Graphical adventure games such as Myst and Escape from Monkey Island, which let you focus on solving puzzles and mysteries using inventory items, character dialogue, and your wits (rather than a rocket launcher) used to be popular and plentiful. They're fewer and farther between these days, but fortunately for fans, there are still some game developers out there who continue to produce these games, including Telltale Games, a California shop whose staff includes some of the same talent that helped create such classic adventure games as Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Telltale is finally ready to take the wraps off of the next Sam & Max adventure, and we got the first look. Please be advised that this story may contain minor spoilers.
Like the studio's other adventure-game products, the new Sam & Max game will be the first in a series of downloadable, episodic games--that is, shorter games that will be made available on a much more frequent basis than a typical retail game. But Telltale is attempting to pack in as much of the offbeat and goofy comedy into this first episode as possible. Like in previous games, and like with most classic comedy duos, Sam and Max will be a straight-man/funny-man team. Specifically, the anthropomorphic canine constable Sam will reprise his role as the (relatively) straight man to the hyperactive and moderately homicidal rabbit-thing, Max. This dynamic will come into play whenever they interview or interrogate another character, as we saw in the early part of the game.
The two begin their adventure in their office, thwarted by a dastardly kidnapping...of their telephone, by the local rodent mafia. The game will use the traditional point-and-click mouse interface you might expect from an adventure game, though Telltale assures us that all the game's environments will be highly interactive (if nothing else, clicking on an object will elicit a humorous observation from Sam or Max), and that the game will use a context-sensitive cursor that will switch to a different icon, to minimize the annoying "pixel hunting" you might have seen in other games.
Clicking around the office in search of the missing phone eventually reveals the hole-in-the-wall home of Jimmy Two-Teeth, a shifty character whose job as an informant makes him a professional rat (while his gray fur and stringy tail make him, you know, an actual rat). We watched the game's dynamic "dual dialogue" system in action as the craven cavy was grilled with polite, restrained inquiries from Sam and more-violent suggestions from Max. Apparently, Jimmy Two-Teeth is a tough nut to crack and doesn't sing for anyone--except when a question from Sam reveals that the informant is afraid of heights, which gives Max the option to dangle their captive by his tail out the window until he talks. Using this good-cop/bad-cop routine can help Sam and Max advance the story and acquire key items, like their trusty big, blocky rotary telephone, which they recover from the tiny rat's person (in a scene that is, thankfully, censored).
Once Sam and Max reclaim their precious phone, they catch wind of a diabolical plot that seems to involve one or more of the following: failed child television stars, a mind-control cult, and a series of self-improvement exercise videotapes designed to help their viewers tone and firm their eyeballs into sexier, more self-assured peepers. For those not familiar with the previous games, this kind of setup may seem a little too over the top, but Sam & Max fans should feel right at home with the game's bizarre sense of humor. Their further adventures involve investigating a local convenience store owned by Bosco, a slow-witted clerk (who also happens to be an illicit weapons dealer), as well as meeting with and interrogating three former child stars who are (or were) famous for their various personal dysfunctions, including an overactive bladder and a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Aside from solving puzzles by uncovering key dialogue options, Sam and Max will frequently revisit their home office as a kind of hub area, and they'll need to line their pockets with cash to purchase all of Bosco's expensive (and experimental) weapons. To earn cash, Sam and Max can use a patrol minigame in which they hop into their Freelance Police cruiser and pursue other motorists. While they'll occasionally need to do this to apprehend key suspects, you'll be able to have the team hop into their car at any time and take control of Sam while Max automatically drives the car. You can use Sam's revolver to shoot out a taillight from the car in front of you, and then use your police siren to pull the motorist over and issue an expensive ticket...for having a taillight out.
While Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock, the first episode in the new series, will offer about two to three hours of gameplay, Telltale will be producing episodes much more frequently than its previous efforts. The first episode will debut on the GameTap online game delivery service exclusively, and will later be made available on Telltale's own site. From what we've seen, Culture Shock will offer all the off-kilter humor and classic point-and-click adventure gameplay that can be packed into a single episode with a spring-loaded boxing glove. The game will be available October 17.