Game: Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter
Reviewed: May 2014
Do you ever wish that developers would stop messing around with stories and immersive game worlds and just take the FPS back to its roots of pure action, shooting massive hordes of enemies? No, me neither. Still, Serious Sam had that goal back in 2001 and managed to take me completely by surprise by being thoroughly enjoyable. Eight years later it was given an updated engine and some fancier graphics and released again. Fundamentally it’s the same game, but does it still hold up? I don’t know, I guess I’d better play it and find out…
While Serious Sam was taking the FPS genre back to basics, it didn’t just recreate the old games but instead refined the formula. Aided by an engine that was capable of throwing hundreds of enemies at you simultaneously, it scaled everything up to insane proportions, and did it with a sense of humour. What it managed to do, and something that a lot of other throwback games fail at, was to make the shooting satisfying. There’s a decent variety of enemy types in the game and each one of them needs a different tactic if you’re going to survive for any length of time. The skeletal Kleers can be blasted to pieces quickly before they reach you, while the Sirian Werebulls will charge you and will mostly need to be dodged before you can get out the killing shot. Aside from the variety of methods needed for survival though, the combat just feels right. That’s not to say it’s realistic; weapons never need reloading and guns stay remarkably accurate at very long ranges, though the damage cause does tail off when they get into the distance. Realism isn’t the point though, instead, it’s fun. The Kleer collapse into a pile of bones in a satisfying way when you blast them with a shotgun, and taking out swarms of Scythian Witch-Harpies from a distance with a Tommy Gun makes you feel powerful. And then there’s the kamikazes. These headless bodies run towards you holding a bomb in each hand and explode if they reach you. They’re extremely easy to kill, except you’re often confronted with hordes of hundreds of them at once, all charging towards you screaming with one of the most distinctive sound effects in gaming. You’ll often hear them coming before you see them and the sound instantly puts you on your guard. And in terms of weapons, alongside the usual assortment of guns you end up carrying round an entire cannon which can blast through enemies. It’s one of the most fun weapons in an FPS game. The game also has a fondness for trapping you, and you can be sure whenever you see a large group of ammo and health pickups that as soon as you pick them up you’re going to trigger some sort of ambush.
So that was the original Serious Sam. The HD remake is… well… pretty much the same game, just with improved graphics. The graphics are certainly better than they were in the original game, though it’s no good going into this expecting another Crysis. They’re still fairly basic, with the emphasis being on making sure the game can still cope with masses on enemies. All the features of the original game seem to have been transferred well. The game loads up extremely quickly and setting up or connecting to a server for a multiplayer game is quick and easy and all sorted in seconds. It’s not perfect though. At one point while playing in co-operative mode, we unlocked the door to proceed to the next area, but it randomly closed again after a couple of minutes before we’d gone through and we were left locked in a room with no way to proceed. Also, if playing through the campaign in co-op mode, it doesn’t show any cutscenes, which means that when you reach the end of the game and kill the final boss it just cuts back to the menu. Otherwise, the co-operative mode makes the game more fun to play. In single player you can save the game wherever you like, but in co-op mode you can’t, but instead you respawn. The difficulty settings are customisable for this, so you can choose to have infinite respawns or if you’re insane you can limit yourself.
The game is still fun, though it is fairly short. In single player at higher difficulties it will last quite some time despite this, thanks to the sheer quantity of enemies and the fact that you will die hundreds of times. There’s a good variety of character models to choose from in multiplayer and alongside the co-operative play there’s also a deathmatch mode too. It also carries the sense of humour over to other aspects of the game too, such as offering different gore settings including a kids setting where enemies collapse in a shower of stars and sweets. Unlike those stars, the game has lost some of its sparkle in the intervening years however. It’s still good, but it’s not quite the breath of fresh air it was at the time, not least because we’ve had other Sam games since then, and this one doesn’t really do anything it didn’t do in the original version. It’s fun, but it’s arguable whether it’s worth upgrading if you already have the original game. For anyone new to the series though, it’s worth a play.
Arbitrary Final Score:
If you like this, you might also like: Other Serious Sam games, Painkiller, Duke Nukem games (but not Duke Nukem Forever, never that!)
Is Sam a Serious contender or is the game a Kleer failure? Let us know what you think in the forum!