Written by: RT

Date posted: January 15, 2015

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In general the game doesn’t look too shabby.

First of all, I’d like to thank Rik and Stoo for the opportunity to do this guest review and for FFG as a whole. Well then, let’s get down to business.

When I first launched the game and watched the intro, I was wondering what the heck am I looking at. Serious Sam, while having a lot of humour in form of Sam’s one-liners, has remained more or less, well, serious, throughout both of its halves, (or Encounters as they are called). In Serious Sam 2, however, the art style was drastically changed into a cartoonier one and the story was turned into an outright comedy. And while such a transition could work (look no further than the Saints Row series which went from a GTA clone both gameplay and story-wise to a wacky comedy sci-fi romp), here it didn’t, partially because most of the humour is painfully unfunny. Why did they make such a drastic change? Well, let’s go back to the past.

The first game was released on PC in 2001 and 2002 in form of Serious Sam: The First Encounter (currently not covered on FFG) and Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (reviewed by Stoo here). It was well received by the old school FPS crowd for fast and exciting gameplay, lots and lots of enemies and the main character’s habit of churning out one-liners, reminiscent of good old days of Duke Nukem. A sequel was a no-brainer. Then thing slowly went downhill. First, the game was ported to Xbox with some changes – and while the obvious ones like new weapon models and smaller levels could be understood, there were some others, like a complete redesign for Sam and the inclusion of comedic cutscenes between levels were rather questionable. The PC players never saw these changes and were unprepared for what happened to Sam 2, which was developed for both PC and Xbox.

If you’re the sort of strange person who cares about story in old school FPSes (I know I am and I’m still wondering whether Doomguy’s real name is Flynn Taggart or Stan Blazkowicz), then here’s a quick recap: in the end of The Second Encounter after finding a new spaceship in medieval times, Sam was flying to Sirius to deal with Mental (the series’ Big Bad). Everybody got that? Good, now forget it. Here the story starts with three ugly as sin alien things watching the footage of Xbox version of Sam 1 and discussing how Sam is the only one who can save the universe, since “that blond guy is taking forever” (don’t worry, that’s only one of trillions of jabs at Duke Nuke Forever’s infamous development time) and then teleporting Sam and explaining to him, that to defeat Mental Sam must find five fragments of a medallion and unite them. The fragments are stored on five different alien worlds under Mental’s contr- z-z-z-z-z…

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It’s funny because bunnies! Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Oh! Sorry, I think I’ve fallen asleep, this plot was so generic I don’t understand why they devote so much time to explaining it. Actually, putting it in a text blurb like in the first game would help matters. Then again, we wouldn’t have those hi-larious jokes, wouldn’t we? [Get on with it already! – FFG reader]. Well anyway.. After explaining Generic Collect-Pieces-Of-Macguffin plot to Sam, they teleport him to the first world. The cutscene itself, by the way, is prerendered, but with the in-game models, a kind of cutscene I personally despise for both looking ugly (not as ugly as early 90s CGI cutscenes, but it’s a close second) AND being all stretchy on modern displays.

Despite the art style changes and the hideous cutscenes, the game itself looks rather pleasing, with some pretty models and textures and nice effects. While there are some hiccups with third person animations whenever Sam picks up something, it just floats before him, which might have been okay in Half-Life 2, but only because in that there was no third-person mode. Really, all animations look kinda bad in third-person mode and it makes me wonder why they put it in there in the first place (although to be perfectly honest, this kinda applies to the first game as well), I’d still say that the graphics in the game are pretty good and can still be pleasant to look at ten years after release.

However, the HUD suffers a severe case of consolitis: everything is big and uninformative. Remember the detailed descriptions of enemies and weapons and long briefings from NETRICSA, Sam’s head-implanted AI? Forget them, since all NETRICSA 2.0 can offer is a brief description of your current mission. 2.0 indeed. Oh, but now she can talk – and you can see her portrait when she talks – she looks like a blue-skinned lady, no doubt a parody of Cortana from the Halo series, a reference that surely will be understood by all PC gamers. Does she ever appear as a hologram? Nope, all you’ll see is her portrait. Do they do any jabs at Halo with her? Not really. The pointlessness of the whole situation is rather riveting.

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But what about her inner beauty?

“But that’s all nonsense”, you say, “After all, we’re here not for lame jokes, we’re here to shoot monsters, tell us about the gameplay already!”. Alright. The gameplay… is not very good. In part it’s because of the guns. And it’s not because the weapon selection has been made worse – it wasn’t, there are a lot of weapons to play with. The problem is that the gunplay just feels lame. I don’t know whether the sound assets are to blame or animations or the monsters’ reaction, but the gunplay doesn’t feel as satisfying as it did in the first game. Yeah, you get to shoot UZIs akimbo, but if it doesn’t feel good, what’s the point?

Another problem with the gameplay is that the levels were made shorter and smaller, again, thanks to the consoles. And there aren’t as many enemies to shoot as well. The enemies themselves were either redesigned to be sillier or were replaced by cartoony counterparts. So defeating most of them doesn’t feel any good – would you rather shoot a huge monstrous bull or a giant clockwork rhino? Would you rather fight a bunch of screaming headless zombies who run at you bombs in hands or a bunch of clowns on unicycles with exploding pies in hands (I know that the headless kamikaze IS in Serious Sam 2, but the clowns serve the same function and are much more numerous). There are some additions like the pointless extra life system (in a game in which you can, you know, quicksave. And no, loading a save doesn’t take away a life, you’ll get all your lives you had when you saved), the turret sections and the vehicle sections (which are the just about the only thing in this game I remember fondly). The pacing on most of the levels doesn’t feel satisfying and the bosses are just a joke. I didn’t play much of the multiplayer because of the horrid and laggy netcode.

All of it is rather sad, because from time to time you get to see a glimpse of a much better game shining through this all. The Kleer redesign was pretty good and even carried over into Serious Sam HD and most of the Sirius levels were actually pretty fun and on par with some of the levels from the first game. Some of the music was pretty catchy. There are a couple of actually funny jokes and overall you feel that this game could have been much better. Who’s to blame here? Did Croteam take the wrong direction with the game? Or was it the publisher? I don’t know (although the rather late Steam release suggests the latter). What I do know, is that Serious Sam 2 was a big disappointment and failed to both satisfy old fans and create new. Is it a bad game? Eh… Not really. It’s just underwhelmingly mediocre, which might be even worse than being bad.

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One of the more exciting moments of the game.

Did the series recover? Yes, yes it did. Five years later, in 2009, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter was released, followed by Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter in 2010. They were straight up remakes on a new engine and with new models and textures and were rather well received. In 2011 Serious Sam 3: BFE was released, which was a complete opposite of Serious Sam 2, being a prequel to the first game and featuring much more realistic art style, while still maintaining the old school gameplay. More importantly, both Serious Sam HD and Serious Sam 3 were made for PC first and only later ported to consoles and thus didn’t have to make any compromises. Serious Sam 4 is in development as of writing of this article and I trust Croteam to not repeat mistakes of 2.

Well, that’s it, thank you for reading and again, thanks to Rik and Stoo for the opportunity to contribute to FFG. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it [dream on, wacko! – FFG reader]. RT out.