The Serious Sam games are delightfully deranged; there is no doubt about it. All manner of mutated and imaginative creatures charge at you with intent to maim, and you’re forced to mow them down with powerful weapons full to the brink with ammo, tearing your aggressors apart and leaving stains of blood on the ground, the walls, the ceilings, everywhere – there is blood everywhere.
It’s an intense and satisfying experience. Both Serious Sam The First Encounter and The Second Encounter contain a wide variety enemies, which come at you from all angles and with different levels of blood lust. Skeletons gallop then leap towards you, headless humanoids with explosives in hand run at you screaming from God knows what orifice, giant scorpions carry huge Gatling guns and wildly fire at you; it’s utter madness and it’s awesome. Well initially at least.
The problem is, whilst the intensity is maintained by steadily increasing numbers of enemies and available weapons to deal with them, it becomes predictable and before long the difficulty enters the realm of frustrating. But this state of repetition is clearly part of its charm. It harks back to a simpler time for the FPS genre where the enemies were plentiful and the joy of eliminating them was far more alluring then any narrative. Serious Sam embodies this ‘old school’ style in every aspect of the title. Big guns, hordes of enemies, a nonsensical and ultimately unappealing narrative about inter-dimensional warfare between humanity and these monstrous creatures; It’s all part of its tribute to nostalgia and parody of the genre.
However, whilst it’s intentionally regressive, over the top and completely bonkers, it crosses the line too often and fully becomes the exact thing it’s trying to parody – a repetitive kill-fest. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, the nostalgia is still present, but it does shine a light on its aged formula.
It does bring a few contemporary elements along to enjoy the surreal slaughter. Large open areas are common between the traditional corridor shooting sections, and they feel completely unique. It still trades on the guided missile AI formula where enemies home in on you and charge, but they spawn from all around you, dozens of them, flanking you and getting behind you to really increase the action and sense of danger. It’s in these moments of action packed madness that Serious Sam shines but they’re also some of the most frustrating sections. The difficulty is a harsh reminded of the genre’s past, and with no checkpoints it’s up to you to save often. Fortunately Serious Sam incorporates a very unique system to aid with this, quick save – on a console!
Additionally, multiplayer plays a big part of the experience. The First Encounter only offers cooperative multiplayer for up to four players to take on the campaign, with options to scale the difficulty to match. The Second Encounter offers something far more comprehensive, with cooperative campaign again as well as Survival Mode where you’re tasked with dealing with waves of enemies, and a whole host of competitive modes. The standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes are all present with a few variants and they’re excellent fun for up to eight player, but the standout modes are Instant Kill – where a single bullet can kill you – and My Burden – where you carry weight whilst fending off enemies to gather more points but the more you carry the slower you move.
There’s no denying how enjoyable Serious Sam can be but it’s very much ‘dumb fun’ from an era long past. And let’s not forget this tribute to the likes of Doom and Duke Nukem 3D is itself almost a decade old, and its age shows through despite the HD coat of paint. But it’s still a pretty unique experience, especially on console, and the multiplayer modes, both cooperative and competitive, are frantic, fast paced session of barmy fun – if a little short lived.
MLG Score: 7/10
Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 25/03/11
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Serious Sam HD for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.