Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sam & Max: Season 1 PC Review

Sam & Max: Season 1 tries to continue what LucasArts stopped doing a decade ago, namely being a point&click adventure in the very classical sense. The interface is for most part what you expect, you have an inventory as usual, classic dialog trees and control your character by good old point&click. The interface however got simplified in that you no longer have any verbs left, actions are automatically triggered by simply clicking on things. While the world is presented in 3D this time instead of 2D, you are working with a fixed camera position, so the navigation stays pretty much exactly the same as in the 2D days, but suffers from a few glitches in path finding and the moving camera angle, which makes it hard to click on things while your character is walking. The game also lacks a double-click triggered run-function, which causes some walking to feel more tedious then it should be.

The background graphics themselves are ok, but nothing special. Cell-shading is non-existant and many textures look uninteresting, so things look rather simplistic and bland and lack the style that the old 2D games had. The animation in the cutscenes and characters on the other side is quite well done. The graphics however are rather demanding, on a Athlon1800XP with a Geforce5200fx they barely work, its playable, but in some scenes the framerate goes below what is tolerable (Note: this might or might not be due to running under Linux in Wine).

Season 1 bundles six seperate episodes, which causes some annoyances in that you have to deal with six seperate executables, instead of a single one. This in turn also means that savegames for all episodes are seperate and that the graphics settings are seperate as well. So you have to configure each episode again and can't quickly switch from one episode to the other. In terms of configuration the game also lacks some options, there is no support for widescreen monitors and the resolutions are fixed to 800x600, 1024x768 or 1280x960, so if you have a 1280x1024 monitor you either have to stretch the image or live with black bars. There is also a lack of scroll wheel support which could have been useful for dialog and inventory navigation. While the game comes in quite a few languages, it doesn't offer any way to switch the language in the game, you have to reinstall the game to get a different language, which is annoying.

The game works fine under Linux in Wine once one has installed the correct No-CD cracks, without them it won't function. In older versions of Wine the thumbnails for savegames won't work, but that seems to be fixed in current versions.

Now to the game itself. The humor is good and works fine for most part, it however often feels a little stuck in the old days, since it makes to many references to old games and thus sometimes doesn't feel like it can't stand on its own. The story per episode are ok too, but due to their shortness lack depth and repeat quite a bit, since most episodes follow a very similar pattern. The game is also rather short on locations, per episode you basically only have two locations to go to, one is the street where your office is located and the other is something specific to the episode. You have to move between those a lot to solve the puzzles so it gets a little boring to revisit the office over and over again in each episode trying to spot some tiny things that have changed and could be used in a puzzle. Some more variation or episodes playing completly outside of the office would have been nice. The overall story arc is sadly rather non-existant, while there is always a tiny cliffhanger at the end of an episode, it does little to give the overall Season 1 much meaning, you are basically doing what you are supposed to be doing in an episode, without thinking much how it would arc over the whole season. The game tries a little to hard to be episodic, I would have preferred it if they would have done a full adventure and then simply broke it into chapters, then having six mini-adventures which don't really connect much.

Anyway, all that nitpicking aside Sam & Max: Season 1 is a solid fun game. It can't quite match the adventures of the good old days and has a few problems that could have been avoided, but what it does it does well enough to be entertaining. It is no revolution to the adventure genre and doesn't try to be one and while that annoys a little bit, its also good to have an adventure game that simply tries to be an adventure game and nothing else. It is simply good old point&click fun, nothing more, nothing less.

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