Game Over Online ~ Serious Sam: The Second Encounter

GameOver Game Reviews - Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (c) Gathering of Developers, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (c) Gathering of Developers
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II-300Mhz, 64MB RAM, 150MB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 88%
Date Published Thursday, March 14th, 2002 at 10:52 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

It goes without saying that the original version of this game, Serious Sam, seriously (no pun intended) shocked many critics and gamers alike when it first came out last year. Up until that time, nobody had thought a value title could be a fun game, much less a good one. By now, I think most people who read this review will probably know who Sam Stone is and how he is out to battle aliens, save planets like ours and generally wreck havoc. In this sense, many people have pointed out, this is not unlike a tongue-in-cheek reference to our bygone hero, Duke Nukem.

Certainly, the second edition of Serious Sam has no pretense in becoming anything greater. It takes the elements of the first title and expands it so the end result is similar to what we saw in Doom II from Doom. That's not to say this is a glorified mission pack. Fans need not be lachrymose that their favorite franchise has diluted itself. Indeed, the truth is far from it. The premise remains relatively the same albeit this time, Sam Stone battles his archrival Mental across three distinct pieces of terrain over some extremely massive real estate. His modus operandi continues to be the same; shoot first and ask questions later, much later. If you thought some of the battlegrounds in the desert were large, you haven't seen anything yet.

In general, the new real estate is still designed around the concept of the simplistic no frills FPS title. Your character still carries an extraordinary amount of firepower, reloads and switches weapons on a dime, and takes incredible amounts of damage. Serious Sam makes the FPS game as close to a sport as it can possibly get. Certain monsters are vulnerable to certain weapons. Moreover, with the addition of important weapons like the sniper rifle, you'll be switching through weapons and nailing monsters with them literally like clockwork. As with the original title, you'll face horde after horde of enemies. And managing the situation along while making precise shots is part of the 'sport' element and it really makes Serious Sam a spokesperson for all the cyber-athletic leagues.

Level design is even more clever this time around. Some of Serious Sam's magic lies not in just swarming you with different types of enemy but also in what enemies you're forced to deal with and in what order. Pacing and timing are also key elements that made the original Serious Sam fun. This second encounter is no different. There are periods of near silence that serve to drum up anticipation. One particular level had a row of lights shutting off and as the darkness encroached upon you, you could hear the chainsaws of your nemeses approaching closer and closer; drama at its best. Instead of playing with numbers, some of the traps are now environmental based, with floors that flip up and down or rooms that exude a sense of vertigo. There are also crushing ceilings and wind tunnels amongst spike-laden walls. There's also one portion where you move along a torus-shaped piece of terrain; wholly impossible in real life physics but certainly possible in the fiction of Serious Sam. The effect is absolutely sublime. Like a good Shakespearean tragedy, the developers painstakingly use a series of these contraptions to prepare you for the inevitable boss showdowns.

Also like a Shakespearean tragedy, there's comedy after the main action. Ample humor is injected into the title. I already mentioned before that tongue-in-cheek reference to that other blonde-haired gun-toting PC icon. Sam Stone continues to espouse his witty one-liners, although I still thought there weren't enough in quantity. His lines are funny, if not funnier than Duke because there are times the hero knows he is trapped in a game. For example, after you defeat the first chainsaw wielding Jack-O-Latern monster (known as Cucurbito the Pumpkin), it breaks down a wall in dramatic fashion and appears again shortly thereafter. Irony is created when Sam notices this and promptly asks whether he hadn't killed this guy already.

This is not to say the second outing of Serious Sam is flawless. There is room for complaint. In the beginning, there is a great emphasis on jumping puzzles, perhaps to make up for the fact that you don't exactly field too many weapons early on in the game. The jumping puzzles involve things like jumping on elevating pads to cross a certain chasm; things that appear much more at home in Tomb Raider than Serious Sam. The action picks up shortly afterwards and the puzzles seem to stop once your arsenal is big enough to handle more combat. For those who were disgusted by the simplicity of Serious Sam, you won't like this version, as it attempts nothing to improve its anemic puzzles. Some of the 'puzzles' still involve hitting switches. To work it into the fiction, you're told to retrieve some idols or icons and place them at certain places to open doors. And invariably, all the levels will degenerate into some boss encounter with a Herculian monster many times the size of the hero. Thus, the premise of the title hasn't changed.

Often value developers write to tell me about how lucky Croteam has been in receiving such a prolonged period of funding just to craft their 3D engine. The visuals, by the way, still remain top notch; able to handle the long draw distances and environmental effects. However, its little things like providing tools for mod development out of the box and an incredibly flexible multiplayer feature that illustrate why, as far as value titles go, Serious Sam never gives you the feeling this is anything economical or value-based. You get everything including the kitchen sink in this game. Multiplayer options persist to be numerous including the unique split-screen mode where you can pair up to eight people using only two PCs. Why no other developers have adopted these as standards is beyond me. You can also save during network play, something I haven't seen since the very early days of Doom. Respawn doesn't place you at the beginning of the level, but near enough to the action so traveling is minimized. Unlike the first edition, you can set up dedicated servers out of the box. Previously, patches were required to automate the whole process. By far, the most entertaining mode has to be the co-operative play. Nothing beats holding off the monstrous hordes than with a few compatriots. Its execution is a tribute to why this persists to be one of the most entertaining multiplayer experiences, par excellence, you'll be seeing this year.

To alleviate previous criticisms about Serious Sam being too sandy, the artists have constructed three different motifs. None of this is brought out more vividly than the first level where you wade through a jungle to reach a temple on the horizon. The enemies charging by you are augmented with impressive EAX effects and the experience is not unlike that found in the final part of the popcorn movie, The Mummy Returns. The effects themselves are decent but not a leap over the original title. The soundtracks are still mostly chains of percussion, unable to create any effect of synaesthesia to complement the colorful visuals. They get progressively better as you move through the story. If you look closely, however, the visuals are actually quite similar in fundamentals. Most continue to revolve around mythological designs and the monsters still plunder from the same mix of horror movies and ancient mythology.

Sequels often get a bad reputation as titles that wash out or dilute the original. Publishers have the propensity to artificially create franchises from successful inaugural titles. The sequel to Serious Sam, however, debunks that misconception and though the achievement is not entirely revolutionary, it continues to be an impressive title in its own right like the symbiotic relationship between The Godfather and its second part. The developers continue to show that they know what FPS games are all about and the action you find in this title is as close to the true 'craft' of the FPS as you will ever find on the market today. Whether this will continue in the easily predicted third Serious Sam title is uncertain, but hopefully Croteam won't take as long as id software in producing a trilogy out of this much vaunted franchise.


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