The big joke about Serious Sam is that he’s not serious at all. Well, he’s serious about kicking ass, because he (meaning you) can literally take on a thousand enemies single-handed and come out with only a few scratches. He’s not serious because he’s been fighting the forces of an alien overlord named Mental (yep) and he’s been doing it while wearing cheesy orange sunglasses and making ridiculous quips, some of which are actually funny (in one of our favorites, after destroying a giant alien warship and roughly 300 of its minions, Sam says “Yeah mother***er! How you like my planet taste?”). Aside from Sam’s wannabe Duke Nukem attitude, the Serious series is known for balls-out crazily designed enemies and its penchant for throwing absurd numbers of them at you.
BFE achieves the latter with not much of the former. Whereas previous Serious games gave you things like (allow us to quote our review of Serious Sam 2): “clockwork rhinos, mutant footballers, three-headed flaming hounds… witches on broomsticks, Orc-carrying gyrocopters… zombie stockbrokers…” BFE sports a few strange leftovers from previous Serious games, like the iconic headless kamikazes, who run at you screaming while carrying a bomb in each hand, but other than that the enemies have become extremely generic Doom knockoffs: fat ogre-dudes with rocket-launcher arms, cyber-demon mechs with, uh, rocket-launcher arms, scorpion dudes with Gatling-gun arms… man what’s with all the weapon arms? The enemy design, for the most part, is totally uninspired, which is bizarre considering inspired enemies are one of the series’ hallmarks.
Similarly, while Serious 2 took us to all kinds of lush and colorful environments, BFE returns to Egypt and just lingers there like an unwanted party crasher. The ENTIRE game is a series of brown textures – sand, brick buildings, and so many brown Egyptian ruins that playing this game may make you forget there are any other colors in the rainbow (hey, brown’s in the rainbow, right?). Again, this is such a weird stylistic choice because Serious Sam is supposed to be the respite from “modern” shooters. It’s supposed to be an old-school throwback to when FPS games were about nonstop killing and endless circle-strafing or running-backward-and-strafing.
The good news is that gameplay-wise, BFE does in fact fulfill those aforementioned promises. The shooting mechanics feel smooth, solid, and full of enough impact to rattle your jawbones. Plowing through enemies with shotguns, miniguns, rocket launchers, and of course the cannon (like, an actual cannon from a ship) is addictive, triggering primitive crags within the brain where your simian self says “Huh, huh, that there done blowed up real good.” As Sam always does, he also encounters hordes the likes of which you’ve never seen. Put it this way: on one level our bodycount tallied at over 1,100 kills. One level.
The actual effect on your fun varies with these enemy swarms. Sometimes these encounters can be a total rush: a virtual army breaches the hill before you, you mutter “Oh, shit!” and begin running backward, firing wildly into the waves of monsters. To survive these encounters, we had to sometimes run backward through nearly the entire level, barely holding back the mounting onslaught. They also require weapon juggling – a nice aspect of the design, because the game will get you to use your entire arsenal as you’ll be running out of ammo from one weapon after another, although the game also never gets stingy about resupplying you. There are a couple problems with the pacing of the swarms, though: later in the game they just drag on, and they force backtracking due to all the running backwards.
Look, we understand this game is about throwing insane amounts of enemies at you, but the pacing is all out of whack in a number of places. It’s often lacking in proper lulls and crescendos: you’ll encounter a huge swarm, it’s super intense, and then you clear it out. Great! But then a few random stragglers follow up. Then a few more stragglers. A few more. More. Holy crap, when does this pointless, challenge-free trickle end? Sometimes it might be as many as ten to fifteen “waves” of tiny handfuls of enemies that serve no purpose other than to keep you from progressing to the next part of the level. This structure pads out the game way beyond the length it should be – it can take nearly two hours to get through a level that has a layout of space that would take twenty minutes in any other shooter.
If, for some reason, the single-player campaign isn’t enough for you, BFE features some surprisingly beefy multiplayer offerings, with multiple co-op modes and an impressive array of competitive modes. It is, though, more of the same and Serious Sam has never been about depth – it’s about slaughtering a million ridiculous enemies, so taking that same template and applying it to small multiplayer scenarios is less than inspiring. Gameplay-wise the competitive component offers nothing you couldn’t get out of Quake III, and that game has much more interesting weapons and map designs. Co-op is more worthwhile, since you’re applying the already decently-fun single-player structure to messing around with friends.
BFE has some fantastic moments despite its very low-budget feel and it can be uniquely entertaining in its absurdity and intensity, but we advise players to take it in sips: playing for even a few hours at a time becomes exhausting and tedious. It’s an interesting case study on the whole saying “less is more.” The dev team clearly believes “more is more” and the funny thing is that sometimes they’re right – other times, a bit of editing on the enemy numbers would have really tightened the experience up. Instead of more enemies, there should have been more colors in the palette and more variety in the level design.