While the game features a number of new environments, in total there are only a few set pieces to look at. In a lot of ways these episodes remind me of a standard television sitcom, you see a lot of the same locations used and reused throughout the season. Thankfully most of these environments are interesting to look at, especially when you're searching around Santa's Workshop. Even the environments recycled from the last season are used in unique ways, and one popular hangout has been completely moved from one side of the block to another. I'm curious to see where the rest of the season takes us, but we're definitely off to a strong start in Ice Station Santa.
The game controls and mechanics haven't changed much in the last six months. The game is still played by pointing your mouse at a location and then clicking the left mouse button. Like most adventure games, Sam & Max is all about finding useful items (which you can hold on to in your inventory) and using them at just the right time. You will also have to talk with the supporting characters and say just the right things in order to advance the story. If you've played a point and click adventure game in the last twenty-five years then you should know exactly what you're getting yourself in for.
For the most part the graphics are the same as they were in the first season, which is certainly not a bad thing. While there may be a few minor upgrades to the character models and whatnot, from what I can tell the game appears to be running on the same engine as the first six episodes. Even though it's nice to have top of the line graphics, these Sam & Max episodes are not about how many polygons you can push and the stunning lighting effects. That's not to say the game looks bad, quite to the contrary. While Sam & Max can't compete with the recently released PC version of Gears of War, as a game about a crime fighting dog and rabbity thing I think the game looks fantastic. The character models are large and detailed and the worlds are full of life.
The game's real strong suit is the audio, which features some of the best voice acting you'll ever hear. The voices of both Sam and Max are fantastic, and the supporting cast (Bosco, Abe Lincoln's head, the telephone answering machine, etc.) all give it their all. Better still, the game actually features a lot of great music. Not only do you get the great incidental music that plays in the background, but you will also find a lot of themed music throughout the game. For example, when you're in Santa's Workshop you hear music that is clearly inspired by traditional Christmas songs, while at Bosco's you are treated to what sounds like something a 1950s beatnik would listen to. On top of that we also get a brand new song with lyrics, along with a jukebox that plays almost all of the songs from the first season. There really is a lot of great music in this game.
Ice Station Santa is a great way to start a brand new season of Sam & Max. While it's not nearly as entertaining as Reality 2.0 or Abe Lincoln Must Die (the two best episodes from last season), it does a good job of introducing new characters and starting what will surely be a fun new adventure. This Christmas-inspired story is interesting enough to keep you engaged for the two or three hours it will take you to beat it, and you'll definitely come away with a different impression of Santa Claus. Not that there was ever any doubt, but Sam & Max's second season looks like it's getting off to a great start.
If you're looking for a few hours of non-stop comedy then you would be a fool to pass over Ice Station Santa. This Sam & Max adventure hasn't evolved much from the first season, but it tells an interesting story full of memorable characters and plot twists. After this game you'll never look at Santa Claus in quite the same way.
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