrors with zero socially redeeming qualities, and of course Sam and Max eat it up. They gleefully make their way from set to set, show to show, tossing out wicked one-liners, outwitting director, host, contestants and new-age whizzes alike in their quest to land a spot on Myra's show. The final showdown, the big finale, is very similar to the one we experienced in the first Sam and Max in that once you deduce the shape of the puzzle, it's just a matter of navigating the dialogue tree until you find the proper responses and then it's game over and credits.

There's really not much more to say. It's only a 2.5-hour game, after all. It's the second in the series and so suffers a bit in comparison to the first, highly anticipated game. Even as I write this review, the third installment has already been released and the fourth is on its way.

There will no doubt be big retrospective reviews galore once the series wraps up, but for now there are couple of questions that occur to me. Is this short game worth your money? Are the rest of the games going to follow the same formula set down by the first two? The short answers are "it is" and "I don't know." If you liked the first Sam and Max, you'll like this one too. The devs tinkered a bit with the voice acting, I think, but otherwise it's pretty much the same game except for where it's different. Just like Culture Shock, Situation: Comedy is fun and expertly made. Unlike Culture Shock, it's not about crazed ex-TV stars but about crazed current TV stars. If I have any serious criticism, it's that the writing seems to have slipped a bit. I was also initially put off by the shameless coopting of popular, real-life TV shows, but that quickly faded as the charm of Sam and Max took over.

There are more of these little games on the way. So how long will the gaming public tolerate the same dish time and time again? Quite a while, I'm guessing. If the quality holds and the ingredients remain fresh, probably for as long as Telltale wants to keep cooking them up. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games/Gametap
Release Date: December 21, 2006

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows XP
800 MHz (if using a video card with hardware T&L); 1.5 GHz (if using a video card without hardware T&L) (1.5 GHz recommended)
RAM: 256 MB (512 MB recommended)
Video card: 32 MB 3D-accelerated video card

Where to Find It

Telltale Games

GameTap



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