Sam & Max Beyond Time & Space Episode 201: Ice Station Santa
First posted on 19 November 2007. Last updated on 25 August 2010.
Sam & Max: Season Two
The season, Sam & Max Beyond Time & Space, is comprised of 5 episodes:
- Episode 201: Ice Station Santa
- Episode 202: Moai Better Blues
- Episode 203: Night of the Raving Dead
- Episode 204: Chariots of the Dogs
- Episode 205: What's New, Beelzebub?
Merry Christmas, adventure game fans! Santa has just delivered an early holiday present and released the first episode of the second season of the new Sam & Max series. For those few who may not be familiar with this series, here is a short recap: Sam and Max are private investigators or "freelance police" as they call themselves. Sam is a "canine shamus", and Max is a "hyperkinetic rabbity thing". The characters are created by Steve Purcell, and they have appeared in comic books, computer games, and even television cartoon series. For gamers, Sam and Max are best remembered as the dynamic duo in Sam & Max: Hit the Road from LucasArts in 1993 and in Season One of the new Sam & Max series from Telltale Games in 2006 and 2007. Obviously, the mere fact that Season Two is now here is testament to the enduring appeal of Purcell's work and Telltale Games' success with the series.
While the new Sam & Max series has retained the trademarked great humor, a major drawback of the first season is that each episode follows a more or less standard formula of events as well as recycles many of the scenes among the 6 episodes that span the season. The episodes are also fairly short when compared to other adventure games, though the developer is rightfully calling them "episodic games" (and selling them much cheaper as well) in order to justify these shortcomings. Moreover, the "assignment" storylines of Sam & Max work very well when they are told in episodic format.
The big question is whether this new season truly differs from the first season or it simply extends the previous season with the same tired formula. The answer comes quickly when launching the game for the first time and a new "welcome screen" is shown. The C.O.P.S. (Computer Obsolescence Prevention Society) from Reality 2.0 (Episode 5) makes a cameo appearance to introduce you to the game and guides you through the game's setup. The updated setup introduces several new options. First, the game can now be played in any standard resolution and screen size supported by the computer system, even in widescreen mode. Second, a new hint system has been introduced. If you appear to be stuck, a character (usually Max) will automatically offer hints on what to do next. The hints will become more and more obvious eventually. You can set the frequency of these hints (5 levels) or turn them off completely. You can also change this setting at any time during the game. Third, there is now a tutorial available. If you have not played any of the previous episodes of the new series, you can learn about the basic controls of the game through this tutorial. The tutorial is a simplified modification of the first scene from Culture Shock (Episode 1), with Sam and Max talking directly to you and giving you instructions. However, if you are already familiar with point and click adventure games, it is not necessary to complete the tutorial. The interface is intuitive and simple enough to figure out by yourself.
So, what is new in this season compared to the first season? What is the story this time around? Well, as you may have figured out already from the game's subtitle, this episode is Christmas themed. As the game begins, a giant robot is destroying the neighborhood and trying to kill the intrepid heroes. Apparently, the robot is sent by Santa Claus, who becomes the target of the new case for the dynamic duo. What has happened to Santa? Sam and Max drive off to the North Pole (in their DeSoto, as always) to investigate. Soon, they discover that Santa has gone crazy and is acting evil. The story reminds me of an episode of the animated sitcom Futurama, where Santa is an evil robot who shoots anyone he sees. The episode even has a character which bears a resemblance to an alien from the same show. Of course, this may just be a coincidence or a tribute to the series made by the developer.
The familiar office and neighborhood settings have also changed. The office has been redecorated with lots of new objects, and the street has been changed to reflect the robot's destruction. You can now go further to the right of Bosco's Inconvenience Store to Stinky's Diner. This location is visible in previous episodes but is not reachable until now. Also, Bosco is back. He is no longer operating a convenience store, but he is still paranoid. What used to be his store is now a security center for his own protection, with many new gadgets including a bomb disposal unit. In fact, he is even more paranoid than earlier. Sybil's place is closed in this episode, but I bet you will get a chance to look inside in upcoming episodes of the new season.
Many of the characters introduced in the first season have returned, including C.O.P.S., Soda Poppers, and even Abraham Lincoln's head. There are also a few new characters such as Stinky and Flint Paper. The latter is actually not a new character but has not been seen in previous episodes. He is another private investigator living in the same neighborhood as Sam and Max. He is seen only briefly in this episode but will probably have a bigger role as the new season unfolds. Stinky has a much larger role and is actually the granddaughter of the original owner of Stinky's Diner. She basically lies and brags about everything and is not as likable as other characters in the game.
The humor is as sharp as ever and a few dialogs are quite hilarious. An example is a scene where Max refuses to believe in magnetism and just thinks that it is a children's tale and a myth. He claims that he only believes in "one thing" and draws his gun to prove his point. To his surprise, the magnet catches the gun, after which he admits, "Okay, fine. I guess I can believe in two things. But that's my limit." These dialogs make the game as entertaining as ever. The music is again composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson and fits perfectly with the cartoonish graphics of Sam & Max. Together, the soundtracks and graphics set a great atmosphere and make for a great gaming experience.
There are also a few new mini-games in this episode such as boxing. Several old favorites, such as Whack Da Ratz, have also returned. It should be noted that the developer has updated the controls of these mini-games. It is now possible to use the keyboard when driving (and boxing). The new controls may be easier to use, but it is essentially the same. Even though these mini-games are played in isolation from the rest of the game, they fit very well into the overall context of the episode.
Episode 201: Ice Station Santa makes a great addition to the franchise and adds enough twists over past episodes to make this a great standalone game. It remains to be seen if each episode in the new season will differ more than it has been in the last season, but it has good potential. There are some in-joke references made to earlier episodes, but this game can be enjoyed even without playing the other episodes first. The conclusion is that Season Two begins at least as entertaining as Season One. The updated game engine features a few improvements, such as better graphics and improved controls. Adventure game fans can now look forward to the remaining 4 episodes of the new season.
Until then, Merry Christmas! Watch out for Santa, he may be mean!