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Serious Sam

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Gathering
Developer: Croteam
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

The engine used in Serious Sam (aptly titled the Serious Engine) is a pretty amazing piece of software. When you watch it render an entire level from afar without skipping a beat, it's a pretty impressive show -- and that was at 1024x768 with everything at the highest detail levels. [Of course, my machine plays a part in that.] For those with less of a powerhouse box, you can always tone the graphics down to a reasonable level. And unlike most first person shooters, which try to limit themselves to tight quarters and enclosed spaces, Serious Sam enjoys rendering spacious outdoor areas lit brightly by the sun. It's definitely a pleasant change. I wish that the game had more settings than the Egyptian theme it starts with, but it's a very well-done setting at that.

The actual models in the game, on the other hand, are somewhat monotonous. There are only a few basic 'archetypes', and there are lots of permutations on these archetypes. You've got the headless chaps, the robodemon chaps, and so on, each with a few varieties. They're not particularly stellar, but they're certainly passable.

The sound effects in the game are solid, if not particularly stellar. The enemy growls and grunts will definitely creep you out, especially in the levels with fog. There's something about hearing a beast pant nearby that raises the hair on the back of your neck. Perhaps that's just me. Sam himself has some one-liners, reminiscent of Duke Nukem in Duke Nukem 3D. But my favourite was when he whistled a snippet of the Indiana Jones theme when a huge boulder came rolling by. That sort of humour just tickles me. The music is solid, changing from a soft background affair to a pumping beat whenever you get involved in combat, then getting back to subdued once the battle is over. It's a neat effect, done quite well.


Gameplay:

And, while Serious Sam may not sport the strong storyline of Half-Life or the hardcore multiplayer action of Unreal Tournament, it offers something just as visceral and almost as fun -- the old-school legion-destroying action of DooM. But Serious Sam never pretends to be more than that sort of crazy gunslinging action, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

And it doesn't hurt that it's being sold at a budget price. Trust me, this is not a budget game.

You take the part of Sam, a badass from the future who goes back in time to Egypt, who obviously had some serious secrets that we didn't know about, like aliens from planets all around the galaxy. There's a plot, about finding some Elements and saving the galaxy or whatever, but that's not the point of Sam. The point is to shoot lots of things as you run through some gorgeous maps.

Serious Sam has the wide array of weaponry that you've come to know and love for this sort of game -- from the starting knife and pistol to the rocket launchers and everything in between. Switching between them is a snap, and ammo is always plentiful in single-player mode.

And that's good, because you'll be tearing through ammo like no tomorrow. It seems that almost every item in the game triggers the spawning of anywhere from one to tens of enemies, all hell-bent on destroying you. It took me a while to get used to it, but then I remembered that DooM was just as 'bad' at doing that. And after a while it becomes a challenge. Do you dare to pick up that armour in the centre of the room, knowing that it'll make a legion of baddies appear to attack you?

The enemies range from the trivial to the psychotic. My favourite is the kamikazes, who scream headlessly [don't ask] as they run at you from across the map. They carry bombs, and you have to pick them off at a distance if you don't want to take some serious damage. There's also a few other enemies that specialize in charging attacks, my favourite being the bullish beast that throws you up high in the air.

The single-player campaign is where most of the fun in Serious Sam is, but there's quite a bit of craziness to be had in the multiplayer mode as well. I had to explicitly tell Gamespy Arcade where it was installed, but once I did that I could use the matching service without fear. And while the major draw of multiplayer is playing the game cooperatively, there's already a modpack out that concentrates on multiplayer mayhem.


Difficulty:

People who never played these sort of run-and-gun games -- I liken them to the FPS equivalent of, say, Radiant Silvergun or Raiden Project -- will die, and die quickly, as they are overwhelmed by the hordes of enemies. It definitely takes some getting used to, and the ability to run backwards at high speeds and fire accurately is a key to survival in Serious Sam. You can also pick the difficulty level that you want to play at, which changes the numbers of enemies you have to fight and their viciousness. There's undoubtedly a difficulty level that'll work for you, and you can save anywhere if you feel the need to creep and save.

Game Mechanics:

The default controls are surprisingly well-laid out. Okay, so it's not much of a surprise -- a game like Serious Sam is pretty obviously a labour of love for a bunch of FPS fans, and they'd know the right way to lay out the controls. The core engine is quite impressive, rendering hundreds of enemies at once and staying quite responsive. Every weapon has its use, from the unlimited ammo of your guns to the insane damage of your knife to the explosive energy of the rockets. The menus are pretty austere, but they certainly get the job done, with just enough style to be nice.

While it's nothing revolutionary, Serious Sam is something I haven't seen in a while. It's a game that's unabashedly a blast-fest, and a good blast-fest at that. While the lack of variety in the environments may irritate some, and those looking for a deep plot with their gunning definitely need to look elsewhere, the rest of us old-school DooM fans should make sure not to pass up Serious Sam. Priced amazingly reasonably, it's something no hardcore gamer should be without.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



AMD K6-3 400/P2 300, 64MB RAM, OpenGL-capable 3D accelerator, sound card, Win95OSR2/98/ME/NT/2K, 150MB HD space
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

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