Serious Sam is relentless and insane, and can be exhausting at times, but its great arcade style action.
*Note, I am reviewing the Gold edition because its the version I bought, and I am technically reviewing both First Encounter and Second Encounter. I will occasionally specify them separately, but for the most part when I refer to the game, I'm referring to both.*
Back in 1993, gamers were treated to Doom.
Doom's gameplay was simple and pure: Satan has dumped a bucket full of demons on Mars, you have a gun, and its your job to send them back into their bucket and kick that bucket back into hell where they will meet their ultimate doom. (Sorry. I'm aware of how bad that pun was.) It was unrealistic and addicting, and it was very cathartic. Nothing relieved stress like shoving your shotgun firmly up the arse of a fire spewing demon, and it allowed your inner caveman to have some fun by returning to the mentality in which you bash in the skull of anything that looks at you funny.
So if you are a veteran of Doom and its sequel
and have beaten every monster and level on "Bring 'em On" you might be ready to play Serious Sam on the "Normal" difficulty setting. Serious Sam is quite possibly the most insane and relentless shooter ever made. Granted, it does start off a little easy and gets harder as you go on, but that's how most games are.
This is the basic idea of the game: The humans have been fighting a war between an evil cosmic entity known as "Mental" and a race of aliens known as the Sirians. Turns out that the agent Egyptians were one of the most advanced races ever, and Mental goes back in time and sticks his dick in the timeline to get hold of their technology as well as assure he has an iron fist in the future by dumping a bucket full of his minions into the land. Scientists have the ability to send only one person into the past, and they choose a dude named "Serious" Sam Stone, one of the greatest war heroes to ever live. As Sam, you've naturally got to send Mental's forces back into their bucket and then give Mental good whooping.
A few levels in, you'll start to see lots of bad guys. And I mean "Lots" as in thousands of dudes on the screen that want you dead. The third level has an 8 minute battle against a bunch of skeletons and these weird suicide bombers (I say weird because they have no head at all, yet they know exactly where you are and scream. Though that did lead to a funny line after Sam killed his first one, "WAAAAGGGHHHHHH YERSELF!" then you hear lots of screaming and like 20 of the guys come over the hill and Sam just goes "Uh oh") that will put your skills to the test, and just when you thought you had a breather the next area opens up to hundreds of dudes, giant machines with lasers, a bunch of bulls, more bombers, and giant scorpions with chainguns.
As the game goes on, almost every corner becomes fraught with peril and the action is always intense and always happening. The game has an arcade style point system, which grants you points for each enemy and naturally you can put your name up on a scoreboard and show the world that AAA is the best Serious Sam player ever. You can also play with a friend splitscreen or on a lan, using controllers or extra keyboards (If your insane, you can both use a keyboard...) which is fun and makes the game a bit more fun to weather in co-op mode.
The graphics for the time are awesome. There's tons of fluid animations and blood leaves stains and marks everywhere and there are plenty of gorgeous Egyptian sights, and in the second encounter, more jungle like locales., that are easy on the eyes and well detailed. The game will retain a great framerate even on older computers even when there's enough monsters on screen to match the infamous "Nuts.wad" (Don't know what I'm talking about? Go to Doomworld and go to their "10 years" section and look at the list of top 10 most infamous Doom maps) and its impressive even today to see how much is going on in your average Serious Sam game.
The maps are designed well, especially the ones in The Second Encounter. The Second Encounter maps are more detailed and varied, and even though there are technically less of them, they are absolutely gigantic and will last you an hour or two with lots of great set pieces, and like any good shooter there are plenty of hidden items (Including some really strange secrets, like the "Fans" on the first level of the first encounter that are basically the development team in Serious Sam shorts with gigantic bulging brains.) and areas to find that reward you with points and guns. Speaking of guns, you have a standard arsenal, but all the weapons are fun to use. There's the ever satisfying chainsaw in the second encounter, a laser gun that deals death like no ones business (Though it chews through ammo) and my favourite, a Tommy gun. My second favourite is the cannon... Yes, you get a portable cannon in the game, and it'll bulldoze enemies, literally. A single cannonball can split half an army into gibs as long as they're close enough to be in the cannon balls reach.
The game can get a bit exhausting. You will have to take breather breaks because battles often last for minutes at a time and are extremely relentless, so much so you'll be quick saving every few seconds just so you don't have to restart the area when you inevitably die. Its intensity keeps it from getting repetitive even if it can get predictable, but there will still be times that you just have to shut the game down because its overworked you and it'll put a bit of a fatigue on you, literally.
The games configuration interface is very user unfriendly. Configuring the video, audio, and controllers are a chore because you have to set everything individually and there are tons and tons of settings that are complete gibberish to anyone who isn't the worlds greatest programmer. Getting the game to look and play right can be a hassle, and its annoying when settings are lost and when dealing with controllers, you have to just guess what axis is which what button is what, etc. and then readjust it option by option.
I do wish there could've been a few more weapons. Since both games are fairly lengthy and if you play them back to back like I did, you'll get a little tired of the same old weapons and there aren't many new ones between them.
The Bottom Line
Serious Sam is an insane game, but worth it if you love old school shooters and the thrill of an arcade game by building up the highest score. It's hardcore and relentless, only old school shooter fans need apply. You may have to take a few breaks to catch your breath and its certainly not a game that you'll want to play through in one sitting, but its cathartic, bloody, looks nice, and is a ton of fun; especially with a friend in co-op mode.
I picked up this "Gold" copy for only 10 bucks, which had both the first and second encounter (There's also a "true" sequel
out as well as an HD remake of this one, but from what I hear its really buggy.) a couple years ago and I still love it. It's probably even cheaper now, and if this is your kind of thing, definitely pick it up.