Sam & Max Episode 204: Chariots of the Dogs

Telltale has new episodic series for E3

Graphs going up with 1 million sales so far.

Telltale Inc. plans to unveil a new adventure series at E3, following the million-episode-selling success of Sam & Max, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and Wallace and Gromit.

Sam & Max Season 2

Sam & Max Season 2

Episode five and the season as a whole.

And so the second episodic adventure with Sam & Max comes to a close. The final episode - What's New, Beelzebub? - is very much of a piece with the previous entries in this season. That's to say that it's exquisitely written, packed with some of the best humour ever seen in games, but curiously disappointing as an actual game.

There's no faulting the presentation, the only persistent technical grumble is some sluggish loading times, but the criticisms have become wearily familiar over the past few months. Once again the action revolves around the same old street, with a few remote locations to jaunt between. This time it's Hell, with the Freelance Police entering the underworld to rescue the souls of all the characters who have died during the season. Of course, this means that pretty much everyone to have crossed their path gets to come back, including Hugh Bliss, Brady Culture and Santa Claus, and there are also some brief excursions to miniaturised locations from episodes past.

What is more troublesome is how routine the actual gameplay has become. With that in mind, rather than simply reiterating the same praise and criticism for the final episode, consider this a look back at the season as a whole, how the episodic format is working out, and the implications it has for gameplay.

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Sam & Max 204: Chariots of the Dogs

From zombies to alien abductions, the fourth chapter of Sam and Max's second season of episodic adventures is not exactly much of an upgrade in terms of comic inspiration. However, just as Night of the Raving Dead started with zombies but soon turned into a disco vampire story, so Chariots of the Dogs starts with our anthropomorphic duo investigating Bosco's abduction by forces unknown, but then takes a left turn and becomes a time travel romp.

So, yeah. This is a time travel story. As fans can probably guess, this opens up lots of possibilities for the well-oiled gag-writing team to have some fun with the chronology of the games, sending our heroes to meet past, present and future versions of themselves and other characters. It also helps to slightly alleviate the déjà vu as - yet again - you can expect to spend a hefty chunk of playing time shuttling between the office, Stinky's diner and Bosco's convenience store. Visiting these locations in 1963, 1980 and the distant future mixes things up slightly, but the weary sense of familiarity remains. They even joke about this repetition, with our heroes dumbstruck when their future selves admit they've spent their entire lives exploring the same street. Such self-referential in-jokes are certainly cute but, as The Simpsons Game conclusively proved, you can't effectively satirise something when you're guilty of it yourself.

Despite this, the comedy content is still luxuriously generous as ever with the sort of sharp dialogue and snappy timing you'd expect from Futurama or the latest Pixar movie. It's also a densely layered episode, with both puzzles and gags frequently harking back to the prior chapters. The ink ribbon from Night of the Raving Dead gets a nifty pay-off which made me giggle, while the scenes with a senile Sam who speaks only in lines from the original Sam & Max game are great fun for time-served point-and-click fans.

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