Since the advent of Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake and any other reputable FPS, man has craved running around worlds mindlessly blowing up whatever walks in front of him with big, bad, nefarious weapons. Serious Sam is no exception to the rule and if anything, reinvents a few of the attributes that we love so dearly.
Just what makes Serious Sam so damn special? I personally think it's because of its gameplay. While North American developers are spewing out game after game focusing on any story they can slap a sticker on, Croteam, in the middle of a war zone comes out with this FPS that game that takes us back to the good ol' days of Doom.
It's because of the mindless, 'any idiot can play this game and have a good time' gameplay that truly does allow Serious Sam to reinvent the wheel. While a lot of modern day FPS wait to build up the suspense, or until you're at the last level to hit you with baddie after baddie in a continuous tributary; the first level of Serious Sam smacks you right dead in the center of the action.
I was amazed at the variety of baddies, weapons and items that could be collected throughout the game. Even though you are not necessarily using high-tech, futuristic weapons (UT's ripper or redeemer for example), that is one thing that brings the game closer to home - it's the fact that the weapons you are using you can relate to. Now, don't get the wrong impression here - I don't run around my town with a 12-gauge shotgun or dual pistols but I think you know where I'm coming from here.
The story of the ga- hold on a second... what story? Sorry, I must've confused this game with another one with a story that actually contributed to the gameplay. In a nutshell, you're Sam Stone, a special-forces commando who was somehow or another transported to a time when the Egyptian style architecture was still in and you're surrounded with horde after horde of mentally insane baddies who want to tear you to pieces. Damn - how's that for a run-on sentence!
But it really doesn't matter in the long run. Even if this game did have a deep, rich story it wouldn't add to the gameplay. In fact, I think it would actually take away from the gameplay. In that I mean this game is truly 'anything that moves, shoot it'. Sure, there are puzzles in it, but nothing more intellectually stimulating than go over here find key 'A' and stick it in the 'A' hole, boom, another level. That's okay though, anything more would just frustrate us in a game like this.
The game opens up with a beautiful > 5 minute movie that flies you around the first level of Egypt, taking dramatic camera moves that you only see in Hollywood flicks. What probably amazed me the most was the graphics in this game; not only are they breathtaking but oddly enough they do not take a big hit on the framerate either. I am running 1024*768 with 4x FSAA on with at least 10-20 baddies running around onscreen at one time and there hasn't been the slightest discrepancy. Mind you, I am running a V5 5500 AGP board on a 384MB RAM and an Athlon 700 @ 750MHz, but keep in mind OpenGL isn't the V5's forte.
Now, the game engine isn't as pretty or revolutionary as say the Quake III engine with it's curved surfaces and gorgeous lighting effects but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. You see, if Serious Sam used an engine like that there would be no way that you could have literally 20 enemies (variety of models, shapes, sizes, etc.), gibblets and the large, open environments rendered so quickly and smoothly. The transition from indoor to outdoor environments result in no lag or slowdown (thank you Tribes) and just the sheer amount of figurative crap on screen at once is amazing.
What's more, when you fire a few salvos off at a wall or the ground (hopefully not right in front of you) you see the damaged surface give off debris. You blow up a baddie and it results in gibs after gibs flying everywhere; mixed in with a disfigured carcass lying on the ground. Or, depending on how close you were to the guy or how big a weapon you used, there will simply be bigger gibblets.
The shear sense of scale in this game should also be noted. Monsters are no longer limited to your size; gigantic bulls and fugly monsters pop up here and there, through walls and doors and just dwarf you in size. Heh, it's a good thing you're properly loaded up with a huge arsenal. The only thing you have to worry about now is finding more ammo
The soundtrack is just something else. Perfecting suiting the gameplay and feel of the game is a nice techno beat that keeps up with the action and with the rapid beating of your heart. I don't know who did the music to Serious Sam (if you know, drop me a line) but kudos to them, kudos to them.
Further, the audio in the game is terrific. If you've got a SB Live! the EAX will really come into play here. Especially when you face the kamikaze, self-destructing, headless bomber baddies. The funny thing is, you can hear 'em coming from a mile away since they come at you with their arms flailing and screaming like the lunatics they are at the top of their lungs. Heh, it's really quite unnerving to be in the midst of a battle with a huge bull only to hear this screaming coming from the right rear of you. You've got to blow these guys up at a distance or they'll take you with them. This is where it becomes tricky... the minute you hear them you've got to drop all else and blow them up since hey can run faster than you and you can't necessarily out maneuver them. It's quite the experience...
The game ships with an editor and modeler so I'm expecting to see a lot of pretty neat looking maps hitting the streets in the near future. Given the rather inexpensive price tag, a mere $30, you can expect this game to be picked up by many a teen. What makes this game so cheap? It's probably because you're only really getting a third or so of the game thatwas originally intended. Croteam shipped the game with only the Egyptian style levels, creating a small 5-10 hours of solid gameplay to get through where as it was originally intended to have something like 20-30 hours. Nevertheless, I suppose it's something that we can look forward to in the future.
So, what, this game's got everything? Well, depending on what you like, yeah. If you're looking for that revitalized Doom game with a kicking engine, but that same 'shoot everything that moves' mentality I don't see how you could improve this game. Other than the corny one-liners that Sam randomly spits out (think Duke) there really isn't anything that I could see improving this game.
If you're looking for a solid shoot 'em up, don't have to think about a think, let all my aggression out game, this is it. I'm sure we're going to be seeing quite a few games coming out in the not to distant future using this 'serious' Serious engine (pun intended). It is definitely a contender with the Q3:A, UT and Lithtech engines. Way to go Croteam!