Review by Chimpyeinler

"Doom....evolved"

In the earlier part of the 1990s, Id Software released a game called Doom, which started a revolution in gaming by popularizing the first-person shooter. While Id's earlier Castle Wolfenstein 3D game may have been first in breaking in the genre, it was Doom which spread the FPS to the mass market. Doom's emphasis was on claustrophobic environments littered with gruesome, if brainless, enemies for the player to blow apart, with simplistic key/locked door puzzles to break up the monotony.

Unfortunately, the landscape became littered with Doom clones, as well as FPS games which tried to break free of Doom's simple conceit, but ultimately provided little more than ''Doom with hub worlds/backtracking puzzles''. Of course, some games, such as Duke Nuke'Em, tried to inject a sense of humor into the genre, but the gameplay and graphics seemed to be stuck in a rut nonetheless. Quake and its kin tried to up the stakes by using full 3D enemies, but as games like Hexen proved, it takes more than full 3D models to inject a sense of fun or wonder into a genre which had yet to get over its ''Wow! Geez! It's like you're inside the game because of the viewpoint!'' mentality. After all, one can only deal with endless series of medieval dungeons, rusty metal corridors, or space station observation decks so much, much less in every other game.

Around 1998 or so, however, the industry finally got around to merging the technology with some compelling games. Jedi Knight, Half-Life, Shogo and successive games, such as No One Lives Forever, merged set-pieces, AI, varied game play styles, and more interesting environments to create games that were actually engaging. Such things are now expected from FPS game designers, who run the risk of having the dreaded ''run of the mill FPS'' label placed on their games if they stick to the older-school flavor.

So imagine everyone's surprise when Croteam, hailing from Eastern Europe, put out a budget game for the PC, which went back to the most primal form of Doom-style game play....yet garnered fairly good reviews, as well as positive consumer reaction. They followed up the initial Serious Same game with a second installment, The Next Encounter, and finally combined both games for an Xbox port. So why does this game succeed, when so many Doom clones, for lack of a better word, suck?

For one thing, Serious Sam is pretty (at least for the Xbox), and just as importantly, knows that claustrophobia is overrated. The Serious Engine does seem to be a little on the blocky and simplistic side; however, all is forgiven when you are crossing a wide desert under a bright blue sky while an army of freaks runs at you from the distant horizon, or when you stare across the gorgeously green Valley of the Jaguar from the top of a titanic staircase. The Xbox version sports bump-mapping, and a great mix of both dark, indoor dungeons, and open, bright outdoor settings. Over the course of the game, you'll fight through dusty canyons, deserts, ancient Egyptian cities, lush Central American grasslands, green oasis spots, wintery vistas, lava-filled caverns, gravity-defying dungeons, Babylonian parkways, storm-filled European mountains, and apocalyptic plains, to name a few environments. While the first half of the game does overdo the Egyptian motif a bit too much, the game as a whole provides enough of an adventurous journey to keep the player at least somewhat interested.

Another reason why the game succeeds is that it has no pretensions of being anything other than ''kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out'' on a grand scale. Your enemies have almost no tactics; of course, when you have 50 enemies bum-rushing you at the same time, why would they need tactics? While there are bare-bones puzzles, they are obviously there for the sole reason of setting you up for an ambush by the game's bizarre monsters. The game knows its limitations, and embraces every cliche with a gleeful sense of humor. At one point, there's even a clever in-joke regarding Duke Nuke'Em Forever, which Serious Sam has stolen the thunder from already (thanks to DNF's endless series of delays).

And kill you will...with an arsenal including rockets, a tommy-gun, a flamethrower, lasers, and a chainsaw. The carnage is cartoonish, like the game as a whole. One of the best enemies is the suicide bomber, which attacks in packs while screaming. Unfortunately, all the violence comes at a price......repetition. Because the game relies on a formula, gameplay can get rather monotonous after extended periods of time. Croteam does throw in bizarre situations, such as places where gravity seems askew, but in the end, you'll need to realize that this game should be played in limited doses to avoid burning out on it. As long as you know that this game isn't the next coming of FPS gameplay, this game should last you a while. In addition, there is split-screen cooperative play for those who want the game to be just that much more like Halo.

Be forewarned, however- an initial pressing of this game was faulty due to the CD plant's incompetence. As a result, some copies out there have loading problems, and frequent stuttering (as opposed to the understandable occasional stutter resulting from the game's large environments and multiple enemies). That is a shame, because this game is an admirable evolution of Doom's basic concept, one which should have surfaced much earlier, but didn't due to technological limitations. In the end, I give this game a thumbs up- with the caveat that overplay may result in becoming burned out with the game due to its admittedly one-note gameplay model.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/11/04


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