Funny. Yes, funny. Quite a precise yet not overly complicated way of describing the first episode of the second season of those appropriately seasonal Sam & Max episodes, that is stylistically in stark contrast to the rest of this sentence. Polished, too. “Point-and-click episodic adventure game” wouldn’t be far from the truth either and does spring to mind, but I guess you already knew that, didn’t you. Then again, I got this feeling the funny and polished bits didn’t come as much of a surprise either, as this is the 7th Sam & Max game released during the last 11 or so months. You’ve sort of come to expect these things. As for being seasonal, festive even, well, episode 201 isn’t called Ice Station Santa for nothing you know…
Actually, it is called Ice Station Santa mainly because a) Ice Station Santa does indeed feature as a brand new in-game locale b) Santa is in the game and c) the name makes sense for a game released just a bit before the lucrative Christmas period. Happily, the disgusting, overly sweet tone of Christmas has been left behind too, meaning this is a game that can be easily enjoyed by us not particularly festive misanthropes. There even are a few decent, excellent (by video game standards) and quite anarchic, Xmas related gags too!
Besides being funny enough to prove that the well-oiled humor machine that is Telltale is still running properly, Ice Station Santa does also quite a few things to evolve the series and cement the company’s role as the spearhead of the adventure invasion in the dull lands of mainstream gaming. First of all, you’ve got the beefy and fun tutorial to ease new players into the genre. Then you’ve got a great and rather innovative hint/difficulty selection system delivered via Max, a couple decent arcade-y distractions in the guise of a driving and a boxing bit, brilliantly cinematic art direction, great graphics, great music, a satisfyingly self-contained bizarre story, a plot twist, the return of the Whack-A-Rat mini-game, a ridiculously reasonable price tag and the fact that Max is still the President of the good ol’ US of A.
Returning fans and veteran adventurers, on the other hand, will be thrilled to notice that they haven’t been ignored either. Well, not yet at least, though I do feel quite safe with Telltale’s lads and lasses. They are no Lucasarts, you know. Anyway. Ice Station Santa retains the series’ trademark imaginative yet not particularly taxing puzzles, razor sharp writing, surreal situations and Lucasarts-style gameplay. What’s more, you –yes, you, dear adventurer- will probably also notice that the game does indeed feel a bit longer, more elaborate, slightly more difficult and all around heftier. Every character from series 1 makes a welcome comeback and a select few silly new ones have been introduced. Oh and finally, Stinky’s Dinner has now opened its doors providing some interesting culinary solutions served by a brand new, apparently resident, character, while the whole neighborhood has been rearranged in the oddest of ways. Every old location has been heavily redone, giving old settings new character and importantly old characters have been slightly tampered with too, providing with some lovely inside jokes.
So, in a nutshell and making sure the review’s length keeps with the game’s, you shouldn’t really think about this no matter what you thought of/did with the previous Sam & Max offerings. It an absolute must play. Download episode 201 safe in the knowledge that the show just isn’t getting old. It’s instead improving in every technical way imaginable, while happily retaining puzzles and writing of the highest quality.
Oh, and the credits sequence was simply brilliant.