Serious Sam: Next Encounter
Forget every other review that graded this a shade above average. We give you the skinny on a game for t3h H4rDc0re!
In a period of video gaming where depth and story are equally revered as the staples of 21st century gameplay, along comes Serious Sam to remind us that gameplay doesn't need multiple features or a flashy physics engine to put M.I.T. techs to shame. Indeed, what Serious Sam brings to the table is an age-old gaming sensibility that many current developers would do well to pay attention to.
So ok, Serious Sam isn't packing a storyline to rival the likes of Halo or Half Life. Seeing as the first in the series was released on budget range for the PC, it's pretty safe to assume that it never had any pretensions above its station. But just to prove how appearances can be deceiving, Serious Sam's simplistic tone and pocket-friendly price tag hide what many believe to be one of the finest First Person Shooters to grace the PC.
So with Serious Sam: Next Encounter, you can pretty much expect the same level of carnage and mayhem as the predecessor. First off, SS newcomers should probably understand something before we move on - unlike Halo or Half-Life, the crux of Serious Sam's gameplay is the sheer volume of enemies: so many enemies in fact that for a brief moment you actually gulp down the fear before frantically lunging into the action, all guns blazing. Believe me, I'm not talking 20 or 30 enemies - think of something in the hundreds and you're close to the maximum mayhem that Serious Sam allots. Amongst the hordes is the return of the screaming kamikaze guys who can't seem to help blowing themselves up on reaching you, giant dragon-esque enemies and Bulls the size of a small house. You'd be forgiven for thinking that with all this mayhem, there isn't much room for smart enemies - and you'd be right to a degree. Unfortunately, knowing what the enemy is going to do doesn't really help much when you've got to blow away hundreds of them before they reach you.
With all these enemies on screen, it's surprising that the environments and graphics in general don't suffer for the accommodation of this scale of slaughter. Locales and enemies, whilst not terrifically detailed, still do a pretty good job. Even the graphics whore amongst you won't complain, because the endless waves of enemies don't give you an awful lot of time to take in the environment. As with the graphics, the games success doesn't hinge much on sound either. That isn't to say that the graphics and sound serve as periphery though, as Serious Sam players can attest to: the moment you hear a scream from a Kamikaze bomber, you instantly spin on the spot to try and clock the damn thing. If you're lucky, you might be able to take it out before you're within its blast radius.
And to do that, you're going to need weapons. Lots of them, and as big as possible, please. Yet again, Sam doesn't fail to deliver, with a set of weapons ranging from the perversely satisfying chainsaw to the satisfying dual Uzi's, from the crude but effective Rocket Launcher to the classic shotgun, your enemy-despatching needs are catered for. Add three vehicles to this console-exclusive Sam outing and the result is a formula for unhindered, variable and merciless killing.
Serious Sam doesn't remind me of first person shooters of yore. Other than the perspective, controls and weapons, elements that any FPS can barely survive without, Serious Sam stands alone as possibly the last bastion of pure, unabashed gameplay. What with the number of enemies, the controls and the emphasis on instinctive gameplay, Serious Sam probably has more in common with the classic Robotron 2084. If you've ever felt compelled to revisit the routes of gaming, Robotron was probably one of your first ports of call, and with good reason because even to this day, games like Serious Sam are taking the rich and wholesome fundamentals of Robotron and slyly introducing them to a new audience.
If you've gone as far as playing Robotron, you'd know how deceptively thoughtful it is. For the most part, you're moving and shooting, but as one popular cartoon series said when referring to the daddy of all shoot em ups, Space Invaders "you should not have shot at where the enemy was, rather where the enemy was going to go." It's this kind of rudimentary stratagem seen as far back as Space Invaders that sewed the seeds of gameplays' progression, a device that Serious Sam implements so very well in a 3D landscape. Amongst the glut of enemies screeching your way, you'd be hard-pressed to muster up anything smarter than move, shoot and so forth. Contrary to today's standards of gaming, this isn't a simplistic game mechanic in the Serious Sam world, because the sheer volume of enemies doesn't give you much time to think about anything else rather than the basics of survival - much like shoot em ups of yore.
At its heart, Serious Sam is the best throwback to the golden years of gaming there's ever been. Its arcade roots are plain for everyone to see and it doesn't pretend to be anything more than the sum of its lovingly crafted parts.