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16 Comments

Serious Sam: The First Encounter Review

3
  • PC
  • XBGS

You'll be hard-pressed to find a purer, more panic-inducing FPS experience than Serious Sam.

 AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH

When it was originally released, Serious Sam was a throwback to an era and a style of game that never really existed, but should've. Intended as a response to the increasing complexity and sophistication of first-person shooters, Serious Sam took the lean, tense corridor-crawling and overwhelming monster encounters that defined early first-person shooters like Doom, sped it up, and turned up the crazy. It made for an experience that suggested what all first-person shooters would be like if the genre had grown up in arcades instead of on the PC.
 
Now the mad eastern bloc scientists at Croteam have used their latest technology to remake Serious Sam: The First Encounter. Despite a higher resolution, cleaner textures, and better particle effects, the experience is, for all intents and purposes, unchanged. The passage of time makes it feel even more like an alternate history throwback than it did originally, but the relentless gameplay philosophy is just as singular and exhilarating as it was nearly a decade ago.
 
As a response to more, uh, serious games like Half-Life and System Shock, there's a lot about Serious Sam that is intentionally very stupid, not least of which is the fiction. I'm not even going to explain it here, partially because it's not really relevant, and partially because I do not believe that even the developers at Croteam want you to care about backstory or character motivation. Their primary concerns are very apparently shooting and monsters, so all you really need to know is you're a dude that shoots monsters. Also, you're in Egypt, kinda? Or at least an Egyptian-themed level in a videogame.
 
The setting seems designed specifically to remind you that you're playing a video game. The same thing goes for your weapon selection, which includes a grab-bag of six-shooters, shotguns, tommy guns, rocket launchers, and some exotic high-end firearms. While the weapons are archetypal, the monsters you face seem like they were each plucked from other, wildly different games. They're consistently absurd, though the headless screaming suicide bomber with big black Snidely Whiplash bombs instead of hands remains the gold standard for awesomely ridiculous character design in this and all other games.
 
Structurally, Serious Sam couldn't be more straightforward. It's a long string of corridors and open arenas that fill up with monsters that you have to murder before you can move on to the next area. There is, on a very rare occasion, a button to press or some item to collect before you can progress, but the genius of Serious Sam lies in the quality of the shooting and the quantity of the monsters. Individually, most of the monsters in Serious Sam are extremely manageable, but you're almost never pitted against just one enemy, or even one type of enemy. I'd say that different enemies and different combinations of enemies can require different strategies for success, but honestly, everything just moves so fast that there's no time for you to formulate strategies. No, situational awareness--a factor that hinges largely on the game's distinctive sound design--and the ability to circle-strafe backwards are the most significant keys to success in Serious Sam.
 

 Just another typical day for Sam "Serious" Stone.

And yet, no matter how good you are at dodging and shooting hordes of enemies, there's an underlying spite to the way Serious Sam is designed that will constantly keep you on the ropes. Monsters will always spawn at the most inopportune time, and if you see a big pile of health, armor, and ammo sitting all unassuming in the middle of a room, you can bet that you're going to be knee-deep in machine-gun-wielding scorpion guys and hairy cyclops monsters as soon as you approach it. There's some checkpointing, but the game's quick-save feature puts that responsibility primarily in the player's hand. It's telling that, in the Xbox Live Arcade version, the quick-save feature is mapped to the Y button by default for easy access. Obviously the PC version, with full mouse and keyboard support, is the ideal way to play Serious Sam HD, but the game still moves plenty fast on the 360, and an appropriate amount of auto-aiming assistance keeps the gamepad from being a significant liability.
 
I've got a whole lot of admiration for Serious Sam, yet it's a game that I enjoy in concept more than I do in practice. I love the deliberate left-field designs of the monsters, and there's a purity to the way it approaches first-person shooting action that I wouldn't want to change, yet the game is so brutally intense that my frayed nerves and trembling hands can only handle it in half-hour chunks at most. Maybe that's Serious Sam's fault, or maybe I'm just not serious enough.

