Telltale Games continues to further cement its hold on the adventure gaming masses with every new episode of the Sam & Max series it cranks out. The second season of the anthropomorphic freelance police duo’s episodic cases is slowly drawing to a close, but it’s been a good run so far. If the uproarious antics in Sam & Max Episode 204: Chariots of the Dogs are any indication, we can expect the season finale to be a major comedic blowout of grand proportion. No doubt a third season will be in the works, but until then each subsequent episode in season two is turning out even stranger, funnier, and more intriguing than the last. When it comes to laughs, Chariots of the Dogs is worth its weight in gold.
In the prior episode, Bosco’s locked store and unexplained disappearance initially took a backseat to dealing with a zombie invasion led by a soul-sucking emo-vampire. Players were left with a cliffhanger as Sam and Max’s seasoned detective neighbor Flint Paper informed them Bosco was not only missing: he had vanished off the face of the planet entirely. Taking up the search for Bosco in Chariots of the Dogs, Sam and Max high tail it through space and time in search of their paranoid pal. As it turns out, Bosco has fallen into the clutches of “T-H-E-M” (those who’ve religiously followed the series since the start of season one will recall Bosco’s deep-rooted paranoia about “T-H-E-M”). It’s not long before the duo finds their lost friend – on board a space ship, of course – in a bit of a predicament due to some anomalies in the time-space continuum. Setting things back to normal and wrestling control of the ship from “T-H-E-M” is no simple task, but it’s equal parts fun and funny.
Ditching the Desoto for an episode, this time Sam and Max get from one location to the next in style via a sweet time-traveling elevator. Players will be using a borrowed device to scan various characters in order to generate punch cards for use in the elevator. Each character scan spits out a unique signature that can be swiped in the elevator to transport Sam and Max to a location in the past, present or future. A few familiar locations and characters are recycled here, but it’s all done in a neat way that makes them feel new.
I’ve got to hand it to Telltale; for a game that changes very little from episode-to-episode in terms of graphics and controls, they always manage to keep things feeling pretty fresh. Sci-Fi movie buffs should greatly appreciate the rampant movie related gags and references liberally sprinkled throughout the game. This was a funny addition with the zombie hordes and undead jokes in Episode 203, so it’s no surprise it was worked into Chariots of the Dogs. You’ll find supercomputers with attitude (2001: A Space Odyssey), memory-erasing flashes (Men In Black), frequent nods to Star Trek, and a miniature alien-related volcano model (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), among others.
A fair share of bizarre plot twists are revealed in Chariots of the Dogs, and it draws some unexpectedly delightful connections between different characters and occurrences from past episodes. While some episodes stand-alone in their ability to let players drop-in with little prior knowledge of the series, this is one where it’s pretty important to have played the past games first in order to keep up with the wild action and plot developments. Among the many strange run-ins, you’ll find out who originally programmed Bluster Blaster, get a chance to meet Bosco’s mom (it turns out he’s a test-tube baby after all), visit with the original Stinky, and hangout with the doppelganger Sam and Max from the past, present, and future. More importantly, the veil will be pulled back to finally reveal the identity and nature of “T-H-E-M.” Without spoiling the surprise in store for players, and it’s a big one, let’s just say the identity of “T-H-E-M” could not be more ridiculous, funny, or better imagined. Kudos to the writers at Telltale; you’ve outdone yourselves.
The puzzles in Chariots of the Dogs aren’t quite as tough as the past few episodes in the season, but they’re slightly more entertaining and interesting this time around. This is largely due to the Back To The Future-style time travel mechanic injecting some interesting changes in how players will have to approach gameplay. Moving back and forth between the past, present, and future, it’s possible to make some minor (and major) adjustments in the past that show up in the present and future. This comes into play frequently in attempting to solve the game’s puzzles. You’ll also find yourself warping back and forth to undo some of the temporal anomalies Sam and Max unwittingly cause as a result. While past episodes included a handful of simple mini-games, there’s really no need for them in Chariots of the Dogs since it’s such a solid episode. Treasuring hunting for new characters scans to use in the elevator sort of feels like a mini-game on its own.
As we previously mentioned, controls and visuals are the about same as they have been since the series began. The point-and-click interface is uncomplicated and easy to use. There has really been no need to change them aside from adding a run feature and a few minor tweaks which where done at the start of the second season. As always, the jazzy soundtrack is quite good and the voice-acting continues to impress. The cheesy 80s action metal tune on the jukebox in Stinky’s is hilarious.
Chariots of the Dogs continues on in the same clever, funny, and endearing way as past cases, and it’s one of the better entries in the series. If the unveiling of “T-H-E-M” isn’t crazy enough for players, the episode wraps up with another exciting cliffhanger ending – big shocker. It’s a to-be-continued conclusion that will leave you anxiously wondering exactly how the next episode will be pulled off. This one might be hard to top, but we can undoubtedly expect the quality zaniness will continue.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
The simple, cartoony style had changed very little, but it’s a great fit. 4.1 Control
Get your point-and-click on. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Superb voice-overs. Thanks to the absence of some characters, they’re finally less irritating. 4.5 Play Value
Short-and-sweet, but excruciatingly entertaining. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.