Review by gatewalker

"A little too serious."

The first Serious Sam by Croteam for the Xbox was a treasure: lots of guns, lots of enemies, lots of shoot'n, and lots of kill'n. And you could have lots of your friends join you in play. Cheaply. Serious Sam was a lot of mindless fun for you and your friends to enjoy, as for Serious Sam II… not so much. It really is a bit more serious than the previous title, and that's not necessarily a good thing.

Croteam created a new graphics engine called ‘The Serious Engine 2' to run Serious Sam II. There are noticeable graphical improvements, but those improvements come at a cost. The split screen multiplayer is gone, and that is a big penalty for the game. More comments on that a little further down. There are several new modes of play introduced, including driving vehicles and firing turrets. The game also has a fairly well defined story (though a bit generic), backed up by cut scenes and triggered events that take place during the missions. The music is a step up from the previous game. The controls have been greatly changed. The respawn and save system have been completely redone, much to the detriment of the game.

Although there are technical improvements over the previous title, it is not a more enjoyable game.

To the vitals:

Story: This game includes a well defined story, and it is well presented through the use of movie cut scenes, and mission events that take place during play. The previous title did have a story, but it was told with very few pre-rendered movie sequences, and was largely explained by large swaths of mission text you had to read between missions. This game introduces an upgraded NETRICSA AI unit installed in your characters head. In the previous game, NETRICSA was basically just a status screen that showed you your current mission objectives, and kept track of all of your kills and discoveries. In this game, NETRICSA works like Cortana from Halo. Looks almost like her too. From time to time she pops up on your screen, comments on what you are doing, tells you what your current mission objectives are, and helps explain the story to you. You can still access a mission status screen like in the previous game.

The Tale: Long ago, the Sirians created a medallion that could weaken the galactic menace known as Mental, who is now threatening Earth. So they wisely broke this powerful artifact up into five parts and distributed them to five different worlds, where each part was promptly captured and hidden by Mental. In trying to correct their folly, the Sirian wizards enlists Serious Sam's aide in retrieving these various medallion pieces so they may be used to defeat Mental. Sounds almost like ‘The Legend of Zelda'. All you need to do is just replace the shattered triforce with a broken medallion, and swap the pig faced Ganon with an evil alien.

Gameworld and Level design: The levels you play in are very pretty. They are very complex compositions, mixing in many elements to give the play areas a very organic feel. The public beach looks and feels like a public. The forest looks and feels like a forest, and not just a bunch of random trees put there to impede your progress. The levels seem to be somewhat smaller than those in the first Serious Sam title. They also tunnel you where you need to a lot more often and don't leave a lot of area for you to explore. At least it's harder to get lost in this game.

Also, in a big difference from the previous game, each world you visit is inhabited by people actually not trying to kill you. You'll see alien men, women, and children running around. Sometimes they will help you in a fight, and sometimes you will have to defend them. Interactions with these people drive a lot of the mission story events.

Graphics: Graphics have been greatly improved. All of the objects that make up the gameworld are beautifully rendered. Water and sky all look real. However, because of the improvements to the game's graphic engine, Croteams claims it had to remove the slipt screen capability from the game. I wonder how Halo 2 and TimeSpiltters 3 manage to keep that feature…

Sound: The sound is greatly improved from the previous game. The music seems to have more to do with the theme of each stage rather than simply serving as background filler noise. The sound effects are pretty much unchanged. The enemy screams. Guns go boom. Much like before. The game also features quite a bit of voice acting. The lip syncing in the movie sequences is a bit spotty. Most of the dialog spoken is, well – is supposed to come off as funny, but usually sounds pretty corny (sorry, couldn't think of a better word). Sam has quite a few one liners that he delivers well, and the banter between him and NETRICSA is often amusing. Overall, the sound is an improvement over the previous game.

Multiplayer: Split screen multiplayer has been removed. Croteam claims that due to technical issues and the requirements of the Serious Engine II that split screen support was not possible. Four players can still go through the game in co-op mode. To do this you have to take the game online, or buy four copies of the game, get four TVs, and system link four Xbox systems together on a local network. For this reviewer, this is a major sticking point. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the previous game was being able to play through the whole thing with your friends, without much hassle or expense. Halo 2 was able to retain this feature with a much improved engine. So was TimeSpiltters 3. It is a real shame that the people behind Serious Sam II didn't feel they could too.

Gameplay: A lot of changes have been made to the controls, and to the save and respawn system.

In addition to the normal first person perspective (FPS) mode you play most of the game in, two new modes of play have been introduced. One of the new game modes allows you to control gun turrets. Often when you find these, you will have to defend a specific location for a certain period of time while you are attacked by massive waves of enemies. The other new mode allows you to control a wide variety of different crafts. From fire spitting dinosaurs and laser wielding hovercrafts, to giant spiked metal balls that you roll around in and crush enemies with, you'll find many entertaining things to drive around, ride, and destroy with.

Major changes have been made to the main first person perspective control interface. Both of the triggers now fire or activate your weapons. The jump button has been moved to an action button, and you can no longer assign weapon ‘hot keys'. You can interactive more with the environment. You have the ability to pick up items and move them like in Half Life 2. Sometimes you are required to do this to trigger pressure plates, or otherwise interact with other environmental constructs and objects in order to activate something.

The other major change made in the game (the one besides the removal of the split screen mode) is to the respawn and save system. The game saves your progress automatically as you move though the stages or as you complete certain events. There are no red telephone booth savepoints (or, at least I never found one). When you die, you start over from your last save position and the level resets regardless of how many lives you have left, much like the checkpoint system used in many similar FPS titles. In the previous game, if you had any lives left when you died Sam respawned right back into the middle of the action. This is such a major change in game play that this game should have been called something else. One primary difference with the Serious Sam franchise of FPS shooter games when compared to other games of the genre is that in Serious it is not uncommon for you to have to face a hundred on screen enemies at one time, with all of them shooting at you. This makes it very easy to die. In the previous game, you would charge head long into a mass of enemies, cut down what you could, earn enough points to gain one or more lives, eventually die, respawn, and start shooting again (if you had a life remaining). It was a lot of mindless fun. Now, you have to be a lot more careful when you play, and that removes a key element that made the first game so fun: mayhem with wild abandonment!

Overall, I'd have to say the game is entertaining. The improved graphics and sound are noticeable. The FPS control change is a little odd at first if you are used to the previous control method but nothing you won't get used to quickly. The new play modes are entertaining, but nothing new for the genre. The loss of split screen multiplayer is a real sore point. The changes to the respawn system are disappointing, and greatly change how you play.

I would suggest you rent this title before you buy. I eventually picked of three copies. While Serious Sam II had its moments, it never matched the magic of the first title.

Serious Sam II was a little too serious, and a while lot less fun.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/22/07


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