Episodic gaming just sounds like an absolutely terrible idea. It really does. I’m talking “buying a PS3 at launch and not immediately selling it on eBay” levels of awfulness. It sounds like an invitation to rip consumers off, charging us separately for the individual pieces of an otherwise complete game, which ends up costing us more than buying the game as a whole.
Even if it is a huge scam, however, I can’t help but absolutely not give a hoot. Both Situation Comedy and its predecessor (which only came out like a few months ago), Culture Shock, left me waiting for the next with a passion usually reserved for the things I care about most in life, such as attending wrestling pay-per-views or spending quality time with my girlfriend (in that order, unless you’re my girlfriend, in which case I implore you to not read this sentence.) It doesn’t matter that Telltale is charging us nine bucks for roughly five hours of gameplay (which isn’t even that bad of a deal); those are five killer hours, and not only are they worth nine bucks, but they actually live up to Sam & Max’s weighty legacy. And this is coming from someone who really, really wanted to hate the game and its developers for daring to touch this franchise.
Situation Comedy picks up where Culture Shock left off. Sort of. Unlike with Telltale’s other big adventure series, Bone, it wouldn’t feel so much like starting on the second chapter of a book as it would starting on the second episode of a TV series. You don’t have to played the played the previous episode in order to understand this one, as each episode has its own plot that connects to the series’ overarching story.
This one’s story has Sam and Max, freelance police, investigating a local television studio, in which a talk show host has gone out of her goddamn mind and is holding her live studio audience captive. For the past several days she’s been broadcasting, refusing to let anyone leave and refusing to let anyone but celebrity guest stars enter, and there’s no explanation as to why.
So you’ve gotta put a stop to it, but first you’ve gotta prove that you deserve to be on her show. This provides the bulk of this episode’s gameplay: Acting on the network’s other programs and proving your worth to both the director and the crazed talk show host. This is done, of course, via the beloved pointing and the clicking Sam & Max and other similar games (Monkey Island, King’s Quest and so on) are famed for. As with the last title, this game features a simple engine that only has you clicking on objects, without selecting “pick up,” “talk to,” “eat,” or anything like that; the game decides how you’re interacting with these objects for you, making the game either less complicated or less confusing, depending on your perspective.
It’s a darn neat story, but what’ll really sell this game is its amazing sense of humor, which is even better than that of the last title. This game had me lawling, and lawling hard. I don’t lawl. I don’t even like the word lawl. But lawl is exactly what I did while playing this title, which just so happens to feature some of the most brilliant dialogue I’ve ever heard in a videogame.
The graphics are still 3D, and I’m still going to complain about it, as 3D graphics are freaking ugly and aren’t good for anything. There’s no need for them here. It’s what everybody expects these days, I guess, but they’re still an eyesore. (And that’s no fault of the developers—ugliness is inherent to 3D visuals. It’s a fact.)
The puzzles seem a little easier and a little more straight-forward than in the first episode; there’s a lot more “OK, I know exactly what I need to do and Ima go do it” and a lot less “MAN I have no freaking clue what I’m doing,” which, again, either makes the game less complicated or less confusing. It really depends on what you’re after: a good challenge or an entertaining story. This one definitely has the story down pat, but you don’t have to work especially hard to get it.
There’s only so much more to say about Culture Shock. Read my review from a couple of months ago of the first episode; everything I said there still applies, as the only things that have really changed are the story and the puzzles. Thanks to its dialogue and story Culture Shock is the better of the two chapters, though you’ll still be able to breeze right through it. I did, and I had to use an FAQ for freaking Lego Star Wars. Pick this game up, and pick up the one that came before it, and pick up all that are to come. Pick them all up in a bundle, helpfully offered by Telltale’s Web site, that saves you a bundle of money, hah-hah!