Serious Sam (Xbox) review
"How serious is Serious Sam, the straightforward first-person-shooter that drew in surprisingly big sales and comparisons to no less a game than Doom when it was released at bargain bin prices several years ago? Well, the action quotient is pretty fucking serious, but ultimately this is a undiluted mindless fun. An adventure self-consciously in the vein of the early 90s first-person-shooter giants, Serious Sam tops even Duke Nukem 3D with arrogant brio. It is the logical endgame of all the shoote..."
How serious is Serious Sam, the straightforward first-person-shooter that drew in surprisingly big sales and comparisons to no less a game than Doom when it was released at bargain bin prices several years ago? Well, the action quotient is pretty fucking serious, but ultimately this is a undiluted mindless fun. An adventure self-consciously in the vein of the early 90s first-person-shooter giants, Serious Sam tops even Duke Nukem 3D with arrogant brio. It is the logical endgame of all the shooters that put you in big rooms with big guns and big bad guys. If Doom is Star Wars, then Serious Sam is Starship Troopers. It might be soulless, derivative cheese, but just try not to love it.
This XBox version brings together Sam's first two PC adventures (First Encounter and Second Encounter), so you'll be at it for a while, strutting through Egypt, South America, Babylon, and medieval Europe. Names will be taken. Hedz will be busted. Puzzles are negligible. Sam is an impossibly toned guy who cracks wise something fierce and sports a tight white tee with a smirking bomb on the chest--strategic problem solving isn't his strong suit. In lieu of clever challenges, you are thrown in giant arena after giant arena with hordes of villains that are programmed to run straight at you; you'll rarely be outsmarted, but being outgunned is a give-in. The signature, unforgettable enemy announces his arrival with a faint scream. You'll spin around wildly as the screaming gets louder and fiercer, eventually spying something out in the distance. It looks like a normal, if angry, guy...oh, shit! It's a shirtless, headless maniac cradling a giant bomb in his hand who won’t stop his rampage until he is blown into little chunks--you can dispatch him from afar, or he’ll be more than happy to do it with his own bomb once he’s tackled you at full speed. Of course, the second method might hurt you too. Just a little bit.
The Headless Wonder sums up the Serious Sam ethos concisely and bluntly. The last stage in Egypt, the one that caps Sam’s First Encounter, might give you a grander perspective. You enter a vast, deserted courtyard--gigantic, austere, geometrically simplisitc landscapes are Serious Sam's specialty. The whole game has a pleasantly utilitarian look, working in smooth, broad strokes: each enemy has a small number of distinct animations, and they're normally placed in symmetrical patterns. Anyway, you advance, pick up the power-ups piled generously in the center of the courtyard, and a simple but menacing organ melody begins looping. Two expansive ziggurat-like structures lined with doors box in the sides of the courtyard, and towering walls make up the front and back. You know what happens next. Several doors begin rising slowly. In the course of a battle that lasts a good fifteen minutes, the other doors will open, the organ melody will speed up, and you'll face armies of wraiths with a ranged bolo attack and sharp claws that will cut you in two, blue mechs with multiple laser cannons and their big red brothers armed with devastating missile launchers, harpies that descend from the sky, in large, shiny white clouds by the dozens, stampeding oxen that will knock you fifty feet skyward with their raging momentum even after you've put a shotgun shell in their brains, and of course the Headless Wonder. And then you get to move on and face the boss.
Forget the multiplayer--it's archaic crap--but the white-knuckle single-player thrills come long and hard, even if they’re a little archaic, too. Serious Sam is an unabashed throwback, and that in and of itself is refreshing. Show up, wreck unholy amounts of shit, and turn off your higher brain functions. Sloppily recycled concepts are a dime a dozen. A refined rip-off like this is a fairly rare pleasure, funnily enough.
Community review by careless_whisper (June 22, 2005)
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