Written by: Stoo

Date posted: October 3, 2010

High in the mountain domain of the Mayans you find... this chicken legged cyborg thing.

Hello all and welcome to another look at an old shooter. Which is what you’re here for, right? First person shooters from around five to fifteen years ago are kind of a staple here. If you stumbled onto this site looking for comments on the latest Bioshock or Halo Reach or something then I’ve got some bad news for you… Although the first Halo is actually on my to-do list. Anyway I’m opening this one with a brief Q&A , that I think people might find helpful upon seeing the title.

Is This Serious Sam 2?
Nope, that was a completely different game released a few years later. Think of this as Sam 1, part 2.
What about the first encounter?
Basically the same thing with ancient Egypt-themed maps and a slightly smaller range of weapons and enemies. So probably of very similar merit (I’ve not played it).
I hear there’s a High Definition re-release out there?
Correct! The same game redone in a modern engine. If your PC is up to spec, and you’re willing to spend extra, I imagine there’s no reason not to choose it over the original. Here though we try to keep to a general “will it run on a clunky 5-year old box” rule.

So then, cast your mind back to the early years of this decade. This was a time when shooters were evolving away from the old Doom style model of just moving through a map gunning down a load of monsters. We had the emergence of more realistic soldier-simulations like Operation Flashpoint. A couple like Deus Ex became hybrids with aspects taken from role-playing games. Even “straight” shooters were moving towards more features, smarter AI and integrated, scripting-driven narratives, with Half Life very much at the forefront.

Serious Sam however happily disregards this. It’s not trying to be clever, or realistic, or feel authentic. The action stays firmly in the realm of the old-school. The one improvement does set out to make to that original formula, is simply to massively crank up scale on which it’s applied, taking advantage of the increases in 3D graphics power since the earlier generations. It brings us bigger battles, bigger maps and more explosions. It’s a festival of carnage, with you taking on wave after wave of monsters and grimly gunning them all down. And probably circle strafing a lot.

Die! Die! Die! Die! Die! Die! Die!

Our hero is Sam Stone, a pretty obvious derivative of Duke Nukem complete with muscles, guns and a gravelly voice (and thus a welcome inductee into our hall of macho heroes, see the left-hand menu). The plot meanwhile is… complete nonsense. Something about a war against an interstellar warlord called Mental. Sam got stuck in the past (Egypt) back in the First Encounter, and now he’s fighting his way through legions of Mental’s minions to reach portals back to the present. What this basically means is that the maps are based on three points in earth’s history: mesoamerica (e.g. Mayans), ancient Babylon and medieval Europe. Your enemies however are a host of outlandish looking aliens, cyborgs and mutants.

So then token story, mishmash of themes. But then SS really isn’t taking itself too, er, seriously in this regard. It’s all quite a cartoony and absurd affair, keeping a sense of humour throughout. Don’t try and think too hard why you’re fighting a pumpkin-headed mutant in Babylon, just dodge his chainsaw, fill him with lead and then enjoy Sam’s one-liners. “Didn’t I kick your ass 2 rooms ago?”. Which is all find by me. Of course I like my gloomy moody games too, or earnestly grim ones, but sometimes it’s great to just have some happily ridiculous blasting fun.

Stepping forward into the first map, you’ll find it’s all dated but still quite attractive; bold, colourful and warm in tone. Jungle areas are deep green and lush, temple interiors are richly decorated. There’s not much in the way of locations that look like they have a purpose, more like a lot of square rooms and corridors but at least they’re spacious and rendered in a pretty manner. There are also some huge outdoor maps with wide open spaces, perfect for a lengthy shootout. To be fair they tend to be pretty flat in layout, but still there are visually impressive moments. One of the best has you emerging blinking in the sunlight, after a lengthy segment of tunnels, into a huge mountain valley. Oh and those blue and red blobs in the distance? Things coming to kill you, you have about thirty seconds before they’re in range.

Later maps give you some sprawling temple complexes, with features like pyramids and the tower of babel. A nice touch is how over success maps within each overarching zone, you progress later in the day. So you get maps bathed in quite a soothing evening glow. Or rather, soothing apart from the skeletons trying to chew your legs off.

