Serious Sam: The First Encounter
People are starting to take Serious Sam seriously. Before the Croatian developers released an early technology demo a couple of months ago, Serious Sam was seen as just another first-person action game starring a ridiculous hero with a similarly preposterous storyline. Since then, however, Serious Sam has been hailed in some quarters as the next in line to succeed Duke Nukem. Ritual Entertainment's Levelord evenwgnt so far as to call the game "awesome", but then he is American. He also guffed that the game was a "must play for serious first-person shootists. Sheer fun riding on top of a solid engine", (nothing like Heavy Metal FAKK 2 then). Consequently, publishers have been falling over themselves to muscle-in on the first-person action -The Gathering Of Developers/Take 2 are top of the transfer list at the moment, although nothing has been officially announced.
Now before you get the wrong idea, Serious Sam is far from being the next Half-Life. Going back in time to Ancient Egypt to eliminate an alien menace from the future is hardly the stuff of novels. Our hero 'Serious' Sam Stone is closer to Duke Nukem than Gordon Freeman and the monsters you find yourself up against have more in common with Doom's ancient monstrosities rather than the sleek, sly antics of Half-Life's Black Ops. The headless kamikaze bombers running around made us chortle, as did the mutant one-eyed Gimps that look like they've been designed by one. There are plenty of other bizarre ridiculous and faintly scary creatures and to hype up the throwaway fun, the evil entity you find yourself up against is known to his chums as Notorious Mental, a name we find quite endearing.
Gameplay-wise, Serious Sam is a no-brainer. Hordes of enemies come running at you and you simply blow them away. The levels are massive, the outdoor areas vast and the carnage incessant thanks to the fact that the Serious 3D Engine can - in the words of the developers - "allow tons of enemies on screen at any one time", which translates to well over 50 with hundreds of creatures populating any one level. Croteam admits that the colours are garish, but it wants to move away from the gloom of the Quake series and create a bright, fun and simple game. In that respect they are on target.
One day soon - though hopefully not too soon - we're all going to get sick of realism in first-person games such as Rogue Spear and Counter-Strike and stan hankering for the lowbrow entenainment that got us by five years ago. If that happens Serious Sam may find itself riding a crest of a wave of mindless shooters offering big guns, masses of blood and minimal effort. As it was in the beginning, so it shall be ever more... or something along those lines.
As much as we all admire this sneaking, leaning and sniping, there comes a time when all we want to do is forget all that and wade in, all guns blazing, to slice and dice, wound, maim and kill as many enemies as we possibly can. As we told you some months ago, Serious Sam looks to be the game to recreate the onslaught of a multitude of enemies that made the likes of those early '90s first-person shooters - most importantly Doom and Duke Nukem -such a name for themselves. And before you can say "Didn't Kiss: Psycho Circus do the same?" we'll say that this game oozes all-out bright brass-balls fun. And it doesn't have Kiss in it.
Sam-Where, Out There...
Ever since the compatibility test was released on the Internet, Serious Sam has been creating a healthy buzz. It somehow feels refreshing to be able to go 'back to basics' as it were in an all-out, mindless, points-mean-prizes, last-man-standing kill-frenzy. It's the multiplayer mode that's garnering the most attention at the moment, aiming as it does towards simplicity. There's no second-weapon functions or extraneous power-ups; it's just you against everyone else. Take part in a co-operative match and you see everybody facing off to an assault of computer-controlled enemies. It really is something to see, as the mighty battles rage from all directions.
Plus, we have what must surely be the innovation of the year so far: four-player split-screen control. It's a wonder no previous successful PC FPS has done this before now. As a mainstay of consoles for years, it sure beats having to lug about four PCs when four of you can gather round one screen and have a laugh. Sure, only one of you will be able to use the keyboard and mouse, but it's a small price to pay (and it never bothered you in GoldenEye, did it?).
Aside from new levels in the updated test, Croteam has also released a few more weapons, most interesting of which is a pirate cannon, which carves a devastatingly linear path through enemy ranks. Though, we've noticed that there's still a couple of numbers keys left untouched, so the inclusion of a BFG weapon is still a possibility.
While the multiplayer side of the game looks to be holding its own at the moment, our main concern just now is the single player. While the action stays at a fast pace, we can't help but feel that the constant waves of attack may become repetitive.
The levels we played - which, we should stress, perform their duties adequately - often have a tendency to appear a little bland. Maybe we've been spoiled by the architectural delights of the Quake III engine but we're keeping our fingers crossed that Croteam releases the level polishing hounds in time for the final release.
But let's take a look at the other side of the coin: what we have here is a pure, console-style gib-a-thon. Surely we've no need to be attracted by such ostentatious frivolities when we've got a horde of killer bulls trying to mate with our insides. Serious Sam looks like it could be the kind of game essential for a quick lunch-hour blast, in order to gain release from the soulless drudgery of government-sanctioned sweatshops. As well as the obvious aforementioned gaming parallels we might possibly be looking at the next Robotron successor as well, as the constant assault harkens back to the adrenalin rush of yesteryear. And if they manage to release it at a rumoured low price, it could be a contender for best-selling Croatian game this year. Well-yes. Obviously.
It's often said that playing computer games is a worthless occupation, filled with people who are desperately trying to waste time before the final checkout. Well, I can go along with that.
