Sam & Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa Review
Season One of Sam & Max proved something about adventure games, namely that they donít have to be mind-numbingly boring pixel hunts with overly pretentious storylines. Season Oneís serial format gave the developers time to refine the game with each episode and by the time the last episode was released the game had really hit its stride. Now with a full season under its belt Sam & Max Season Two has the advantage of being able to hit the ground running.
When you look at the basics of the game it seems like any other adventure game. You move from set screen to set screen, clicking on objects to see which trigger an interaction or which can be added to your inventory. Clicking on characters opens a dialog tree, giving you a set of canned responses at each juncture in the conversation. Puzzles are solved by using items from your inventory with other objects in the world or by selecting the correct responses during a conversation. So what makes Sam & Max different?
Everything is approached with a warped sense of humor, all of the puzzles make sense in a cockeyed sort of way, and the simple interface works nice and smoothly. Typical points of frustration that are common to most adventure games seem to be happily absent here. Iíd hate to count the number of times Iíve clicked on something in an adventure game only to be told by the protagonist, ďI canít do anything with that.Ē Clicking on useless objects in a Sam & Max game is a delight as youíre always treated to some absurd, satirical, and quite often demented dialog between the gameís heroes. What more could you expect from a hound dog in the mold of Sam Spade and a maniacal rabbit who was recently elected president of the United States?
This brings us to Ice Station Santa, Sam & Maxís opening episode of Season Two. After being sent a giant killer robot as a present from Santa Claus, Sam and Max travel to the North Pole to visit Santa only to find that heís barricaded himself in his room and is emptying machine gun clips into anyone who tries to get close to him. Sam and Max must determine what has happened to Santa and try to somehow save Christmas. The story that follows is on par with the best of the first season and shows that the writers are still as sharp as ever. You donít need to have played through Season One to play Ice Station Santa, but if you havenít youíll miss out on the numerous references to Sam and Maxís prior adventures. Also, Season Two will be released as a series of episodes as well, so although the story in Ice Station Santa is wrapped up at the end thereís a lot thatís obviously left as a setup for future episodes.
There are some new features in store for those who are veterans of Season One, the most obvious of which are the increased screen resolutions and the in-game help system. Itís nice to see native widescreen support in the game and at the highest resolution the game has a nice animated look to it with bright colors and crisp lines. The new in-game help system lets you specify the level of help you would like from none at all to frequent hints. The game senses when you may be going in circles and one of the characters will make a remark to send you off in the right general direction or give you more blatant direction at the higher hint levels. Itís a nice and elegant system and a welcome addition to the series.
Ice Station Santa is available on its own for $8.95 (a bargain) or is free to GameTap subscribers. You can also subscribe to the entire six episodes of Season Two for $34.95, and based on whatís on display in Ice Station Santa Iím sure that itís a safe bet that youíll enjoy the entire series.
In The End, This Game Hath Been Rated: 90%. Sam and Max begin Season Two with a bang (and a giant robot).