Full Review: Wham, bam, thank you Sam!
So, by a show of hands, who here likes action games? Oh? wait a sec, let me rephrase that. Who likes games with tons of action? Hmm? still not quite right. All right? who likes games that feature nonstop, edge of your seat, murdering action that can only be described as a killing spree to the nth degree? Well, if that's you, than the recently released Serious Sam: Next Encounter is your ticket to fun. It's not deep and it's not real purdy, but for a pure visceral killing experience, none do it better or faster.
Sam's story involves a "seriously" twisted being known as Mental. Having harvested the power of the great Sirion artifacts at the beginning of 21st century, Earth is now in "serious" (ok, no more) danger of Mental's onslaught of insane creatures that have been sent back in time to obtain the Sirion powers for themselves. Of course, Sam "Serious" Stone, the whipping boy of the anti-Mental taskforce, is once again called upon to travel through time and blast Mental's horde into oblivion. As you may or may not be aware by now, Serious Sam really isn't all that "serious" (damn, sorry, last time I promise). In fact, the game is quite comical. Sam has a very macho, Duke Nukem like attitude, and judging by his various humorous comments he makes throughout the game, he's not too afraid of Mental's forces. Then again, who can blame him? With an arsenal of his magnitude I wouldn't be scared either.
That's right ladies and gents, Sam is loaded to the teeth with weaponry. Indeed, this is easily one of the game's most potent features. Starting out with a desert eagle pistol, you'll quickly collect your standard shotgun, rocket launcher, mini-gun, sniper rifle, and a chainsaw (that's right, a chainsaw baby!). From then on you'll collect things like a Sirion Power Gun, Serious Cannon, and a Gas Gun to name a few. No doubt plenty of goodies for you to play with here. In getting back to the action reference, the actual gameplay in the title is really just constant shooting action. Stop shooting or moving for a second and you're in a world of hurting. Enemies of different powers and abilities come out at you in wave after wave of blissful mayhem. The game really follows a standard pattern ? this is a wave of enemies spawn, you kill them, new items pop-up for you to replenish yourself, another wave of enemies comes, you kill them, grab more magically spawning items, and eventually move on to the next section to do the same, with a boss thrown in the mix here and there. Skill comes in the form of hitting the fire button as fast as possible, using your strafing abilities (circle strafing is a must), and knowing which enemies should go down first, which unfortunately only come from experience.
New gameplay additions in Sam's world come in the form of the vehicles (thank Halo). Yet, unfortunately these feel more like a desperate attempt to add something new in the quickly aging franchise. But fun nonetheless, in various points within the game you'll be able to take control of the Serious Jeep (with homing rockets), Serious Combine (a tractor with rotating nano-steel blades), and the Serious Sub (with aquatic miniguns and homing rockets). While somewhat loose, the vehicles control fairly well, and offer a slight change of pace from running and gunning gameplay.
Control wise, there's not many complaints. Serious Sam features the standard dual control stick moving set-up with the ability to adjust sensitivity or invert your axis, and your usual array of abilities that your face and shoulder buttons allow you. I'm talking shooting, reloading, jumping, etc. One of my favorite features comes in the form of how you choose your weapons ? you can quickly move through them by tapping the L1 and L2 buttons, or you can hold one down to stop the action and take your time to choose the best weapon for the current situation. Like in many PS2 first-person-shooters, aiming can sometimes be frustrating, but luckily the game doesn't require precision accuracy.
Replay within the game's single player mode herein lies with the never dying point-based system. By basically killing, being quick, and finding the various secrets you'll be graded on each level in the game, and will be given a medal that parallels your success. With 32 levels in all, that's a lot of challenge if you're up for it. Though, multiplicity might just be the way to go if you want some replay. From the now infamous split-screen co-op mode, and split-screen games of deathmatch, hold the flag, and pass the bomb, to the online multiplayer support (broadband required) featuring the same game modes, the developer did a fine job implementing different ways to play Sam.
Aesthetically, this is one of Serious Sam's major downfalls. The visual package just doesn't get the job done here, as it comes off just barely better looking that a PSOne game if you'll believe it. Textures are ugly and watered down and the animations are stiff and unbelievable. Although, the major reason for this is that with so many enemies and so much action on the screen at once this was probably the only way to go to prevent slowdown. Which, if this is the case, then I'd much rather have this than a hulking magpie of choppy lameness. Audio wise, there isn't much wrong here, but it isn't anything all that special either. The explosions, rat-tat-tat of gunfire, and upbeat music are all your norms here.