Serious Sam has earned ‘cult’ status on the PC platform. The first two titles proved to be big sellers for Croteam, targeting the first person shooter audience who just wanted a good old ‘run and gun’ style experience. I have been playing the latest iteration in the series now for the last week and have found it both fun, and incredibly challenging.
Croteam have followed the same structure as the previous titles – a very clever mix of letting the gamer rest for a few moments to collect powerups and weapons, followed by a 15 minute maniac session of rampant fragging. It may sound like a mindless shooter, but in reality, the pacing is actually very clever.
Most of you reading this will already know if you are going to like the game, because it doesn’t really break any new ground. If you hated the first two titles and yearned for a sophisticated plot, resplendent with puzzles then you are not going to find pleasure with SS3 BFE. This is at heart, an old fashioned shooter with a very nicely updated engine to bring the franchise screaming and kicking into 2011.
Many of the monsters we all know and love make an appearance, such as the skeletal horse beasts and screaming bomb headed mutants. Croteam flood the screen with enemies, often pitting Sam against thousands of enemies. You won’t have to hunt for ammunition either, because the developers know what this is all about. Killing wave after wave of mutated foes. Ammo should be the last thing on your mind (except on harder difficulty levels).
There are many weapons for the player to enjoy, from the trusty old pistol and shotgun, a super power shotgun and assault rifle to to other more explosive weaponry such as the rocket launcher and minigun.
Sam is an amusing caricature of a character – all brawn and bravado with little in the way of subtlety. Almost identical actually to Duke Nukem, without the stupid, banal sexist commentary. Sam ploughs through all the levels wearing nothing but jeans and a t-shirt – wiping out alien populations as he does so. What I am about to say may seem like an unusual comment, but I found this title surprisingly refreshing, particularly after spending the last year with deep, complex first person shooters. Not having to think about a complex subplot or next level strategy with bio organic implants really did appeal to me.
Graphically, this game is beautiful, with plenty of texture detail on surfaces and effective use of particle algorithms. The new Serious Engine is designed to deal with an inordinate level of enemy units while incorporating a very high draw distance. I had no problem getting it to run at maximum settings with a 2600k and GTX580, but those with lesser hardware may need to aim for more modest settings. The engine is far from perfect mind you, as I noticed a fair bit of clipping and occasional graphical glitches. That said, overall I was impressed, even though it falls short of class leading Frostbite 2 quality. One of the main negatives for me was the reuse of Egyptian sand dune style environments, which wore thin for me by the end of the game.
Those of you who hate puzzle oriented first person shooters will feel right at home with Serious Sam 3. The most taxing puzzle will be to pull a lever to open a door, nothing more. Sadly the map system falls a bit short, and a few of the campaign levels had me confused as to what I should be doing. Several of the levels also feel more like an afterthought in regards to the design implementation, becoming repetitive.
Equally so, if you find first person shooter games too easy then Serious Sam 3 will assuredly tick all the right boxes. When played at normal level there is little room for error or poor targeting. The game punishes those with less than stellar reflexes and I am not ashamed to say that I restarted it later on ‘easy’. The Easy setting adds more ammo and ensures that Sam’s health doesn’t drop quite so quickly. Being forced to use a pistol, a sledgehammer and a weak shotgun in the first couple of levels can be frustrating, especially as the game rarely offers a checkpoint for those who get killed often (like me).
There is no complex Gears Of War style cover system in place, you can simply duck in behind a wall to reload, when the tempo picks up. Standing in the open and firing at the enemies, rarely is a successful strategy. You need to move around on a regular basis, reloading behind walls, and running to a new position to strafe the hordes of foes heading in your direction.
Serious Sam 3 is a serious test of endurance. In the later levels, some of the enemy hordes can last for up to 20-30 minutes at a time, testing even the toughest of gamers. My particular highlight was the introduction of the jaw dropping mini gun, which can mow down hundreds or enemies without a single reload required. Let the bones and giblets fly!
Online, the game is a lot of fun with friends. Croteam have pulled out all the stops by allowing the entire campaign to be played with up to 16 players, with the amount of enemies on screen scaling with the lobby size. They also have included a four play split screen mode which I never had the chance to play before writing the review.
Many of the traditional modes are included, such as Deathmatches and Beast Hunt. Survival mode is fantastic and is playable with up to 15 other people. You get access to all the weapons right from the get go, but sadly they only allow this to be played across a handful of levels.
The options menu is certainly noteworthy as the developers have included many tweakable settings. Blood can be changed to green for instance and even replaced with sparkling stars or flowers! If you tire of using Sam then other characters can be selected, such as a pirate and a cowboy. You can even choose a disco character with a hilarious afro.
Serious Sam 3 BFE is a fun game which will appeal to gamers who want a good old fashioned retro style shooter with a nicely updated engine. It isn’t breaking any new ground and won’t appeal to gamers who yearn for a deep, realistic storyline. It is a dumb (yet fun), run and gunner which brought back some great memories of the original titles. If you are cautious now about spending full money on the title, then I recommend you wait a while and pick it up in a Steam sale for a reduced price (probably in the new year).