The namesake Serious Sam is sort of a defeating statement. The game is far from serious, which is likely intentional by the developers to be ironic. Still when the games originally released it received a nice following thanks to its relentless waves of enemies, massive selection of arms and of course plenty of immature humor. With the HD remakes the developers are taking these quirky low-budget shooters and putting them up in downloadable form for console consumption. The release of The Second Encounter puts two things front and center about the Serious Sam franchise. One, this game was built with the attention-deficit crowd in mind; and two, it was never meant to be taken seriously.
For those unfamiliar with these new HD remakes, the concept should be recognizable. It seems to be all the rage to bring back classic titles in the HD era to expose them to a new audience, and give guys like me a chance to relive the classic moments. The first Serious Sam HD was definitely nostalgia for my gaming brain, but after spending some time with The Second Encounter, I start to again recognize the missteps the game takes in its execution. Cheap deaths and redundant level design really drag down the experience and make you feel like you are just pushing forward on the stick and quicksaving constantly in case you die.
This does not make for an entertaining experience, and unfortunately this is how the game forces you to play. More often than not you will be exposed to a random enemy being spawned directly in front of you, resulting in death. This leads to two things: saving every five steps and simply not caring about strategy within the game. In fact I found myself just toning down the difficulty towards the end to get through the remaining haul of the campaign simply because I was tired of having to restart each segment over and over again. The game does not give you a sense of accomplishment for beating it on higher difficulties, and to be honest it isn’t worth the frustration.
Still if you love mindless shooters with massive enemies and plenty of firepower then Sam is your man. The game throws more firearms at you than an 80s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Again this has always been a Serious Sam standard and the Second Encounter is no different. Flame throwers, sniper rifles and shotguns all turn your enemies into lovely piles of gibbles and bits. The gunplay is satisfying even if it does get tedious after a few hours. The diversity of enemies is also one of the high points of the game. Sure you will be fighting the crazy Looney Tunes-looking hair monsters quite a bit, but some of the more massive bosses and unique enemies really stand out from the traditional cannon fodder.
For $15 though it is hard to argue the value packed in The Second Encounter. The game features full-fledged co-op, an abundance of secrets and a massive online feature. You have Beast Hunt, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and just about any variation of competitive gaming you can imagine. Our online sessions ran relatively smooth and there were a decent selection of matches being played, although I do predict that number dropping drastically over the next few weeks. Still if you have friends who want to join in on the action with you there is plenty to see and do here, and more than enough to keep you coming back for months after you finish the surprisingly lengthy campaign.
Visually the game looks great for being as old as it is and a budget title back then even. The levels are seriously massive in scope even if they are a bit linear. The enemy designs are the highlight as their variance keeps things fresh and entertaining throughout. The frame rate does take a hit when you drop back into third person, but the trade off is worth it at times. Sound wise these are the same effects used in the original game so expect to be disappointed. The music is forgettable and as much as I love Sam’s witty one-liners; they get old fairly quickly. I did however, love the slick menu presentation.
Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter suffers from ancient game design. If you enjoy mindlessly mowing down hordes of enemies level after level then Sam may be right for you. There is nothing mechanically broken per se, but the tedium will wear on gamers accustomed to epic events and intelligent AI. Still Sam has his charm and with it comes some truly enjoyable experiences if you are willing to forgive his shortcomings. This is the same classic FPS formula that dominated the 90s, so if you are a fan of that, there is more than enough content here to make it worth your while.
Review copy provided by publisher.