And being a Coventry City supporter, I can say that I'd rather spend the next few months playing superfluous floss with my mouth half open rather than scouring page two of the Teletext tables looking for a way to escape the inevitable. With Manchester United on top of the league and still in the European Champions' League, football isn't providing me with anything resembling fun at the present time. Thank goodness for light relief, provided this time by Croteam, the Croatian developers of Serious Sam.
From the early public test that was posted on the Internet about nine months ago, it was obvious that Sam wasn't going to break any records. It isn't a Quake III or an Unreal Tournament, and doesn't pretend to be in the same league as the new Wolfenstein game that may or may not be released in the near future. (At last count it was being dragged back to the treatment room to take advantage of the new Team Arena code.) What it sets out to do from the outset is to take the parameters defined by the original FPS, Doom, and stretch them beyond all recognition.
What this means is loads (and I mean loads) of monsters on screen at once. It also means AI that doesn't progress past the static-trigger run-at-you sequence that's been around for years, serious firepower and linear levels that you can't backtrack to, punctuated by secrets and arenas that you have to clear before you can progress onwards.
There are two crucial differences though. Where Doom was sinister and scary, Sam is bright and packed with some damn fine humour. I'm not going to spoil any of the set-pieces for you, but the much-documented suicide bombers that charge at you screaming are almost worth the reduced admission price alone.
The game is also backed up by a serious proprietary 3D engine, and in this day and age I'm always ready to be impressed by a team that's willing to strike out on its own rather than brown-nosing the big boys. So, instead of resting on the laurels of an existing engine, Croteam has lovingly slaved over its own version, which can handle huge outdoor expanses (eat your heart out Team Arena) and, more importantly, deliver huge opponents and plenty of them on screen at any one time. It works too - well. A good job really, as this is pretty much the only trick Sam's got going for it.
Before I deliver more praise though, it must be said that this is also the source of one of the biggest problems in the game. Like a clumsy kid eager to show off in front of his mates, Sam regularly tries too hard, placing literally hundreds (alright I exaggerate a bit) of creatures on screen. It might look impressive, especially on a high-end system, but it's almost impossible to play without hitting the quick-save key almost as much as the fire button. As you can imagine, this gets pretty tedious. You could turn the skill level down, but this just makes the rest of the game far too easy.
However, some of the arena battles are amazing, and the desert backdrops and huge robotic walkers, along with some of the best and most visual weaponry we've ever seen in a game, have to be seen to be believed. Dodging from building to building, firing off rockets at a huge creature about half a mile away while keeping one ear out for the suicide bombers and one eye out for the deadly green balls that track you down wherever you hide is a gaming experience unlike any other. If this was actually combined with a game of real pedigree instead of Simple Sam's Shoot-Out, you'd be looking at a title that comes close to my idea of perfection.
As it is, you can't get away from the fact that Serious Sam is an excellent no-brainer. I've come in for some serious abuse from certain quarters recently for my treatment of No One Lives Forever, a game that I marked down for its lack of AI and linear levels. So you might be surprised to see the mart I've given Sam, despite it receiving similar criticisms. There is one simple - yet crucial - difference between the two though: while Sam is great fun to play, NOLF is just plain boring. Also, Sam is a budget buy, and at $19.99 it's worth buying just for the arcade blast of fighting off the weird and wonderful creatures that Croteam has created.
OK, it's a simple game and it's way too short - don't expect the single-player game to last much more than a day or two if you're adept with a gun. You also need a serious system to play it with the detail turned up and a frame rate that actually enables you to aim and shoot (start thinking about a PIII-500). However, any game that makes me laugh and swing my head about trying to dodge bullets has got to be worth $20.
Buy it, don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed with Sam. He's the sort of bloke who you meet at every party - loud, a little bit obnoxious, not too bright, but a whole lot of fun at the time. The only trouble is, you might not want to wake up next to him the morning after.
Meet The Team
Croatian codeshop Croteam get into their game
Despite hailing from a country that's not exactly renowned for its humour, Serious Sam Is packed with amusing little touches, such as this secret that you can find early on in the game. These freaks are actually the developers and they're completely harmless, although they do follow you around and hail you with helium-fuelled greetings that can get on your nerves after a while. Thankfully, you can shoot them in the head when you get bored. And then feel hugely guilty about it afterwards.
How Many Sams Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb?
We don't know the answer to this question because at the time of this review the game wasn't on the shelves. However, we have played it over the LAN in the office and although it's not enough to persuade us to move over from Counter-Strike, It's a lot of fun In standard deathmatch mode, with Quake III-like jump-pads adding to the general mania.
TWo problems stand out. Firstly, there aren't enough dedicated multiplayer levels (only five are included in the final release), although this should change swiftly after the commercial release, especially when you consider that an admittedly complex level editor Is going to be shipped in the box. Secondly, and rather more tricky to rectify, the weapons are seriously unbalanced. The Tommy Gun is way too accurate, way too powerful and kills within a few seconds, no matter how far away from your opponent you might be.
Luckily, deathmatch isn't the only feather in Sam's cap. You can also play any of the singleplayer levels in co-operative mode, and the hordes of creatures that constitute a serious menace on your own become a lesson in carnage when you've got a few mates on your shoulder.
There's no real game - when you die you just respawn and can-y on the slaughter, but It's an excellent way to relieve tension for 10 or 15 minutes. With a bit of clever implementation, this feature could have been much better. As it is, it's a bonus and a harmless diversion, nothing more.
As always, we'll bring you a full online update in our regular new supplement, as and when servers become populated.
Download Serious Sam: The First Encounter
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Serious Sam: The First Encounter Screenshots and Media
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