So yeah, time to stop admiring the scenery and prepare yourself for those awesome battles. I mentioned the open maps; the other key feature through which SS stands out is that at any given time you could be up against several dozen enemies. Considering how in shooters we might usually face up to four or five at a time, that’s pretty impressive. I mean I recall Doom did loads of enemies sometimes, but not so much the first true-3D ones like Quake. There’s certainly an extra sense of thrill when you realise there’s a whole damn platoon of enemies coming at you, a moment of “oh, christ” before as you steel yourself. Unfortunately I really didn’t manage to capture the scale of enemy attacks in the screenshots!

aaaaaaaaaaaaBLAM

Anyway you have rocket-launching cyber-mech things, and smaller cousins with lasers. Lots of weak footsoldiers between them to soak up fire. Then there are nasties that try and get up close – bull-esque things and the goddamn skeletons (you’ll end up hearing their hooves in your sleep). Most amusing of all are the suicide bombers. By which I mean a guy with no head yet still yelling, and a bomb in each hand. AI is pretty minimal all-round – advance on you and shoot, or charge headlong.

Now as long as you have room to maneuver, it seems containable. Especially as your weapons all appear to have perfect accuracy – in fact on a few occasions I stumbled across tough baddies by themselves and took them out from long range with the infinite-ammo starting pistols. However sooner or later you’ll find your back is against a wall. Or the melee-types finally reach you. Then all hell breaks loose and it’s pretty much time to punch the panic button, as the mangled alien bodies pile up and you fight desperately to keep the next lot off you.

The weapon selection is pretty well tuned for the experience. Sniper rifle to bang down as many as possible when you have the luxury of range. Machinegun and minigun for mid-range work. Rockets for clumps of them at a safe distance. Flamethrower and shotgun for up close and personal. Most silly and fun of the lot is a huge old-fashioned cannon, firing over-sized cannonballs that will actually smash through several weaker monsters and keep going before a final boom.

So there’s some great, frantic action here that will have you roaring in triumph, screaming and gesticulating and yelling all sorts of inappropriate language. (then feeling like a bit of a tit but hey, that’s gaming). On one map near the end I found myself running backwards for half its length (hilarious Sam commented out loud on this specific fact), firing continuously, trying to fend off yet another wave. Sometimes it tips into too crazy, especially with indoor fights where you haven nowhere to run and enemies are just blatantly spawned right on top of you. I know there’s no way I could finish on hard without cheating. But that’s why idiots like me are provided with “medium” or “wuss” settings.

Oh and there’s a great soundtrack. Most of the pieces suit the settings – well, I’ve no idea what Babylonian music was like, and I’m not sure anyone does, but it feels thematically suitable at least. There’s a “quiet” and “action!” version of each, although don’t expect to hear the former much. Meanwhile for boss fights it just goes for all out RAWK, with epic riffs letting rip, perfect for getting the blood pounding. Go ahead and yell WARRRRRRR alongside Sam. It’s okay, I did too.

At times like this the flamethrower is your best friend.

And, well, that’s about it. Lots and lots of blasting. There are scant few puzzles of any sort to tax your brain. No story progression to consider beyond Sam’s relentless progress towards Mental. Certainly no wimpy features like crouching behind cover or leaning. Real men run out in the open! You survive one hectic encounter, get a breather for powerups, then the scenery funnels you towards the next. Rinse and repeat.

To be sure, I am glad shooters have become more clever than this. Ultimately games like Half Life provide a more comprehensively engaging experience, and I don’t feel any need for the genre as a whole to go “back to basics”. I noticed on mobygames a few reviews called this “unpretentious” and indeed is but… that’s sort of implying other games are pretentious in trying to accomplish more than run-and-gun, which is rather unfair. What’s more, to be honest for all my enthusing about MORE EXPLOSIONS, it can get a bit repetitive.

That said, back-to-basics still has its place, and I had a hell of a lot of fun here. Sometimes, all you want is to blow off steam at the end of the week, reveling in a huge battle against improbable odds. So think of this as a great change of pace, something to play in between sessions of more “grownup” action titles. Grab a beer, open fire, and blast an evening away.