Sunday, March 11th, 2007...2:59 pm

My Late Appointment with Sam & Max

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Sam & Max Season 1 Episode 4: Abe Lincoln Must Die!
From Telltale Games (
Available now

Another month, another Sam & Max episode from Telltale! These guys are like clockwork — which is more than I can say for myself. Yeah, I never reviewed Episode 3: The Mole, the Mob and the Meatball. The truth is that I wasn’t quite sure what to say about it. Like the first two chapters, it entertained, was well-scripted, well-acted and well-animated, but it didn’t really offer anything new. Same general setup, same general cast of characters, same short play length and overall ease of puzzles, etc. etc. There was a nice song, but you can’t write an entire review about a song. Unless you’re a music reviewer or a thirteen-year-old kid on Myspace, I guess.

But Episode 4 turns most of that around. So why am I still a couple of weeks late reviewing it? Because I’m a lazy procrastinator. This one’s all my fault. Sorry!

Telltale has definitely learned from the feedback to the first few episodes, both positive and critical. Although our usual cast of characters is still here and the episode’s still fairly short (which is entirely reasonable for the price and the fact that it’s just one of six chapters in the full “season”), everything else is a great improvement on what was already a pretty solid model. For once, you don’t start out at the office! What’s more, you don’t even have to spend that much time in the office neighborhood, though you do need to stop by once or twice. This time around, most of the action takes place in and around the White House (yes, THAT White House) as our intrepid anthropomorphic duo seeks to foil a fiendish plot to — well, it’s never entirely clear what the plot’s ultimate goal is. But it sure is diabolical, and putting a stop to it is definitely fun.

I really don’t want to spoil too much of the story, even if the title gives away a chunk of it (though less than you might expect). Let’s just say that soon after Sam and Max pay an impromptu visit to the President of the United States of America — not any particular real-world individual, for those hoping for some scathing political commentary — the country has a sudden vacancy in the position of Leader of the Free World. And guess who’s in the running? (Hint: it’s not Sam.)

The puzzles are a little more mind-bending this time around, though still not overly complex or especially counter-intuitive; the results of solving them are appropriately wacky; the scripting and voice acting are *terrific* (with the exception of a few dialogue lines that aren’t directed quite right for their context), and there are plenty of Easter eggs and things-you-don’t-need-to-do-but-you-can-do-them-anyway to keep you busy even on second and third play-throughs. In classic adventure game style, there are puzzles that you can solve in different orders, so you’re less likely to get totally stuck at a dead end. And about three-quarters of the way through the game, something happens that’s so unexpected and awesome that I wanted a button to let me replay it over and over again.

The game leaves a whole bunch of characters in non-status-quo situations by the end, something that I hope will be reflected (or at least addressed) in future chapters. There’s one dangling thread that still kind of confuses me, requiring you to give something to someone in order to obtain an item that will let you turn around and re-give the original something to someone else. We never get the first recipient’s reaction to the take-back, and it’s not even entirely clear whether you’ve reclaimed your gift or in fact had an extra lying around. I hope that’s vague enough for you.

Anyway, play this game. It’s great, and makes me look forward to Episode 5 even more.

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