Outnumbered but never outgunned
Are you bored of modern shooters and their emphasis on the latest high-tech weaponry, Middle-Eastern conflicts; the brutality of war and plot twists you can see coming from a mile away? Well, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter might just be the game for you. There’s no story, no characters to care about and most certainly nothing that could be considered sophisticated. The emphasis is purely on shooting as many things as possible with as much absurd weaponry as Sam “Serious” Stone can handle.
It hails from the run-really-fast-backwards-whilst-shooting school of game design. A throwback to classic first-person shooters like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D; only the craziness has been turned to 11 and the tight corridors have progressed to vast, open spaces crammed full of respawing enemies. The foes Sam will come up against have no other attack pattern other than to shoot you, charge at you, or both. Their character designs are completely nonsensical, from screaming suicide bombers with no heads to six-armed monsters and giant scorpion-men equipped with mini-guns – there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. As a result, gameplay is consistently hectic and nerve-wracking as enemies jump at you from all angles as you make a desperate dash for that last health vile. The amount of wacky foes Serious Sam HD can throw at you at any one time is staggering, although this does lead to some slowdown in the latter stages when the character count must be near the hundreds.
Of course, if you want to survive against such mind-numbing odds you’re going to need a hefty arsenal of weaponry. Sam’s come prepared with myriad shotguns, rocket launchers and machine guns as well as some more explosive firepower, like a handy laser gun and a cannon that fires giant cannonballs. Shooting is satisfying with enemies exploding into red paste upon death, and the controls feel tight and intuitive despite the jump from mouse and keyboard to controller. The level design is nothing to write home about, often locking you in an area and spawning enemies until you’ve defeated them all. Their basic attack patterns and your constant need to run backwards and fire eventually get tedious, despite the games short playtime. It’s still fun, but the frenetic pace and monotonous shooting is rather tiring, especially when you’re killing the same character types over and over again. You can draft in three friends for co-op but this strains the frame rate even further, and the competitive multiplayer options from the PC version have been removed here.
The new and improved HD visuals don’t add all that much to the original 2001 game. Weapon details are improved and everything has a nice new sheen to it, but a lot of the textures are still fairly poor with shadows often flickering in and out. On the sound side Sam’s plethora of cheesy one-liners are hilariously good, and the heavy metal soundtrack is as enjoyable as ever if that’s your thing. Its the sound effects that come out on top, though. A lot of the enemy noises are essential to knowing where they are and what kind of foe you’re up against. It’s surprising for a game like this to place such a big emphasis on sound when it comes to gameplay, but it works fantastically well.
In the end, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter doesn’t warrant its 1200MP price point. There aren’t enough new features to cater fans of the series and the gameplay just doesn’t hold up for newcomers. It can still be a lot of fun, with large scale battles against multiple foes being a highlight, but the old school game design is showing its age, if it was even relevant to begin with. There just isn’t enough variety in the locations, enemies and basic gameplay to really recommend it.