Reviewing the first episode of Sam & Max's second season is easier said than done. On one hand I was expecting improvements over season one, but on the other hand it is not fair to look at this as a straight out sequel. That's just the nature of the episodic format I suppose, and season two should be viewed more as an evolution than a revolution.
So on to Ice Station Santa then. In terms of quality of writing and pacing this episode takes up where Bright Side of the Moon left off; everything feels a bit tighter than the earlier games, and the story seems to take less of a backseat this time around. The latter -- revolving around Santa seemingly going crazy -- works out quite nicely, though it is of course impossible to judge what kind of turns the plot will take over the next episodes. I remain cautiously optimistic.
Continuing on that note, I also felt the humor might have gone a bit more off-beat -- or edgy like the kids say -- than the previous games. This is definitely a good thing, and in some ways helps Telltale further differentiate themselves from LucasArts, which, obviously, tended to play things a bit more clean cut. Suicidal rats, an increasingly paranoid Bosco, Flint, and Santa gone postal are just part of the equation here.
The pop-culture references seem to be more plentiful too; who does not love a philosophical, eighties music quoting, destroyer robot? Terrorists, that's who.
On the technical side, the game looks slightly better than previous episodes. Although, I'm not sure that's an engine upgrade or just the fact that high resolution widescreen displays are supported. You also have a "run" feature (apparently only in outside locations for whatever reason) which is a welcome addition.
There's also a hint system this time around, which is turned off by default, but which can be turned on at any time. Helpful if you're stuck, and don't want to go on-line and read spoiler rich walkthroughs.
Other than that everything is as you'd expect. The voice acting is top notch, the graphic has a nice atmosphere to it, and the music -- man -- Jared Emerson-Johnson has outdone himself again.
Other than that there's not really much in terms of surprises Ice Station Santa; this is again more of an evolution than revolution. That might be a disappointment to some, but with writing as crispy as what I saw in this episode... Frankly, I'm not sure I could ask for a whole lot more.
Plus hey, when the first thing you see is a classic Monkey Island reference? Come on!
8th November, 2007.
Pros: Hilarious story and dialogue. Improvements across the board.
Cons: Might be a bit too similar to season one for some.