Adventure gamers across the globe were horrified back in 2004 when plans for Sam and Max: Freelance Police were shelved late into development. The 1993 original, Sam and Max Hit The Road - a surreal take on the classic detective tale - saw the dog and rabbit detective duo tracking down a missing yeti in backwater USA. The satirical humour and bizarre characters made it an instant hit, and gave it an enormous and rather loyal fanbase. In fact, over 32,000 signatures were gathered in aid of the sequel’s resurrection after the shock announcement.
In 2006 the fans were finally rewarded with the release of Sam and Max: Season One. This was essentially a fully 3D sequel, split up into five separate episodes. The episodes were well received, mostly thanks to the return of Sam and Max creator Steve Purcell, who ensured they stayed true to the original concept. On the back of that success, another season has been released just a couple of years later. The wait this time has been much shorter, but fans will be praying that quality has not been compromised.
The first episode immediately picks up where Season One left off. Anyone who missed out on those episodes will be a little confused by some of the proceedings (such as why a talking rabbit is the US President). Many of the characters from the first season also make a return, so playing that season first is definitely a good idea. The episodes in Season Two are once again separate stories, although they link together in various ways. For instance, in episode one you will bizarrely find yourself rescuing your future selves from episode five. The stories are typically strange, but they tend to be lacking in narrative and are generally nothing more than vehicles for the game’s twisted humour.
For the duration of the game you’ll control Sam (the dog), and the interface is ridiculously simple. Click on a character and he’ll talk to them. Click on an object and he’ll examine it, then pick it up if possible. Click on the box icon and it opens the inventory. That’s pretty much it. Gone are the days of Scumm-style interfaces that take up half of the screen. Some hardcore adventure gamers may be disappointed by the simple interaction, but the changes will be a blessing for casual gamers.
Puzzles mostly involve talking to various characters and using the right objects at the right time. They are rarely difficult to the point of frustration, mostly due to the bite-sized nature of the episodes. If you do get stuck, there’s a configurable hint system that can be turned on or off throughout the game. This system is perfectly integrated, and basically determines the nature of the clues given to you in conversations. Serious gamers can turn it off entirely, while casual gamers can set it so the characters spell out exactly what you have to do in order to progress.
There’s a lot of stuff that Sam can examine in each episode, but most of it is simply there for comic observation and can’t actually be used in any way. While this definitely expands the length of the game substantially, it can’t really be described as filler. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons to play the game. People who don’t ‘get’ surreal and twisted humour will have little reason to pick up a copy of Sam and Max Season Two, but those who do will be well entertained by Sam’s wisecracks and Max’s sadistic streak. While some locations (such as Sam and Max’s street) are repeated between episodes, the remarks about repeating items actually change from one to the next. This helps to keep things fresh and adds to the overall value. The game does occasionally poke fun at popular American culture, but the references aren’t too obscure that British audiences won’t understand.
As with Season One, there’s a variety of mini games in Season Two. Some of these have to be completed to progress, but they’re pretty basic and not much more than slightly interesting diversions. The majority simply require decent reactions. Don’t play after half a bottle of JD and you’ll be fine.
Graphics are cartoony and well animated, but a couple of the environments feel a little sparse, while others are crammed full of interactive spots. Little touches add some extra comic relief, such as the way Max picks fleas from his fur and eats them, or makes fart noises with his armpit. The only real issues with the graphics engine are the slow loading times, and an annoying stutter just as one or two of the cutscenes start up. Nothing major at all, and nothing that detracts from the fun of the game.
Each episode should last three to four hours, which is decent value considering the asking price. They can be downloaded individually from the Telltale website, or will likely be released in a bundle at some future point. Definitely check out the first season before this one if you’re still a Sam and Max virgin. If you’ve played and enjoyed the first one, then Season Two won’t disappoint.