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Joystiq review: Sam & Max - Situation: Comedy (PC)


We haven't recently visited the Telltale Games building, but it's relatively simple to imagine the state it's currently in. The lights are dimmed, a mysterious smoke wanders the hallways and all the doors are replaced by vividly colored, yet unmistakably tacky curtains. Game designers are predictably hunched over keyboards, only occasionally looking up to adjust top-heavy top hats and to twirl magic wands about. Somewhere, a woman is being sawn in half.

Naturally, you've come to the conclusion that we're comparing the folks behind the latest Sam & Max game to magicians (it was either that, or some Wizard of Oz nonsense). Indeed, Episode 2: Situation: Comedy excels in every area the first episode did, most of all in the one you can't see -- illusion. This adventure game is about as traditional as they come, with a central crisis only seeing resolution once a series of smaller and somewhat related puzzles has been solved. Objects are collected, dialogue trees are traversed and your inventory is applied to the environment. Those are the mechanics of the actual game and described as such, they don't sound awfully entertaining.

A great game will hide all of that though, making it disappear in a puff of smoke while you become entranced by the plot and characters. You'll be pleased to learn then, that Sam & Max is a great game. *cough*

And for my next trick ...

You know, there is a magician of sorts in Situation: Comedy. He's an unnervingly friendly sort of fellow with the fascinating abilities to change colors, read minds and creep you out with the most unnatural of voices. The cast also includes a television director who's clearly dead inside, a surprisingly useful cow and a forcefully magnanimous talk show host. The plot that ties them all together involves a second-rate TV studio that finds itself host to a live hostage situation. Myra Stump refuses to let her audience go (a captive audience, you see) and perpetually pelts them with useless gifts and terrible tirades regarding the state of American culture.

It's a situation ripe for parody and satire, which also means it's perfect material for the highly untrained detective duo, Sam & Max. Not much time passes before they become unwitting game show contestants or impromptu cooking show hosts and -- as they say -- hilarity ensues. Perhaps "hilarity pursues" would be a more apt line. Unless you're exceptionally skilled or exceptionally dead, there's very little chance that you'll be able to escape the adventure without some embarrassingly loud laughs. The running jokes are fast.

"Good 'ole TV. It's the only way I still feel well-adjusted."

Again, superb voice acting and consistently clever writing combine to form an unstoppable force (we're thinking giant robot clown) of one-liners, off-the-wall repartees and even some sneaky Monkey Island references. Sam's wonderfully deadpan delivery remains funny as ever and the newly recast Max (the change is barely noticeable) manages to strike just the right balance between adorable and rabid. The rest of the cast performs just as well, with a particularly pleasing surprise coming in the form of fresh spins given to returning characters. Sybil's in a new line of work now (natch) and Bosco deems it necessary to speak an entirely different language (much to Max's dismay).

Already there's a feeling of familiarity growing between player and cast, much like you'd expect from a good sitcom. Of course, the Sam & Max series is several leagues above most sitcoms, but the episodic nature of Telltale's take seems more and more ideal for the characters as each episode goes by. Consistency will be the key, not only in release schedule but also in terms of story, humor and puzzles.

"It's self-explanatory."
"Uh, we don't have time to explain it to ourselves. Why don't you explain it?"

As was the case with Culture Shock, (we should have just reprinted that review, it seems) the puzzles in Situation: Comedy are immensely fun and completely logical ... at least within Sam & Max's twisted universe. To apply the puzzles to a real-world situation is to invite madness, so it really is a testament to the game's impeccable presentation and sense of humor that you essentially learn to think like a crazy person -- and quickly. The difficulty still errs on the side of easy, especially for veteran adventures, but it never feels like the game is holding your hand. That would be gross.

Lengthwise, Episode 2 seems slightly shorter than the last (we reached the end credits in about two and a half hours), but still of a length befitting the episodic label and ridiculously affordable price. Even so, it's hard to put a price on a few hours of quality adventure gaming. It certainly works out cheaper than hiring a magician for the same amount of time.

Sam & Max: Situation: Comedy is available now on the Gametap subscription service. On January 5th, it will become available for download on Telltale Games' official website. $8.95 will net you a single episode, with $34.95 giving you the entire forthcoming season (six episodes in total).

Overall score: 8 / 10

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