Sam and Max 4: Good Script, Bad Game

Those of you who have been following my reviews know of my infatuation with Telltale’s Sam and Max adventure games. The thrilling thing to me about these games is that they have been consistently funny and playable games.

The fourth episode of their “episodic series”, Abe Lincoln Must Die! has been released. It’s strongly written. It has clever writing, brilliant situations, and is funny enough that it had me, quite literally, crying tears of laughter.

But it’s a pretty bad adventure game.

It’s hard to say why this should be. The game mechanics, for example, don’t vary at all from the other episodes. Part of the problem is that the puzzles in Lincoln Must Die require a bit too much drudgery to actually solve. To take one example, at several points in the game you need to get past someone who is standing in your way. The way to do this is to travel to a completely different location to use a certain object. You can’t bring the object with you, and you end up doing this several times.

In a cleverly designed game, you can solve a puzzle the moment you figure it out. In this game, you get the “Eureka” moment but then have to spend a subjective eternity travelling to a distant location to try out your theory. That really took the wind out of my sails. I know they were trying to reward “thinking out of the box.” I just wish the box was somewhere more convenient. If this happened just once during the game, I could forgive and forget. By the third time, it was making me roll my eyes in irritation.

This is also the first time in the series that I’ve felt flummoxed by a “move the mouse around the screen to find the magic pixel” sort of puzzle. That this happened near the climax of the game didn’t make me any happier.

So, should these objections stop you from getting the game? Not at all. The humor payoff makes up for the game part of the game being less than stellar:

And all of the other episodes in the series (including the followup to this one), are of generally higher quality. But if all the games in the series played like Lincoln Must Die, I would have a hard time recommending them.

Let’s just hope that Telltale’s customers give them honest feedback, and that they listen.