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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
start to finish, the pace never lets up.
comments are at times hilarious, although I wish there were more
content remains light-hearted at all times.
sure is ugly for a Xbox game.
wave after wave of the same bad guys gets old pretty quickly.
gamers get inferior versions for more than the cost of both
original PC games combined.
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.