16 Comments
Posted by Milkman

I could never play a Serious Sam game without wanting to vomit afterward.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Well, that really makes my upcoming blog look puny. I liked the game for its frantic feel. Sure, it was frustrating as hell, but there was a nice satisfaction to be had in it. Underneath it all, it rewarded skill in deathly dance and holding down the right trigger. So, yes, you aren't serious enough. (The irony is that your review is far more serious than mine.)

Posted by FellOpenIan

Serious Sam HD: TFE is poorly optimized on both the PC and the 360. I still really enjoy the game on both platforms as I do the original versions on the PC and the original Xbox but even after a few patches the framerate remains inconsistent at best. The PC version's issues can even be made mysteriously worse by lowering the graphical settings which makes absolutely no sense.
 
This new version is by no means a stinker but without further patching and optimization I do find it hard to recommend to non-fans. (and that's coming from someone who has double-dipped twice between the original and HD versions)

Posted by NathHaw

You know, Ryan may have chosen three stars just so he could pose like the suicide bombers.

Posted by Hamst3r

I am currently up to the last level of Serious Sam HD. It's definitely wearing on me. Everything in that game is clearly done to aggravate the shit out of the player. I feel like I'm somewhat in on the joke though, so it's funny too. Maybe a bit more frustrating than funny, but I'm enjoying myself nonetheless. I'm surprised that Serious Sam doesn't have any traps that fling me into walls at high velocity.

Online
Posted by Creamypies

I'm still a little on the fence on whether to buy this or not... the co-op mode sure sounds enticing though.

Posted by r0k1ll

The game is awesomely mediocre now. I just realised this game out a decade ago.

Posted by TheIneffableBob

The game was on sale recently for like $6.

Posted by bybeach

I thought it a good game when it first came out years ago, I played it on PC. But it was the Second Encounter that impressed me in graphics,well art style at least. And again, PC was the way to go.  
 
For a while in the second Encounter, the story itself coalesced, because Serious sam was after all in a very  serious situation. Humanity was at stake,and as his lady computer friend stated  so elequently, these creatures did not exist within the grace of god. It was an epic all-out struggle for survival. This, among the other rather decent quips Sam would spout off. i`ll never forget how I figuered out taking down what must have been a thousand enemies in the end. Gotta play the angles.   And through both games, do not forget about the sniper rifle... 

 Unfortunatly, serious Sam 2 kinda suked...heh
Posted by DiGiTaL_SiN

This game is still alot of fun! I launch it on my laptop every now and then to play a level or two just to kill time or, you know, induce some panic in me.

Edited by atomic_dumpling
@bybeach said:

Unfortunatly, serious Sam 2 kinda suked...heh "

I agree. The weapons severely lack punch and the inclusion of stupid vehicles didn't help either. Whenever I try to play it, I give up three or four levels in because it's so goddamn boring. Probably the most superficial game in my PC collection.
Posted by Doogie2K

I loved the shit out of the original game when it came out in 2001 or 2002 or whenever that was.  Still, I'm going to wait on this until The Second Encounter comes out and I can buy them together, like I did last time.  Plus, TSE has much more colour in its environments: regardless of how starkly bright the game is in the outdoors, it's still primarily based on the "sand" colour palette, and however high your definitions are, that's boring to look at.

Edited by lockwoodx

The Serious Sam games were a tech demo and not really a game. Appreciate it for what it is.

Posted by Jimbo

Serious Sam 2 is even less tolerable.  It's like playing a migraine.

Posted by Ignor

Ha! Sissies.

Posted by SeriousPain

The less you think while playing, the more chaotic the game feels, the more tactical you are the more organized the game will feel, thats the difference between Serious Sam and Painkiller.

People used to think that 'serious' fps, something that isn't brainless, is something like System Shock, Deus Ex, Half Life, but those games aren't that great because of the shooting, they're great and not stupid because of other elements, the only shooters that are all about the shooting and not brainless are tactical military shooters, so when people come to this FPS about running and shooting monsters everyone thinks its gonna be just a brainless shooter, Ive seen people not even trying to really think while in action, and then end up claiming it's too chaotic, it's like playing a migraine.