Sam and I go back a long way. We have been through the trenches together and slaughtered thousands of foes side by side. Hell, we have even shared terrible jokes. Times were good, but now things have changed. Serious Sam 3: BFE is exactly what you would expect from a Serious Sam game. You will spend the majority of your time running towards a trigger to unleash the massive horde of enemies and then race backwards as you mow them down. This is pretty much the extent of the game. Sure, there are secrets scattered around and some truly atrocious dialogue exchanges, but that one sentence pretty much sums up the core of Serious Sam 3.
Sometimes it is hard to decipher what the developers were thinking with BFE. We all know that the ‘Serious’ moniker is a joke, but the narrative this time around seems to walk a fine line. They are trying to make it more interesting, it just never pans out. I don’t care why Sam is mowing down thousands of enemies, even if the game constantly wants to tell me about his mission. The tone also feels different. Past games have been more whimsical and goofy, the opening level of BFE mocks all serious FPS games with a war torn city, accompanied by somber music. It just feels out of place.
Of course, the heart of any Serious Sam game is its ability to throw hundreds of enemies at you at a time. BFE manages to do that, over and over and over and over again. The enemies are all the same ones you have been seeing since the beginning, too. Hearing the Beheaded Kamikaze guys screaming at a distance is still iconic, and the large, one-eyed Gnaar still creep me out. It is sad that the series hasn’t really evolved past these characters, with each iteration feeling more like the last, just with new locales.
PC gamers have been playing BFE since the end of last year. The Xbox Live Arcade port definitely feels dirty in some areas. For example, all the options from the PC are pretty much ported over. This includes a lot of stuff you usually don’t see in a console release, such as a FPS counter and crosshair change. Adding the FPS counter was probably not the best idea, though. I threw it on for novelty and found it remained consistent until the Xbox attempted to load, or something new occured, then it dipped to undesirable levels, something that is less noticeable when you don’t have a counter giving you the info constantly on screen.
Visuals have also taken a hit in the process. Textures are much lower resolution, and the character models don’t seem up to snuff, which is sad considering this isn’t exactly a technical powerhouse in the graphics department. Also, as I mentioned, there are stutters constantly during certain actions such as melee attacks. The main menu and options screens also carry over the PC text, which makes it extremely hard to read on a large HD TV, plus the loading is simply terrible every time it occurs. Going back to the main menu to load a new chapter or checkpoint is really a drag when you think about how long you will have to wait to get back into the action.
Still, a lot of these issues are easily overlooked as long as you know what you are getting into here. What can’t be overlooked is the way they have broken this game up on consoles. For 1200 msp ($15 real money) you get the main BFE campaign and the cooperative modes. If you want to play competitively online, you have to purchase the Jewel of the Nile expansion pack, which also includes three new single player missions. I am not against extra content, in fact the Jewel of the Nile missions are a lot of fun, but separating the competitive online portion of the game from the core package is just wrong to me. Most games thrive on their online community, and forcing players to spend yet another 1200 points just to play online feels shady.
When you add it all up you get a package that feels poorly constructed. The port feels sloppy, the separation of online and campaign is mind-boggling and the repetition mixed with attempts to be more serious falls flat. I use to love playing Serious Sam with friends, and honestly that was the highlight of this iteration, but this new version feels like the franchise is running on fumes. Every wave felt like a chore, and every level an extension of the monotony. Be sure to play the demo before purchasing. Laying down $30 for the complete game just doesn’t sit well with me. Perhaps a bundle sale will make playing Serious Sam 3: BFE more appealing, but as it sits, this is not something that should be stealing time from other releases.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.