Review by AutoRock

"Alt: Hilarious Harry / Laughable Leonard / Ridiculous Roger / Farcical Frank"

If a shooter's DNA is in its enemies, then The First Encounter is an impossible monstrosity, all bones and steel and slime, standing ten stories high. Dumb and furious, it hurls anything it can and charges, unconcerned for itself. Why should it be? If it goes down, a million more will follow...

It's extremely easy to label Croteam's Serious Sam a lazy Doom throwback, especially seeing as how the game practically invites those comparisons. It's free of story, first of person, and bad of ass; even before you've cleared the first of 15 Egypt-themed stages, you can almost see the monsters before they warp in. Every health pack and ammo crate is eyed with a lazy suspicion, the resulting spawning ambushes more embarrassing than shocking.

The game doesn't really deserve such dismissal, however, not least because the hellbeasts causing the aggro here would tear a variety of new anuses in Doom's worst. Where the Doom marine fought gangs of idle, half-hearted foes, Sam faces teeming armies of undead horses and steaming bulls and towering robots, coming at you in their hundreds. Their spawning patterns may be predictable and their AI easily outwitted, but there's just so God damned many of them - coming in waves, drip-feeds, or often just all at the OH-GOD once - that every battle inevitably rages past the duck-and-cover territory of most FPS' and up to the back-running circle-strafing edge.

Cleverly, every enemy makes a very distinctive sound in combat, and they're deployed in such a way that you often hear them before you see them - handy when holding back the hordes leaves you too busy to survey the conflict. Skeletal hoofsteps and zombie moooooooos are worrying, but nothing prompts frantic horizon-scanning so much as the screams given by the kamikaze bombers; a long, unbroken roar that tells you there's a headless, shirtless psychopath ready to detonate spectacularly when he charges into your side unless you find him and shoot him, now.

When facing this lunatic, his 30 identical twins, and whatever other selections from its wicked menagerie that the game warps into the field, the odds seem very much stacked against you; certainly, the game can be difficult. The only real advantages given to Sam (a hero unfortunately not half as sly with the quips as the Duke he clearly styles himself after) are a meaty-yet-predictable armoury, the ubiquitous quicksave...

...and space. Lots and lots of space. Be it a temple hall, a sun-bleached patio, or a desert plain, practically every major battlefield of The First Encounter is wide, flat, and free of obstructions. Level design that could be boring often turns out to be quite refreshing, in an frankly unrealistic kind of way; these stages are solid, symmetrical, and as obvious as you like.

You soon come to treat an open clearing with the same trepidation you do a tucked-away health pack: it's always a trap. Areas that initially look like a straight jog from one end to the visible other often turn into epic standoffs, as every step forward triggers more evil reinforcements that push you ten steps backward.

Aside from their impressive scale they're not the prettiest of gaming arenas - all long sharp edges and cheesy lens flares - but then Serious Sam doesn't want to do anything fancy in its environments; they're simply the perfect staging ground for the kind of chaotic, tooth-and-minigun skirmishes that the game wants to thrust you into.

It does, of course, get repetitive; but then, so did Doom. While Serious Sam blatantly isn't a game with depth or variety beyond that experienced in combat, it has no pretensions either. It's designed to be taken at face value, and enjoyed for the twitchy desperation of its battle mechanics alone.

Which is fair enough, really.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/06/05

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