Sam & Max show their age, but a typically sharp script helps ease point and click frustrations. More in our Sam & Max: This Time It’s Virtual review!
I must confess, I don’t actually think there are many truly funny videogames out there. I admire Tim Schaffer as much as the next guy, but his humor never really clicked for me. Saints Row? Eh, grow up.
It’s with some degree of relief, then, that I say Sam & Max: This Time It’s Virtual made me laugh a lot.
In fact, humor saves the day in This Time It’s Virtual, as the game itself haphazardly ricochets back and forth between a variety of play styles, some of which fare better than others, but none of which really feel as fleshed out, polished or engaging as they could be. For the pair’s first genuinely new outing in well over a decade, they’re recruiting a new member of their oddball Freelance Police unit – you. The game’s comprised of about three to four hours’ worth of scenes that have you either training for one of their typically ridiculous cases or actually solving them. It’s essentially an elaborate mini-game collection strung together by its story and punctuated with a handful of the series’ more traditional puzzles.
What’s best about This Time It’s Virtual is that it is, inherently, a VR game. Developer Happy Giant really embraces the weirdness the series is known for and takes it to new places with the aid of the platform. Tasks include exorcising peckish demons ravaging a local minimart by throwing shaken coke cans, waging war with microscopic creatures with ray guns and choreographing a Seaworld-style performance routine with what looks like a Pokemon evolution gone wrong.
But, even if the context is often erratic, some of your objectives will boil down to recurring mechanics like using guns or throwing items, and This Time It’s Virtual suffers from the simplicity of these systems. Using Max’s ray gun, for example, feels simply like you’re holding thin air and reloading involves just bringing a clip near the weapon for it to disappear and automatically reload. It’s a very basic implementation that’s easy to overlook at first but falls victim to diminishing returns as some of the levels boil down to primitive and inconsequential shooting galleries.
More outlandish tasks, like solving a game of Simon Says to defuse a bomb hidden inside a severed robotic head, are much more entertaining. Conversely, there are some real duds, like a game of baseball which goes on for far too long and never feels like it works quite right. Whatever you’re doing, though, it always feels like the game could use more polish to both make these interactions more interesting and iron out bugs like allowing players to clip through parts of the environment.
Just as with the minigames, the puzzling can be a bit of a mixed bag too. Its best challenges rattle along at a decent pace, with zany but logical solutions to puzzles, like using milk to defeat a cereal-crazed demon. And that’s the case for a lot of the game’s opening but, in its latter half, it’s also prone to falling back on some much more cryptic, seemingly random solutions that don’t really make sense. Another demon in the minimart needs to “cool off”, but you need to find an item hidden in a completely random place you’d have never thought to look in order to finish him off, for example. It took me an hour of searching a pretty small area before I had to give up and ask for help.
After one puzzle Max quips: “I thought we were just randomly trying things out until something worked.” And it’s true, I was, but just because This Time It’s Virtual is self-aware about its overly-taxing brain teasers, doesn’t mean it gets off the hook. The game does offer hints in the menu, but sometimes they’re as helpful as “Look for a clue”. If you enjoyed the obscurity of solutions in classic LucasArts games — including Sam & Max Hit The Road — then you might enjoy these trials but, to me, they were incredibly infuriating road bumps.
Still, the game’s real power is in its starring roles and, in this area, This Time It’s Virtual really doesn’t disappoint. Fans of the series are going to love seeing these characters brought to life, and it often really does feel like you’re standing right there with them. The pair might be showing their age here but the series hasn’t lost an iota of its trademark weirdness; Sam’s friendly naivety really melts your heart when you’re standing next to him, but Max’s unflinching and often brutal one-liners and rebuttals rarely fail to make you either laugh or gasp. It’s a great game to cast to a screen and play with others, not only because you’ll need help with puzzles but because sharing these jokes with others was my favorite aspect of playing This Time It’s Virtual.
Sam & Max: This Time It’s Virtual Review – Final Impressions
Sam & Max: This Time It’s Virtual has a lot of great ideas executed to varying degrees of success, and its fair share of misfires too. While its first half feels fresh and snappy as it throws new gameplay concepts at you every few minutes, its latter portion suffers from diminishing returns as it exposes half-baked mechanics and throws in some frustrating puzzles. But it is a genuine delight to spend time with this dynamic duo, largely thanks to a hilarious script that doesn’t hold back and, even after all these years, that incredible sense of sharing a space with other characters in VR. Sam & Max get by on their trademark charisma but, let’s be honest, that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?
For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Sam & Max: This Time It’s Virtual review? Let us know in the comments below!