The Good: Delivers a fair amount of frenzied FPS single and multiplayer action The Bad: Oddly mixed in with some surprisingly slow and a little dull spots The Ugly: In Egypt. All in Egypt.
If the folks who made Hard Reset have any desire to make a sequel, they should do themselves a favor and pick up a copy of Serious Sam 3. SS3 provides the kill anything that moves gameplay without resorting to cheap tricks and traps that were so common in Hard Reset, and it gives players space to move, room to improvise and strafe their way out of serious trouble, and it does so in a Duke Nukem’ high octane wrapper. That said, given the pedigree of the Serious Sam series, there are some real bonehead things that the designers have done that make the game a lot less fun than previous games in the run, leaving me on the whole with a better than average but not outstanding gaming experience.
There’s not a great deal that needs to be said to get players up to speed on SS3, even if they’ve never played any of the other installments in the series. You play as Sam, a wisecracking, blue jeans and muscle T-shirt wearing, kind of soldier of fortune. The game has you battling aliens as you work your way through a series of simple missions (recover that item, rescue that person) involving minimal switch flipped and a whole lot of shooting. There’s no RPG elements, no research tree, no allocated skill points to spend. You pick up ammunition, health packs, and scraps of armor as you go along and shoot anything you see.
Earlier Serious Sams had little or no strategy, or time to breathe for that matter. The enemies came at you so fast and thick that survival was just about only activity of which you were capable. SS3 has moments, some really great moments where your view is nothing but enemies, huge screaming, lurching, shambling, seething hordes of them. Mixed in are some surprisingly almost horror-inspired bits in which you move through mostly empty regions, surprised occasionally by a single enemy or just a handful. The mix doesn’t work all that well, and sort of blunts the adrenaline bursts of the great moments. That kind of thing is very unSamlike, and more along the lines of what I would expect from F.E.A.R. or Dead Space. There is, admittedly, a clock running at all times, and completing the levels more quickly earns you a higher score, so you are encouraged to race through these slow spots, quickly dispatching enemies as they emerge. I thought this kind of motivation sort of artificial in a game where previously the goal was to simply survive; beat the clock just isn’t as thrilling a game.
I don’t, as I sit here typing, recall the settings of the earlier Serious Sams though I think I played them all. I do recall that the first one started in Egypt, but did it end there? Was it always there? I honestly can’t say. SS3 is set entirely in Egypt; hills of sand, pyramids, small towns with low stone buildings and streets strewn with trash. That’s it; that’s all you get. It makes for a very bland palette and uninteresting scenery. In fact, the small towns reminded me of Soldier of Fortune: Payback (an absolutely wretched game by any measure), and while the graphics no doubt look better than that title, there really is only so much graphical goodness that can be brought to such a crappy venue.
The game features an expansive collection of cooperative and versus multiplayer types; Capture the Flat, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and variants where you try to survive or kill alien waves for points. I found many of the games sparsely occupied, and that combined with the large maps made many of the games seem rather empty. The game also had the habit of dropping you into the map far from the action, with no more than a general direction and range to other players, leading to a fair amount of running around alone trying to cover the distance and find your way to other players.
Except for the pieces where SS3 is like the old Serious Sam, awash in enemy hordes, this Serious Sam feels almost more like the original FPS Duke Nukem’ than anything else. That’s really the closest comparison I can come up with. Part of that is probably because Sam and Duke are so much alike, but there’s also a retro vibe about the game that starts with the weapons (for the early part of the game you have the usual handgun, shotgun, machinegun, and rocket launcher), and is sort of evident in the some of the monsters (beasts with machineguns or rocket launchers instead of arms). I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think it is what people come to Serious Sam for, and while good, I think many people will leave the game as I did, hoping that there had been more horde moments, and feeling a little bit disappointed.