This Holiday Season, Sam & Max Are Going to Hell

by John Stapel

The second season of Telltale’s Sam Max games, Sam Max: Beyond Time and Space , will launch tomorrow in a newly remastered version, and it’s available for preorder right now.

If you’ve already played Sam Max Save the World , you know what’s in store. But maybe you haven’t touched a Sam Max game since the mid-2000s, or the early 1990s? Maybe you’ve never even heard of the Freelance Police? Consider this post your crash course.

Sam Max are an irreverent dog and rabbity-thing team whose bewildering wit and esoteric crime-fighting methods have entertained people with questionable taste for almost 35 years.

They’ve appeared in award-winning comics by Steve Purcell, a 1990s LucasArts adventure game, a short-lived Canadian TV show, and three seasons of episodic games released by Telltale Games (a company I co-founded) between 2006 and 2010. Most of Telltale’s early employees came from LucasArts, where we’d worked together on Sam Max: Freelance Police, a game that was cancelled in 2004.

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After Telltale shut down in 2018, I teamed up with three other members of the Sam Max development team to acquire the rights to the studio’s Sam Max games. We’re now remastering those games with help from several other former Telltale employees. The first season, Sam Max Save the World, came to Xbox in August.

Sam Max: Beyond Time and Space kicks off with an unexpected delivery from the North Pole: a giant battle robot sent to destroy Sam and Max by Santa Claus himself. It seems jolly old St. Nick has gone off his rocker, and he’s sabotaging Christmas with gifts that would send the Consumer Product Safety Commission into high alert. Not a problem! The Freelance Police are on the case.

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But saving Christmas isn’t enough. Next a rogue Bermuda Triangle sucks Sam and Max through a portal to an island populated by bickering moai heads, barfly babies, and a volcano about to blow. Then there’s a detour to Stuttgart to face off with an emo vampire who has his eye on Sam and Max’s souls.

And after that, things start to get weird.

By the end of the five-episode story, our heroes will travel through time, hurdle through space, and peek beyond the veil that separates the dead from the living. But when they come face to face with the demons calling the shots for Hell, LLC, the Freelance Police may have reached the end of the line.

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Sam Max: Beyond Time and Space is an adventure game with lots of strange spaces to explore, weird characters to chat up, and baffling (but never punishing) puzzles to solve. The game detects when you’re stuck and provides subtle hints—you can crank this up if you want more help or turn it off if you want to fly solo. There are also four optional driving mini-games with decals to collect for Sam and Max’s De Soto, 12 achievements, and new Easter eggs that should amuse longtime Sam Max and Telltale fans.

But beyond a few Easter eggs, why buy the remaster when the original plays reasonably well with backward compatibility? For starters, because the new version looks and plays like a game made in 2021, not 2007.

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We’ve overhauled the lighting, scaled up the textures, and improved the lip-sync. The original audio, which was compressed like crazy to keep download sizes small, has been remastered and re-encoded from the original source files. Plus, the new version has 4K graphics on Xbox One X and newer, as well as redesigned gamepad controls that work much better than in the original point click port. But some of our favorite changes bring the game closer to the look and feel of Steve Purcell’s comics. All of the character models have been tweaked, including Sam and Max with Steve’s input. A new main menu and opening credits sequence make the game feel like one cohesive whole instead of five separate episodes. Many scenes have been punched up with new acting and camerawork, and composer Jared Emerson-Johnson contributed eight new jazz tracks that are performed by some of the original musicians.

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If you haven’t played Sam Max Save the World, you might be wondering if you can dive in with the second season. Sam Max: Beyond Time and Space stands alone, but some recurring characters, jokes, and plot elements do carry over from the first season, just like on TV. If you want to start from the beginning, you’re in luck, because Sam Max Save the World is 25% off through December 13.

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of a gumshoe dog in a baggy suit and a naked rabbity-thing with no internal filter. Trust me, it’ll be a much better present than whatever you’re getting from Santa.

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Sam Max: Beyond Time and Space

Xbox Live

Sam Max: Beyond Time and Space

Skunkape Games LLC

$19.99

Join the Freelance Police on a bizarre adventure from the North Pole to the Fountain of Youth, from outer space to Hell and back. Sam Max Beyond Time and Space is a remastered version of Telltale’s second season of episodic Sam Max games, lovingly updated by a small team of the original developers. Sam is a six-foot canine detective with a nose for justice. Max is a hyperkinetic rabbity-thing with a taste for mayhem. Together, they’re the Freelance Police—an irreverent comedy duo whose esoteric crime-fighting style has been entertaining comic book and video game fans for more than thirty years. In this five-episode collection of interconnected cases, Sam Max are back on the crime beat in a showdown with Santa Claus, a race to subdue a giant volcano, and a face-off with a Eurotrash vampire. And then things get even weirder. Is paranoid shopkeeper Bosco on to something with his talk of a grand conspiracy? Is diner proprietress Stinky hiding the truth about what happened to her grandfather (also named Stinky)? Will flaky neighbor Sybil Pandemik ever find true love? Did someone say… BIRTHDAY?! Hop into the DeSoto for a hilarious outing that won IGN’s Adventure Game of the Year award the first time around and now looks and sounds better than ever, with gorgeous HD graphics, overhauled lighting and lip-sync, finessed cinematography, remastered audio, and eight all-new musical tracks featuring live jazz musicians. Zombies will dance. Mariachis will sing. A giant battle robot will trash the streets. And when their friends’ lives are on the line, Sam and Max will risk their very souls to set things right.