Maybe you missed Serious Sam back in 2001? It’s a fun, frantic fantasy FPS. A headlong charge in through one end of Thebes and blasting out the other. Into space. The remake loses none of the lunacy. HD is still all about gunning down swarming enemies. Harpies that shoot ice, zombies that spray fireballs, swarms of exploding frogs, electric piranhas, bio-mechs that stomp around and shoot rockets and lasers. The Headless Kamikaze, a roaring, sprinting corpse with two ticking bombs and a personal space problem, appears in every ensemble of enemies throughout the game.
Whether it’s a dozen of them in a volatile mob, or a lone agent squawking over the din of battle, you’re always listening out for this iconic foe. Serious Sam veterans will be relieved to learn that Croteam haven’t ruined anything: the original levels are optimised and extended. They’ve made everything shiny, sprinkled on some physics, and introduced lengthy stealth sections where you must rely on colourful spirit animals to... Only joking. It’s just shinier, with the same action.
Character progression? Pah. The closest it gets to that is the guns: Sam starts with a pistol, gets his hands on a minigun, and ends up wielding a cannon. From a pirate ship. By the end, you’re committing Sirian Werebull genocide with it – it’s the only thing that can kill these enormous beasts faster than they appear, as it violently bisects the stampede in a torrent of meat. PETA just wouldn’t understand. Not after they heard the screaming.
Noise plays a surprisingly vital role. Every enemy has a distinct cry that you learn to associate with the tactics you’ll need. It’ll howl or hiss or bellow just before attacking, and “Ooh,” you’ll grin to yourself, “that sounds like a scorpion with a minigun. Better get my grenade launcher out.”
While you never leave this monster-filled Egyptian city, Serious Sam finds room for surprising architectural variety – underground rivers, dry canyons, yellow obelisks at twilight, dusty tombs and gardens. Each area is a good size, with plenty of room to run and gun, multiple levels of elevation, and no shortage of secret areas.
But some issues linger on, even from 2001. The story comes in great walls of dodgy prose, for one. It yanks you out of the action to babble about aligning the four elements – superfluous distraction in a game as uncomplicated as this. There’s also a tendency to spawn a group of enemies as soon as you pick up an item. It just gets away with it because fighting the enemies is so much fun, but you’ll quickly learn to predict it.
When we were playing the original game, 20 enemies seemed like a lot. It really isn’t, not after Left 4 Dead. The swarms in HD are a little thinner than we might have hoped for. Why can’t we have a million of those frogs? More fundamental is the problem with autosaving. Each level has one checkpoint, right at the start. That’s it. To its credit, the levels are long and engaging, but when you eat a rocket and have to restart, you’re losing a half hour of progress.
Everything we loved about the original game is here, and the nice price is almost reflected in the decent length. We do regret that there’s nothing new. Sure, there are longer cutscenes, the levels are slightly rearranged, and the graphics are lovely, but in 2009, we expect innovation from even our craziest shooters. This is just a touched up portrait of a lesser-known, much-loved ancestor.
Dec 4, 2009