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Serious Sam

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:   Croteam
Publisher:   Gotham Games
# of Players:   1-4
Genre:   FPS
ESRB:   Mature
Online:   No
Accessories:   N/A
Date Posted:  

12-23-02

Early last year, a little developer from Croatia stunned the PC gaming community when it released Serious Sam. Not only was it an excellent FPS on par with other great FPSes of the time, it was also released at the value price point of only $19.99. Nearly a year later they released The Second Encounter, and while it didn't make quite as big of a splash as the original (largely due to the fact that it was more of an add-on than a true sequel) it was still warmly received by fans of the first. Now for $50 Xbox gamers get to experience both titles in one package simply entitled Serious Sam.

The storyline is…well…not very much of one. Basically aliens have invaded the planet, and in order to restore the world Sam gets to travel back in time. This unfolds over 36 levels of action, with some poking and prodding from Sam's onboard computer system. Dubbed NETRICSA (Neural…something…), this computer system provides new objectives, information on enemies, and onscreen indicators. It's effective enough, but for some strange reason the information on enemies & weapons isn't restored at the beginning of each level. As a result, the player will have to browse through page after page of redundant information in order to find the new information on a new enemy or weapon in every level. It's clumsy to say the least.

The gameplay in Serious Sam was fast and frantic on PC, and it's arrived intact in the Xbox version. This ain't no thinking man's FPS, that's for sure. Wave after wave after wave of enemies will hurl themselves at Sam, each one weirder than the last. By far the most amusing enemies are the suicide bombers, who scream at the top of their lungs as they coming running up to the player at breakneck speed. The first time I encountered one of these guys I was both scared to death and laughing hysterically at the same time.  Since the entire game takes on a more lighthearted feel than something like Doom does, there are many other amusing enemies to be found as well. Unfortunately since there are literally thousands of enemies Sam must dispatch (all of which look and act identical to others of their kind), after a while the player will grow tired of seeing and killing the same enemies over and over again. As another side effect of the thousands of enemies, Sam will often get hit with a lot of cheap hits. It's simply impossible to maneuver as quickly with the Xbox controller as it was with a keyboard, and it doesn't appear that anything was done to compensate for this discrepancy. As a result Sam'll often get hit from behind while trying to turn and engage the enemy, and perhaps even killed due to cheap shots. Lame.

Luckily for Sam, there is a nice variety of weaponry at his disposal. Included are knives, chainsaws, a variety of guns, grenade launchers, and of course the screen wiping Serious Bomb. Each weapon has it's own characteristics and uses, and none of them feel the same as others. Sam also earns points for using these weapons to kill baddies, and after 100,000 of these are accumulated Sam earns an extra life. Extra lives are so easy to gain that they quickly add up, which helps somewhat to offset the slower controller.

Every FPS needs a good multiplayer mode, and Serious Sam has this covered pretty well. Since the game is geared towards wave after wave of bad guys (whereas a game like Goldeneye took more of a deliberate pace), deathmatch is pretty boring by comparison. Co-op mode is great though, as two players can play through the entire game sharing lives, ammo, and other resources. The split-screen experiences some bad slowdown, but system link play is as smooth as butter.

Graphically, Serious Sam is among the worst looking Xbox titles. Never a looker on the PC, it just looks terrible in comparison to Xbox-specific titles like Halo. Enemy models are fairly basic, looking like they belong in Quake for N64 rather than a Xbox FPS. Most environments are lacking in all but the barest of details, which is shameful on the home of Splinter Cell. What is there is usually sparsely textured, and looks extremely blurry up close. For a Xbox game it looks awful, but in reality the player won't have much time to admire the scenery anyway.

The first few times I played it, I noticed that there was a weird swervy line effect in the graphics whenever I'd turn. Finally I decided to check if anyone else was seeing this, and sure enough it appears that V-synch is turned off. Basically a PC thing used to keep a game running quickly on slower PCs (due to different monitor refresh rates), the result is that the player can see the screen refreshing whenever Sam turns. Considering how much more powerful the Xbox is than the game's original PC specs (and that the game isn't that sophisticated graphically anyway), I can't figure out why they left it this way. It ain't Ultima IX after all.  The fact is that they did though, and to console players it's just weird.

Finally, in (at least my final retail copy anyway) the game will periodically freeze up for a few seconds seemingly at random. This happens to me at totally different times, sometimes with enemies on screen and sometimes just whenever I did an action like open a door. While it never caused me to die or anything, enemies across the screen would often appear right in front of my face whenever the game unfroze. I suspect that it might just be a problem with my disk, but it's still something to be wary of since this is occurring in a final retail copy of the game. I checked other reviews and no one else complained about this, so I'm (for now) assuming it's just a disk problem in my copy and not a problem in the game itself.

Soundwise, Serious Sam features a pretty typical music score and sound effects for each weapon. All sound effects lean more towards the over the top and arcade feel, which feels the mood of the game perfectly. What really "makes" this game soundwise is the use of Dolby 5.1, which can be a big help in hearing an enemy and anticipating the direction it's heading from before it's actually encountered. Especially when using a control pad, this is a welcome addition to the game. The other major component of the sound is Sam's jabbering, which consists of a variety of quips, muttered comments, etc. Sure it's a blatant rip-off of Duke Nukem, but I don't mind that one bit given how long it's been since we've seen a new one of those.

Highs:

  • From start to finish, the pace never lets up.
  • Sam's comments are at times hilarious, although I wish there were more of them.
  • The content remains light-hearted at all times.

Lows:

  • It sure is ugly for a Xbox game.
  • Killing wave after wave of the same bad guys gets old pretty quickly.
  • Xbox gamers get inferior versions for more than the cost of both original PC games combined.

Final Verdict: 

Despite its obvious problems, Serious Sam is still a blast to play and a worthy addition to the Xbox's growing list of FPS titles. There's something incredibly satisfying about finishing a level after polishing off hundreds of baddies, and the frantic gameplay keeps the player breathless from start to finish. Sure it gets a bit boring at times, but that just means the player's been playing too long. Come back after a meal and a bout with some "thinking" game and you'll be ready to spend a few more hours with Sam.

Overall Score: 7.8

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