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Sam and Max: Culture Shock/Situation: Comedy
Why make a fuss about a couple of silly point-and-click graphic adventure games featuring a dog detective and his psycho rabbit sidekick?
If you don’t already know the answer, it’s time for a quick trip through the archives of gaming history. Once upon a time, before acronyms, feature tick-boxes and lazy franchises ruled the world of PC gaming, point-and-click graphic adventures were pretty much the bees-knees of interactive entertainment. A number of companies did great work in the field – Sierra with the Kings Quest and Gabriel Knight series, Westwood with the Kyrandia trilogy (and the superb Blade Runner – ed.), Revolution with Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword – but the undisputed kings were LucasArts.
Between 1989 and 1993 the company had a sort of golden age. Beginning with Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, running through The Secret of Monkey Island 1 and 2, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis and finishing up with Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max Hit the Road, the Lucasfilm offshoot created a series of adventures that were ludicrously funny, finely balanced and full of the most ingenious, multi-layered, lateral-thinking puzzles known to man. The good work didn’t stop there – Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island were enjoyable, a Stephen Spielberg collaboration, The Dig, is an underrated near-classic, while the 3D Grim Fandango was a classic, full-stop – but the 1989 to 1993 games are the ones that most old-school gamers remember most fondly when they think of the classic point-and-clicker. And Sam and Max Hit the Road is among the most loved of the lot.
This fact accounts for the sadness when, having promised a Sam and Max sequel in 2002, LucasArts pulled the plug less than two years later, not to mention the happiness when in 2005 Telltale Games, a small developer boasting a number of old LucasArts staffers, announced that it would release a series of episodic games featuring the duo. The first two episodes are now online, and if you either miss the old LucasArts adventures or didn’t have the fortune to experience them in the first place, then you owe it to yourself to download them.
You see, it might not say LucasArts on the box (well, being downloads there is no box) but these games are full of the same great stuff we knew and loved back in the day. I’m not suggesting for a minute that the Sam and Max episodes are dated – the lovely cartoon graphics are now in full 3D, the command interface has been paired down to a minimal system of context-sensitive clicks – but you still control the game with mouse and cursor, and each screen remains full of the rich, frequently funny background detail that characterised the classic LucasArts games. In fact, you’re often left wondering why LucasArts ever abandoned the point-and-click style for the slower-moving 3D system they pioneered with Grim Fandango; as Sam and Max show it’s so much speedier and more intuitive, and so much better suited to how you actually play the game.