How much time and money are you willing to lose in order for a game to sell your own nostalgia back to you? If your answer was anywhere above an hour and five dollars, then you’re in luck! Serious Sam: The Random Encounter will cost you exactly that. Even so, you still may wish to reconsider. TRE is a 16 bit “demake” of the Serious Sam shooter series. Rather than opting for a Doom or Wolfenstien style shooter approach, TRE instead elects to ape a Final Fantasystyle adventure… with apologies to Final Fantasy. See, there are no shops, no quests, nothing really at all to do but get from the starting point to the exit on each stage. As you wander around the world (not that there’s much of it to wander), you’ll be forced to fight off hordes of monsters via a series of random encounters (get it?).
These encounters are resolved in typical Serious Sam aplomb, which is to say “running backwards while shooting.” The types of monsters you’ll face will be the same as those in the main Sam series like the Kamikaze or the Scythian Witch-Harpies, and here is where the game officially begins to fall apart: it banks so much on our collective nostalgia for Serious Sam that it forgets to actually be a good game. The combat is just boring. Rather than allow switching of weapons on the fly or at least adjusting your aim by a few degrees, the game instead requires you to use the same weapon, firing in the same direction, until it pauses every five seconds so you can make changes. During these breaks you can: switch weapons, equip an item (like heal, revive, or our personal favorite: Serious Bomb), or pick a direction you’d like one of your three party members to shoot. When the action kicks off again, your party members will apply whatever tactics you assigned to them. You can marginally adjust your party member’s aim by physically moving them up and down the battle screen, but if you’re just shooting at the wrong angle, you’re screwed at least for the next five seconds. And so it goes, for the entire game. Occasionally, the game will throw in an unchallenging puzzle that the title itself admits it didn’t want to do. But these, too, will constantly be interrupted by the monotonous random encounter battles.
TRE offers a moderate amount of weapons and items to play with like shotguns, miniguns, revolvers, and laser guns. However, these weapons all feel very underpowered – particularly against larger hordes and stronger enemies. What’s more, certain weapons (like the grenade launcher and laser cannon) just feel downright useless against anything.
Like its predecessors, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is very self-aware and tongue-in-cheek. Fans will, no doubt, be amused when Sam declares that the First Encounter “didn’t go so well” at the beginning of the game. TRE is also mercifully short, clocking in at about an hour and a half to finish the campaign. If, for some reason, you actually enjoy the “run backwards, shoot, and pause” style combat, an endless horde mode unlocks once you have finished the campaign.
According to the wiki page (opens in new tab), the team that designed Serious Sam: The Random Encounter did much of the development work in a hotel room, and it shows. They claimed they wanted to do a unique take on Serious Sam, specifically (according to Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail) “The approach we took is seeing what Serious Sam is, what it stands for and then taking the genre that is furthest away from that with the intention of turning it into a Serious Sam game.” While it certainly succeeds in being unique and in keeping with the series’ tone, it sadly fails to translate into a decent game. We all love a title that tries to be bold as much as we love a short walk down memory lane, but Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is just, well, bad. Seeing our favorite enemies rendered in 16 bits is really just not worth even the very small amount of time or money you’ll spend playing this game - particularly when there are other worthwhile demakes or Flash games available for free. For an “adventure,” TRE provides only the most basic tactical offerings, challenges that can only be laughingly called puzzles, and combat so bland it contradicts the colorful menagerie of enemies you’ll face. If you’re really aching for a Sam fix, dust off one of his previous titles and play that - or just wait for Serious Sam 3: BFE on November 22nd.