They are back again. Before even the most ardent of their fans had a chance to miss them, the dynamic duo return for some more Freelance Police...ing. In other words, the highly anticipated second episode of the new Sam and Max season is here, since Telltale games kept their promise and delivered in less than a month.
If you played the previous game of the season, Culture Shock, the whole experience will feel very familiar, but that should hardly be surprising, in all honesty. After all, Situation: Comedy is just another episode in the on-going series. Think of it like a television show, especially a sitcom. There are no big differences between episodes, but you get the same characters that you know and love, with new jokes every episode to keep you interested. Whether this truly works in a game is a whole different discussion, however, and does not belong in this review. Still, given the fact it is meant to be just another episode of a series, similarities were unavoidable. The game even makes fun of this a couple of times, especially at the beginning, in Sam and Max's office.
Due to these similarities however, your initial reaction to the game may be a negative one, especially if you are expecting too much. Sights and sounds feel exactly the same, and you even have to visit the exact same areas as the first game, in the beginning at least.
Nonetheless, this is not necessarily a bad thing, since it means that all the good aspects of the first game remain too. The graphics of the game are still really good, particularly for an adventure game, and the animation is smooth as well. The backgrounds, while slightly simplistic, are filled with funny little details and in-jokes that should keep you amused. The music in the game is also very good, filled with jazzy tunes that supplement the game's atmosphere perfectly.
Voice-overs demand special mention since it was one of the criticisms directed towards the first episode, so it has to be said that they definitely sound better and feel more natural this time. It may be partially due to the fact that they have grown on us even more since the first game, but that is not to say they are not good. The actors do a solid job and their voices fit the personalities of their characters' nicely. If there is one that stands above the rest, that would be Bosco, but more on that later.
Concerning the gameplay itself, you will find that there are no real changes in this part of the game either. The interface is exactly the same, left-clicking will get you everywhere, and the puzzles are composed of the typical inventory and dialog variation. While on the subject of puzzles, it should be pointed out that they are a bit on the easy side, definitely easier than in Culture Shock, as even the less-experienced adventurers should not have a lot of problems solving them after a few tries. On the bright side of things, all the puzzles are fairly logical and simply require observation skills in order to be solved, rather than sheer luck. The only slightly frustrating part is a chase scene (one that purists would call an “action scene”), but thankfully it is far too short, so by the time you will be annoyed by it, it will already be over.
So far, it seems that Situation: Comedy is nothing original, and not that different from its predecessor. However, let us for one moment take a step back and be honest with ourselves; even the original Sam and Max: Freelance Police did not provide us with a deep and meaningful story, nor with engrossing and ground-breaking gameplay. Rather, its focus was on providing a genuinely funny experience, through visual gags and snappy one-liners, and it delivered exactly that, in spades. Situation: Comedy is no different. Its strength lies in its humor, its characters and its dialog, and it excels in these areas.
It has to be said that the story is more amusing this time around, and has a better focus. The main part of the game takes part in a series of television studios, all based on a certain successful contemporary craze, such as a “reality” show singing competition or a cooking show directed towards male bachelors. The script does not shy away from making some pretty caustic remarks about the nature of these types of shows, either, in true Sam and Max fashion, something that should keep fans of the series happy.
The characters, both old and new, are also funnier than in Culture Shock. Bosco, the loveable 7-Eleven owner with the conspiracy-theory phobia is especially hilarious, since in order to hide from his imaginary persecutors he has adopted a whole new persona of an English gentleman, accent included. As a matter of fact, I found myself visiting his store just to listen to his random nonsense, simply because it was so funny. The Soda Poppers make another appearance as well, and this time they are used a lot better, as they are, dare I say, less... disturbing? The new characters are all very amusing as well, especially the apparent villainess herself, Myra Stump, a mockery of the overprotecting mother stereotype. Just wait until you see some of her comments towards Sam.
That brings us to what is probably Situation: Comedy's greatest strength, its dialogs. One could say that they are ingeniously and hilariously insane, or perhaps insanely and hilariously ingenious, or any other combination of these adjectives, but the truth is that they are all that and then some. From Max's crazy commentary on events and Sam's dry wit, and from Bosco's faux-British phraseology to Myra's putdowns, the game is full of one-liners that are sure to make you laugh even if you are a grumpy and bitter person. And that is the game's whole point after all, to entertain and amuse you. In that respect, Situation: Comedy is a great success.
So where does that leave the second episode of the Sam and Max season? If you look at it as a stand-alone game, it is certainly entertaining in its own right. It is technically solid, the puzzles are nothing too bad, and while a bit on the short side, it is cheap enough so you get your money's worth. However, as a game in an ongoing series, avoiding some criticism is not an easy thing to do. While, for the most part, ignoring the easier puzzles, Situation Comedy is better than Culture Shock, it is quite similar to its predecessor, perhaps a bit too similar. At the moment, that is not really a problem per se, both games still feel fresh enough to avoid tedium. However, if the future games do not differentiate enough from these two in terms of settings and supporting characters, and perhaps puzzles too, there is the always the danger of players becoming tired of the same old experience.
Still, it is still far too early to know how the future games will turn out, and Telltale has shown that they listen to customer feedback, so you should not worry about that just yet. For now, Situation Comedy is here and it is a worthy sequel to Culture Shock and also worthy of the Freelance Police legacy.