Serious Sam II (PC) review
"Muscular, axe-chucking barbarians twice the height of poor Sam... zombified businessmen with shotguns... football-outfitted dinosaurs that sport manly tackles and downright explosive passes... and they'll all be attacking you by the dozen!"
I often see Serious Sam and its sequels compared to the earlier Dooms, but in a way, that's giving them too much credit. Neither series' battles are much more than you holding down the left mouse button until everything's dead, granted, but you never quite knew how the next slaughterfest would go down in any of iD's classics thanks to all of their devious tricks and traps. Serious Sam 2 does away with such subtlety--there's never any doubt that something bad's going to happen, or even when. A whole mess of enemies will appear the moment you step into that lengthy corridor; they'll pour in from every side the moment you set forth into any of the game's myriad courtyards, and if you dare to pick up that rocket launcher, well, you must have a death wish. Forget Doom; if anything, Croteam's effort is reminiscent of Galaga and its ilk, arcade games that simply had you kill wave after wave of dumb but tenacious foes.
Suffice to say, those needing anything more than some shallow blasting action will have to look elsewhere; for those in the mood for some gloriously mindless entertainment, though, Serious Sam 2 should fit the bill perfectly. No time's wasted easing you into the action. Even the first field you enter hides a horde of generic alien soldiers whose sheer number more than makes up for their lacking ability to outsmart you, and things only pick up from there! By the time you're even a few hours into the game, a whole mess of aerial foes will often be thrown your way in addition to a hearty group of land legions, and you can rest assured that those bomb-dropping helicopters and rocket-launching sentries won't be showing up alone.
Not all of your opposition's going to be quite so generic, though; gun turrets may be a genre standard, but how many FPS's have wacky wind-up bulls that charge at you from all across the map!? Well-timed strafes will let you dodge their stempedes, sure, but you can bet they'll keep coming around for another pass until you pump every last one of them full of shells from your double-barreled shotgun. They're not the only nutty creatures, either; Croteam have crammed everything but a kitchen sink into the ranks of your opponents, and after playing through it, you probably wouldn't be surprised to see one of those either. Muscular, axe-chucking barbarians twice the height of poor Sam... zombified businessmen with shotguns... football-outfitted dinosaurs that sport manly tackles and downright explosive passes... and they'll all be attacking you by the dozen!
Moreso than any of its other monstrosities, though, it's the suicide bombers that define the game; it's not exactly full of them, but that only makes their infrequent appearances all the more unsettling. At first, you'll only hear their trademark yell ever-so-faintly in your headphones.
Then it gets louder.
And finally, you get to see one. Never mind the fact that he's a beefy dude clad in purple spandex--mind the fact that he's got an enormous, lit bomb sitting where you'd typically expect to see a head. And that he's running straight at you. Screaming, to boot. Hope you've got a quick trigger finger, because once they get too close, there's no way you'll escape without at least a few scratches from the explosion that ensues when you riddle him with uzi blasts--or fail to. Hypothetically, you could try using them to your adventage, taking shots only when they're right next to any of the other baddies flooding the area... but come on, this is Serious Sam 2. They're not going to to come at you in a neat queue.
Game over. Insert coin to continue.
Yet the whole thing never gets frustrating, partially due to the well-tuned level of difficulty but also thanks to a lighthearted sense of humor that goes well beyond the abnormal enemies. Granted, a good handful of the jokes fall flat--I grimaced when I clicked the use button on a plate of baked beans only to have Sam explode the house it was in by ripping one--but on the opposite end of the spectrum, I don't think anyone can help but crack a smile when their assistant's newfangled voice acting is proclaimed the result of a bigger game budget. The fun poking isn't all self-depreciative, either; whether it be the aptly-named vaporware Duke Nukem Forever or the arbitrary bosses senselessly scattered about all manner of games, nothing's safe from a host of jabs that are just as blatant as the general design.
Unfortunately, that lack of subtlety ends up catching up to the game; it's some of the most fun you'll ever have holding down the fire button until everything's dead, but Serious Sam 2 doesn't have much of anything beyond its laughs and oddities to keep you interested once you've been blasting away for a solid hour or two. Those with a top-notch computer will be wowed upon entering their first cave and seeing rays of light pour through a canopy of leaves, but the level themes don't change often enough to keep you interested in them; the same visual trick isn't nearly as captivating the fiftieth time you see it. Likewise, there are some awesome power-ups like a bomb-toting carrier parrot and a drivable spiky ball that tears your enemies to shreds, but your chances to use them are so infrequent that they couldn't hope to rival the likes of Galaga's legendary double-ship in terms of sheer satisfaction.
But while the game isn't much fun to play in anything but short bursts, you have to expect that when you've got something that's this fundamentally brainless. Taking that into consideration, Serious Sam 2 does just about everything right. A little bit more variety wouldn't have hurt, but there's already enough to go around thanks to its creative baddies and admirable sense of humor--and far more importantly, it's got intensity to spare. Those looking for the next Half-Life 2, an immersive and at least remotely in-depth experience, will have to look elsewhere; if the idea of Galaga for the 21st century sounds good to you, though, waste no time in nabbing a copy of Serious Sam 2. The more people I have to play it co-op with, the better.
Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that. You can play it co-op over the internet. It's as chaotic, and as 56k friendly, as you'd imagine.
Staff review by John L (November 07, 2005)
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