Best of all, the old humour is still there. The best LucasArts adventures were characterised by their distinctive wit: often surreal, always deeply knowing, and packed with in-jokes, clever non-sequiturs and simple, stupid sight-gags. Are the Sam and Max episodes on the same level as Day of the Tentacle or LeChuck’s Revenge? Not quite, but nothing in recent years – with the possible exception of Tim Shaffer’s Psychonauts – has come anywhere near as close. What’s more, what made Hit the Road different from those aforementioned games was its darker, nihilistic, wickedly satirical edge; something bound up with the characters of Sam and Max themselves, their love of unnecessary (albeit cartoon) violence, and their vicious deconstruction of American cultural mores. Neither Culture Shock nor Situation: Comedy has missed this, and while neither game is able to maintain a consistent string of belly laughs for long, the fact that you’re laughing at all, and grinning most of the time when you’re not laughing, gives you some indication of how enjoyable both episodes can be.
Of the two, Culture Shock, with Sam and Max up against a trio of hypnotised ex-child TV stars, is probably the best. The script is tighter, the laughs are more frequent and the puzzles are that little bit more engaging. Situation: Comedy is hardly a disappointment, however. It’s still highly entertaining, some of the gags are fantastic and the game’s best idea – placing puzzles within the context of our heroes making appearances in a number of TV programmes, parodying sitcoms, talent shows, quick shows, talk shows and cookery programmes – is executed very well. Both episodes also benefit from an absolutely belting sixties jazz score. Just like the original game, in fact.
Where both games fall down can partly be put down to limitations of budget and of the episodic format. It has to be said that neither episode is exactly feature-length. Culture Shock can be clocked in around three to four hours, depending on how familiar you are with graphic adventures and their ways, while Situation: Comedy will probably take you half an hour less. That’s not too much of an issue considering the £5 price tag – and even less so if you pay $37.95 for the six-episode ‘season’ as a whole – but there is a feeling that you’re only just getting into each story when it ends. More seriously, each game only has a very limited number of locations, and there is a little too much reuse going on from game to game. We expect recurring characters in a series, but it’s slightly disappointing to see the same people and places crop up so heavily in both episodes, in some cases with precious little revision. Even the unique locations offered by each – a ‘home’ for ex-child stars in Culture Shock, the TV Station in Situation: Comedy – are fairly limited affairs. It would be nice to see more new stuff turn up when Episode Three hits town.