It’s been a long, varied and often chaotic year for games. Amidst the anticipation that has been building up around the closure of some pretty big franchises (until they appear on the next generation of hardware) we’ve also seen a bit of a resurgence in some fairly old school concepts that where once though dated and dead. Bulletstorm started the ball rolling, taking pot shots at serious military shooters and focusing on humour laden, fun-fuelled carnage. Then came Duke Nukem Forever, a release none of us expected to occur until after Atlantis arose from the ocean depths. Another title rife with sweary childish jokes and a plentiful amount of alien arse kicking.
But both these games seemed to have trouble with deciding what they wanted to be. The nostalgic unrealistic shooting mechanics just never quite paired well with regenerative health and limited weapons slots, and so their attempts to come across as throwbacks to a simpler time felt ill at ease with the modern way of things. It’s Croteam’s turn now, following up their recent re-releases of Serious Sam HD with a full blown sequel (actually a prequel) aiming for exactly the same kinds of pure adrenalin fuelled shooting fun that the two previously mentioned games also attempted, and failed to provide.
And judging by the screenshots, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking Sam has gone all ‘Gritty Reboot’ with a new enhanced graphics engine showcasing some pretty impressively detailed and realistic looking environments, partnered with conventional looking weapons and a stronger emphasis on story. Refreshingly, Serious Sam 3 shuns all pretence of being modern, and after only a brief few minutes into it’s single player campaign, it’s clear that Sam, unlike the Duke he once took inspiration from, is in no way ready to grow up.
So again, Aliens threaten Earth and our only hope is the blue jeaned, sunglasses wearing Sam, sent to Egypt to uncover an ancient artefact that can send him back in time to prevent earth’s downfall. Typically, this involves some occasional puzzle solving, a lot of running backwards and a stupendous amount of killing things. If you’ve already sampled the HD releases of the previous two Serious Sam games, you’ll find no surprises here. Even if this is your first visit into Sam’s world it’s not a difficult game to learn.
Every level descends into unending carnage early on as the aliens – a collection of old favourites such as the headless screaming kamikaze men and some new, often meaner entrants – spawn in just about every nook and cranny, abandoning any sense of self preservation by charging head first towards you. There’s no strategic flanking or use of cover here, the aliens AI routines never stray from their suicidal tenancies to just run towards Sam and their eventual bloody death. What they lack in intellect, however, they make up for in numbers.
Early linear levels tend to become crowded and very rarely leave room to strafe and back peddle out of the way of the marauding hordes who can quite literally appear anywhere. As things progress, spaces open up but the relentless pace never dies down. Those hordes become larger, boss battles are thrown in from time to time where you’ll often have to face off against an enormous creature who swats away pieces of the scenery without breaking a sweat. It’s a game that tests those old reactionary skills that modern FPS just don’t seem to have time for.
It can become quite therapeutic to clear a level featuring hundreds of aliens. The fact SS3 does away with weapons limits and brings back health packs only adds to the amusement and challenge. The complete opposite to what most games seem focused on these days, there’s no guiding hand here. No magic self-repairing body to rely on when things get too hectic and absolutely no chest high walls to provide limited cover against the charging masses. Here, unless you can find a quick fix health pack, much of the game ends up with you frantically running backwards as you try desperately to fight off the next wave of alien enemy, hoping that they’ll run out of things to throw at you before you run out of body parts for them to take.
Inevitably, this means the game can become frustrating at times. It’s quite an elated feeling to have fended off a massive tidal wave of bad guys, but those feelings turn to swear-induced fits of rage if you get killed half way through a level and you are forced to do it all again. It’s a difficult game too. The word ‘relentless’ isn’t an understatement when referring to the amounts of things you’ll have to kill per level. Enemy numbers only increase as the game goes on, and they appear everywhere.
Subsequently, it can be a difficult game. Even on the medium setting I found myself restarting checkpoints and saves far more often than most other games I’ve played this year. The possible consequence of Serious Sam 3 being too hard perhaps, or more likely, the result of so many modern games becoming far too easy. While it does occasionally cause fits of rage, SS3 is never anything less than fun. It is, as was likely intended, the embodiment of everything you use to enjoy about games in the late 90’s.
The addition of secrets also harks back to a time when exploration was rewarded with mission critical hand-me-outs. SS3 is loaded with them, each ranging in their eventual usefulness, the smallest ones being easy to spot but dispensing very little as reward for their discovery. The best secrets are more elaborately hidden, sometimes teasing you by being partially revealed in plain sight, but granting huge prizes upon their discovery.
There’s also a substantial online mode throwing in everything from co-operative play to split-screen and onto the usual array of deathmatch, capture the flag, last man standing and more. It’s a well rounded package then, though if there was one problem other than the obvious repetition of the non-stop shooting of it all, it’s that there’s not a great deal SS3 does new. It essentially plays almost exactly as Serious Sam 1 and 2, new graphics, enemies and weapons aside, it’s basically the same game, the same fun and anarchic game, but an experience you’ll have had many times before. Still, given that many games this year can be accused of exactly the same, it seems unfair to criticise Serious Sam 3 too heavily for such.
It’s a refreshing change of pace to play a FPS that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. This was obviously meant to be a game in it’s purest form, doing away with any sense of cinematic bombast or boring you with long-winded cut-scenes and cardboard characters you’re supposed to end up giving a damn about. It’s an unashamedly old school action game, but unlike Bulletstorm or even Duke Nukem, it doesn’t sell itself out by trying to crowbar in elements of modern gaming in an attempt to have the best of both worlds. You’ll know exactly what you’ll be getting with Serious Sam 3, a loud, juvenile, sometimes absurd game, but honestly, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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