Oh dear . . .
Coming off the good vibes from Sam’s second encounter, I was all set for more of the same patented breakneck carnage with some even tastier visuals and outlandish game design, but instead was treated to something a bit, well . . . different.
Trying to think of something positive about this outing, thinking, thinking, um, well, nothing immediately springs to mind. I suppose you can cleanse your hard drive of this repugnant piece of software just as easily as you put it on there.
Serious Sam 2 somehow manages to break the most important rule of game in the unmitigated pure shooter genre. It goes against its own nature. Croteam managed to make every conceivable mistake in the book with this unquestionable fiasco.
Even though this brings forwards some visual enhancements you would come to expect, such as pixel and vertex shading, higher detailed textures, HDR lighting etc., I still didn’t like the new visual style. It’s not just that because this game was released concurrently on Xbox, meaning the game engine was scaled with that hardware in mind, so the visuals never reach the technical standard of titles designed with the PC in mind. But this isn’t what bothered me, it’s how the overall graphic design is so hideously bubbly to the point of being exasperating. None of the nasties presented herein are imposing in the slightest, instead appear quite cute and inviting, and their AI (artificial idiocy) matches this to a tee, as I’ll expand later.
So here, they - Croteam, have drawn influence from countless past shooters, including - Unreal, Unreal 2, Halo, Half-Life 2, and more, but somehow forgot about Serious Sam. Let me reaffirm that the operative word in the last sentence was “influence”, apart from some borrowed elements, Sam 2 doesn’t have the feel of any of the aforementioned games.
The game begins in a jungle setting (again) and there is a tribe of little humanoid blue creatures with ginormous heads, called Simbas, which wave at you and say “Hi”. You can pick up boxes and stack them, throw balls around, push objects about, and so forth. Not a good sign of things to come.
You move forward a bit, Netrisca gives you a message “Protect the Simbas!” some drop-ships flies past and a hand full of Master-Chief look alikes - complete with reflective metal buttocks, falls out on ropes, you subsequently have a uneventful little skirmish with them, yawn, and move on. I mean, I had this on the hard difficulty, and this seemed like it had been tuned for babies, no jest. Okay, so this is only the first battle of the game, so I thought maybe this is just a simple warmup, but as the game continued to unravel, the disposition of the play didn’t improve . . .
Your arsenal to begin with consists of a rather weak firearm with dubious usefulness in the form of a laser blaster, which can be charged up and fired (which feels suspiciously reminiscent of one of the weapons from a game I mentioned back there) the standard dual pistols are back with superficial laser sights attached, and the chainsaw has been replaced by a buzz saw, which is somewhat less effective with its shorter range of attack. As you go on, there will be the usual assortment - shotguns, (which look like plastic toys) dual Uzi’s, a big chunky rocket launcher etc., etc.
None of the weapons particularly stood out for being really outlandish or interesting, and none offered the level of destructive power you would come to expect, rather more for just being functional. A rather realistic sniper rifle has been included in the mix, which is sort of unusual given how absurd the general looks of the other weapons are. Its inclusion is a bit dubious given you can just pickoff enemies with the shotguns from any distance anyway.
The environments here are far less open than in previous entries in the series, where as now there are invisible force fields surrounding the play areas, so you can’t go anywhere you’re not supposed to, and rocket jumping has all but been phased out. The free and open nonlinear nature of the level design was something I liked about the first two games, and these new tightly enclosed areas presented here angered me no end.
In one scenario, which takes place on a beach front, Sam says “I hate swimming!”, so you have to walk along the beach and wait for the enemy scripts to kick in, and you have a bunch of unexciting encounters, with more Halo inspired little nasties which scuttle about with big shields, you know the ones I mean, but here they look like trolls sporting neanderthal style garb.
As this is a true console game, redundant elements include collecting gold coins which grant extra lives, meaning if you get snuffed out you can pick up play from the last checkpoint. As a save game feature has been added to this version, there is no real purpose for this convention here.
While Sam’s one-liners in the previous game were somewhat amusing, this time around most of his speech is reduced to things like “Spikes, I HATE spikes!”, or “Yes sir, I mean, ma’am” when talking to Netrisca, of whom now has a Tomb Raider accented voice and a visual icon when communicating to you. Moreover, while the jokes in Second Encounter were genuinely fun, they are just downright dumb in this game. John J Dick reprises his role for the voice of Sam Stone, but only puts a timid amount of effort into the voice overs, without the usual level of deep and gravely overtones, but who can honestly blame him with these absolute corking bad phrases to dish out.
During the game there will be vehicles like a ride-on dinosaur-like creature, (sort of like Yoshi from the Super Mario Bros games), which subsequently pushes the camera to a quasi overhead perspective when you have mounted this thing. Pressing attack causes the creature to spit out projectiles. But this doesn’t really manage to make for anymore fun than when you trounce the enemies in the orthodox fashion. There is also a big metallic rolling ball deals which you can get into, and it navigates by leaning all your body weight in the chosen direction as you run inside of it, and you can squish the nasties this way, which was admittedly very mildly entertaining, but a definitive far cry from fun.
As well as this, there are also mounted gun-turrets you can take control of, ride-in flying saucer-esque hovercraft vehicles, and more . . . but it’s all not as captivating as it sounds. The horrible design of this game just makes everything about the play feel irregularly sloppy and ultimately just simply dull as a consequence. It’s difficult to put into words how abominable this game is in practise.
The nasties in this game are so atrociously scripted, and you will often find them standing around completely stationary, and when you move into their view to trigger them, they will spin on a pivot, and then make their casual way into your gun fire. To say the enemies in this game serve as cannon fodder is an understatement in this case. After the technology was developed for this, there must not have been time to work game-play into the equation, that’s the only explanation I can think of.
What in essence defined the original Serious Sam was huge courtyard battle’s plethoric with hundreds upon hundreds of nasties, fast paced frenetic action, where ceasing shooting & strafing equaled instant death. Now here in this instance you take it like a Sunday stroll, and the enemies here might bother you like a buzzing of a mosquito, if you played with your eyes closed.
The Bottom Line
Before playing this game, I never thought I would end up writing such a negative review about it, but this outing managed to disappoint me in ways I thought were not imaginable. Even after the decidedly weak first impression, what with all of the passe fiddling with physics which seemed to be the chief draw-card of this outing, and then the horribly lacklustre action reared its ugly head and finally put the nails in the coffin for me.
I still stayed with this one for a few days, and thought it had to get better eventually. But the play just consistently maintained it’s hideously tiresome battles, and even if the game puts more enemies on the screen, the action even then still somehow felt boring and protracted, and the enemy AI seems to have been made completely and utterly stupid this time around, which renders play the epitome of tedium.
I normally stick it out to the end with a FPS, even if it is only average, but this one just pushed me too far. I can appreciate that Croteam perhaps wanted to try something a bit different, but this doesn’t feel at all like Serious Sam.
Serious Sam 2 tries to emulate all these different play facets from other games, but ends up not succeeding at doing anything well. This is not a good game at all, and I can’t find a reason to recommend it to any of you - shooter fans or otherwise.
With Serious Sam 3 in development at the time of writing, I hope the wrongs will be written, and Sam will get back to his original great form of proper run and gun mayhem in this coming installment. The ball is in your court, Croteam.