Review by Gruel

"I can hear them calling in the real world."

Remember the early days of the first person shooter genres? I am talking about the 1993-1996 era with hits like Doom, Wolfenstein, and Duke Nukem to name a few. Those were the good old days when shooters were tolerable from just throwing a million zombies at your face and you would just run wild through the level tearing it apart with your arsenal of weapons.

Then along came Goldeneye.Gamers no longer were settled with the typical frag-fest FPS slapped on with a blasé story. Deeper storylines and more objective-based levels were the new standard for the FPS. Countless games followed Goldeneye’s style and for several years it seemed that this was the way things were going to be.

Things changed again in 2001, when upstart Asian developer CroTeam released Serious Sam: The First Encounter with little to no fanfare. It brought back the rush ‘n gun FPS days of old with its own unique style of action and humor. It garnered acclaim from the media and even won a few game of the year awards to boot. CroTeam released a sequel a year later ingeniously dubbed “The Second Encounter” that expanded on the original’s game play, but managed to make it perform much better. The X-Box gets the best of both worlds as Gotham Games combined both games and slapped on a few extras as well.

The story for Serious Sam may appear like a carbon-copy of most of the earlier shooters with the “defeat the evil alien race” concept in tact, but it has a bit more depth then you would be lead to believe. It all starts off with an ancient-yet-technologically advanced alien race from the past resurfacing in the future and invading the galaxy and conquering all the planets in the solar system. Earth is the sole survivor, which is battling with as much as force as possible to stay alive. A hero is recognized by the name of Sam “Serious” Stone for his heroic efforts on the battlefront. With Earth on the verge of defeat they elect Sam to travel back in time and to exterminate the alien race from where they originated from on his own.

Serious Sam utilizes a control scheme reminiscent to Halo, so everyone should adapt to them with no problems. Yes, auto-aim is here and it helps a lot when engaged in the gigantic confrontations. For the nitpicky at heart, there are several different control schemes to choose from or you can customize your own. Sam has a microcomputer implanted in his head called “NETRISCA” that identifies all the weapons and foes you encounter, and even lists their strengths and weaknesses for us.

When I played Serious Sam for my first time it appeared like the average shooter at first glance. However, minutes in I realized that I was completely wrong. All those objective-based missions that we were grown accustomed to such as rescuing hostages and activating power cores are thrown out the window. Hell, I don’t even have to do that cumbersome backtracking like I did numerous times before if I missed a key or overlooked an objective. The goals are simple enough as it is, make it through the level, and blast as many of those damn aliens as possible. For the people whining about the lack of depth, extra hidden treasures and secrets are scattered throughout the levels and the humorous and rewarding events they unleash are worth the time looking for.

The enemies that we encounter are another thing that separates Serious Sam from the rest of the pack. They rushed at me in huge numbers that I was hard pressed to believe that the game engine could handle so many characters on screen. The frame rate occasionally staggers, and also skips whenever enemies re-spawn. This got on my nerves for a while but I got use it in time. Computer AI in most other FPS’s is usually getting smarter by the day with enemies crouching out of your fire and working strategies up against you. Serious Sam opt for the more traditional approach by having damn near 20+ foes spawning from all directions. They scared the hell out of me as I was blasting them from one direction and I turned around to see another one standing directly in front of me. One unit in particular is a headless kamikaze that will run directly at you screaming and will explode once he comes in contact with you. Imagine having five of those dudes after you and fifteen other units blasting away at us simultaneously. Things couldn’t have been as much fun.

Serious Sam will prepare us for most of these humongous skirmishes by prepping us with a room filled with dozens of health and ammo pick-ups right before you engage in battle. There is an impressive roster of weapons that range from the usual dual revolvers and shotguns to rocket and cannonball launchers. I don’t blame you for thinking that doing these battles throughout all of the 36 stages that make up Serious Sam would get tedious. The developer kept this in mind, and the latter stages that are from “The Second Encounter” will throw in so many factors and obstacles in your way which are too good to give away that keeps the experience fresh through and through.

There are a few extra modes of play aside from the single player in Serious Sam. There is a well packaged co-op mode that lets us choose from one of several weird characters such as Santa Sam and Serious Sammy. That extra help in co-op comes in hand a lot when faced upon with the seeming infinite amount of monsters you are faced with. There’s also a solid versus mode. Up to four people can duke it out in split screen death-match, or up to a total of sixteen in system link play with up to four X-Box consoles linked together.

The 3D environments that make up Serious Sam are graphically pleasing. At first glance I was not impressed much with the scenery, but when I took that extra moment to admire the structures was when I proved myself wrong. It was probably from rushing through to complete the levels that made me miss out on all the good stuff. The lighting effects are magnificent which will have statues sport shadows and fountains reflect light into a room.

The character models for the enemies are a mixed a bag. Some of them are fairly simple, while others have more mesmerizing looks such as the beheaded kamikazes and the gigantic serpents with an attached mini-gun. They spew out drastic amounts of gore as you pump rounds of lead into them. Interestingly, there is an option to change the color of the blood from “red” to “hippie” which will have the blood replaced with flowers pouring out of the monsters. The X-Box version of Serious Sam has exclusive cut scenes. They are not anything too special, but it is a nice addition. As I mentioned above, all the enemies on screen at once will make the frame rate suffer here and there. Also the load times are a bit on the lengthy side.

The audio is another polished department. The sound effects for your gunfire are unique to each weapon, and all the enemies have a unique sound for them so you know what you’re in for. With enemies literally surrounding you from all directions it pays to have a surround sound system to listen where they’re coming from. The music flows much like it does in Halo, where there is nothing going on while exploring empty corridors, then the riffs kick in when you engage in battle. The guitar tunes are great, and there’s a good variety of them so you won’t hear them every level. It is also worth noting Sam’s catchy one-liners where he’ll mutter humorous phrases at his foes as he vanquishes them, or reference other similar themed areas such as whistling the Indiana Jones theme in the early Egyptian levels.

The 36 stages will keep you plugging away at Serious Sam for a while. The co-op mode is another reason to play through this adventure one more time. The death-match multi player is fun when you got the right amount of friends playing with you. Too bad there wasn’t an option to add any AI bots. A few more multi player modes would’ve been appreciated, the all-too-common Capture the Flag, Tag, and King of the Hill options are nowhere to be found. Serious Sam is System Link compatible, but not with X-Box Live which is a big minus.

RATINGS

Graphics: 8.3
Sound: 9.2
Game play: 8.8
Replay Value: 7.5

Overall: 8.4

Serious Sam is a breath of fresh air for today’s first person shooters. The classic game play is addicting as ever, and it has a few good extra modes that are well worth your time. A few more options would have completed the package, but what it is here is good enough for any gamer and is recommended in your X-Box collection!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/10/03, Updated 03/10/03


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