If you look beyond the typical big name blockbuster RTS and FPS PC releases over the past year or so and focus on a genre like Adventure which
has seen better days, you'll find one of the most resounding success stories in the new Sam & Max adventure game releases coming from Telltale
Games. Published as a season spanning across six different episodes, Season One provided fans of the franchise and new comers alike a much
needed refresher for the loved pop culture
driven shoddy detective work world that is Sam & Max, providing gameplay that not only kept true to its origins but also gameplay that adhered to
quality modern adventuregaming
standards. With only a reasonably short period of time passed since the last episode release of Season One, Telltale are back again for a new season
with the first episode of the second season - Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa - providing the same quality that made Season One such a success
with a few
Even though most episodes in the first season were quite appealing and accessible to the average PC gamer, Telltale obviously felt it was necessary to
broaden the appeal for Season Two as the very first thing you'll notice this time around is a focus on helping along new players to the series,
firstly in the form of a tutorial which covers the basics of the game, and also in the form of a brand new option known as the 'hint level'. As the name
suggests, this option allows you to define how often
the game provides hints across 5 settings, all the way from 'No Hints' to 'Frequent Hints'. The way the game does it is via Max dropping verbal hints
and suggestions at key points in the game where it appears you may be stuck, and although I was skeptical at first, it is actually done quite well
as the hints are rarely blatantly obvious and if you ask me, it's about time Max was useful for something :).
If you are one of these 'new players'
that Ice Station Santa seems to cater towards more than most of the other episodes, then you may not be familiar with the antics of Sam &
Max so let me summarize for you - you have a detective or 'freelance police' tag team featuring a large dog known as 'Sam' and a rabbit-thingy known as
'Max' who often take on or stumble upon weird and quirky assignments that involve travel far beyond their humble New York office block. Their means of
are mostly unconventional featuring a comic book style true to their origins, and many pop cultural references along the way for added humor. Ice
Station Santa itself fits this entire description well, featuring the usual humor and craziness we've come to expect from Sam & Max along
with a rather cliche 'must save Christmas' storyline with a few twists and turns along the way. Combined with the elements designed to introduce the
series if not the entire adventure genre to new
comers, Ice Station Santa is definitely one of the more mainstream appealing releases from Telltale Games yet.
But don't fret seasoned veterans, Ice Station Santa is not forgetting the loyal fans of the recent first season or the Sam & Max
franchise in general. To get the full experience you will definitely need to play the entire first season as this episode references quite a few events
and outcomes from the first six episodes that just wouldn't make any sense to a total new comer. Now, these such references are just that - references - and
not overly integral to the storyline so while
from a pure functionality standpoint anyone could sit down and finish Ice Station Santa without having played any prior episode, these
gamers just won't get the most out of the game's humor and quirkiness.
And that would be a shame, because the humor this time around is quite plentiful, and definitely up there as one of the funniest episodes
Telltale have put out yet. Of course like with just about any game you probably won't find yourself in stitches, but plenty of chuckles will be had,
particularly by those who are already fans of the Sam & Max style of humor which admittedly is somewhat of an acquired taste. Whatever the case
obviously what is and isn't funny is entirely down to
personal opinion so not everyone will agree, but I found this episode to be the comical highlight of the entire range from Telltale Games so far. The thing
is though, you do have to proactively look for the humor a lot of the time by instigating unnecessary conversations not totally
related to the task at hand, but if you're interested in this type of game chances are you're an Adventure gaming fan and hence this is something you're
quite accustomed to doing, whether it be for humor or just taking in as
much of the storyline as possible.
Gameplay wise obviously very little has changed - Season Two is merely the start of a new series of storylines and not a sequel in the sense
anything fundamentally significant is changed. Besides the instances when you're at the North Pole much of the scenery is also unchanged not to mention the
mostly familiar characters in them. I guess you could say Telltale have taken a very safe road with Ice Station Santa but there really was
little point in messing with success and this
is hardly the most innovative genre out there, so it's difficult to fault them for not being a little more daring when it's hard to see where they could
have done so. If you look close enough you may see a slight tendency towards including more mini-game style events in Ice Station Santa which may
be an indication for the rest of the season, but you're mostly doing the same sort of puzzles and same sort of logical problem solving in the same sort of
environments with the same sort of characters
as before which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.
It's really not hard to pinpoint the type of game that Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa is - if you loved Season One, then starting the fun
over again with the first episode in Season Two is a no brainer. While this episode probably isn't the most challenging or advanced we've seen from
the series yet, there's no reason such fans won't find enjoyment well worth the price of admission with Ice Station Santa. For those who haven't
yet had a chance to check out what all the fuss
is about, if you fancy yourself as the type that would enjoy a quirky and unique adventure title then you can't go wrong either - I'm tempted to suggest you
really should acquire and finish Season One first to fully understand all elements of the gameplay and storyline but it isn't entirely
necessary, just recommended. In any case, it's really hard to fault a game like this because while it's short and without many if any surprises, it's also
quite cheap at $US 8.95 when purchased target="_blank">from the official website. The bottom line is, if you like adventure problem solving games, you'll like this adventure
problem solving game, and hey - you gotta love a Christmas themed game this time of year.