Review: Sam & Max – Beyond Time And Space (Xbox 360)

By Matt Carey

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he life of Sam And Max has been a tumultuous one. 1987 saw their comic debut, lampooning American popular culture, and in the process garnering themselves a small but enthusiastic following. It wasn’t until the 1993 PC release of Sam & Max Hit The Road that the irreverent pairing started to amass a larger audience. The debut game, made by Lucasarts, was received with much acclaim by the industry. Everything from the graphics to the humour was praised, with many claiming the title had given the point and click adventure series a nice kick in the rear.

Unfortunately, the franchise ran into difficulties, finding that subsequent games were canned due to money or development issues. It wasn’t until 2006/2007 and the release of Sam & Max Save The World that the duo found their home on PC’s again, acquiring great reviews along the way. Such was the success that eventually a deal was brokered and Save The World, and its sequel, were earmarked for release on the Live Arcade.

OK, history lesson over. So, who or what are Sam and Max? Sam, the true lead, is a 6ft dog and is resplendent in blue suit and fedora. Couple in the appropriate accent, and you realise he has been designed by an artist that has watched The Maltese Falcon far too much, such is the homage to Sam Spade. Come to think of it, I’m guessing that’s why they called him Sam in the first place. He is inquisitive and knowledgeable, but has tendencies to show off, spurting out overly elaborate sentences quite happily. This doesn’t mean he isn’t against smacking people around when they need it. Max, by contrast, is the obligatory comic side-kick. By design he looks like one of Rayman’s Rabbids got into a bit of horizontal jogging with The Joker. Yes, he looks like a weird rabbit thing with a massive smile.

The pair work from an office as Freelance Police, or in other words their occupation is an excuse to get up to all kinds of ‘adventures’. The game, like the one before it, is split into 5 separate chapters, each one with their own individual story, but with a general theme that runs through the quintet, tying them all together. The basic premise is much like any other point and click adventure namely speak to someone, find you need to do something to pass them, and spend 10 hours collecting assorted random items in the hope that they will enable you to progress. The process is occasionally logical, occasionally insane, but at least you know where you stand.
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Graphically the game is a pleasant enough 2d cartoon affair. At no point are you sat slack-jawed at the luscious animation or the beautiful scenery on display. The visuals are comic book by nature and are bright, colourful, and do what they need to. The screen is never cluttered, and the problem possessed by other games in the genre -namely it often being all too easy to miss collectible important items due to the style of the artwork – is not prevalent here. Everything is easy to see and easy to find.

The audio is nothing to write home about, with appropriate music tinkling along in the background whilst the main characters are voiced-acted with no real misgivings. Sam does have the essence of Sam Spade about his voice, which is more than suitable, but Max seems to have his voice provided by Roger Rabbit. It really is a not very subtle rip off, pulling the player away from truly accepting him as a character in his own right.

Each of the stories are nicely scripted, and are long enough to provide a couple of hour’s entertainment per episode, but short enough to never get bogged down amongst its own puzzle solving. On the subject of said conundrums, as I have mentioned, there is nothing overly original about how the game approaches its given genres “rules of thumb”, but it does steer away from making anything overly complex. Yes, conversations with characters will yield the answers you seek, but taking the conversation path in a direction of no use does not leave you listening to hours upon hour’s worth of information that you neither need nor want. The conversations, set pieces, and exploration is moved along at a pleasant pace and you never feel that the answer is beyond you.
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The game isn’t without faults however, the main being the characters themselves. Yes, they are both the wrong side of the line separating ‘tribute’ and ‘rip-off’, but that isn’t the problem. Comedy, by its very nature, is subjective. One man’s Monty Python is another man’s Bernard Manning. As such, for me, the humour contained within isn’t my cup of tea. All too often I found the comedy to be pointless or obvious. In places it felt contrived and stupid for the sake of being stupid. I would never be as bold as to pronounce that the game is downright unfunny, just that it doesn’t cater to my personal tastes in mirth. I don’t doubt for one second that some, maybe many will find much hilarity here. However, this is the main problem basing a game around humour; the market that will want to buy, or enjoy the game is greatly reduced. Their target market is essentially people that find all these hi-jinks, one-liners and slapstick funny, and happen to like point and click adventures to boot. Needless to say, this genre isn’t the most popular or best selling in the world.

Aside from this, other flaws are small and really don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Waiting for Sam to walk to the door you just clicked on really wound me up, for example. Not the most important thing, I know, but still found it annoying.

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Whilst writing this review I have tried hard not to compare it to the other game of the same ilk that I reviewed just this week, namely Axel And Pixel. I wanted to give Sam And Max as fair a crack of the whip as I possibly could, and I think I have. All I will say in comparing the two titles is this. Sam And Max is a good, fun old school point and click adventure. Axel And Pixel is a new, modern take on the genre. Each have their plusses and their minuses on the comparison chart, but there is enough in both titles to make them both worthy purchases. For me, Axel And Pixel just edges it; the comedy is more universal, and feels a lot more natural. However, Sam And Max is a good game. How good is simply down to what makes you laugh.

Electro-candy score 7/10

Electro-candy have 1 code for a lucky reader to try this game out for yourself. In order to win please Retweet the following via twitter:

i would like a Sam and Max Season 2 Code #electro_candy

A random winner selected on Friday at 9pm

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