Earlier this year, after a decade-long wait, gamers finally got to sample Serious Sam’s spiritual father Duke Nukem. He had piled on a few pounds, was looking slightly worse for wear and still expected his old tricks to hold weight in a time where gamers had grown accustomed to modern-day shooters holding their hands and chucking in turret sections every five minutes to offer ‘cinematic gameplay’. Unsurprisingly then, the response to ol’ Duke’s return wasn’t a good one at all, and we suspect that there was more than a few worried developers at Croteam wondering whether the masses had moved on.
Thankfully, Serious Sam 3 proves that not only is that not the case, but that when done right, these old-school tropes can still result in a golden first-person shooter experience. Frankly, this effort excels in every area that 3D Realm’s revived turd didn’t, and it’s a fantastic blast from the past.
Aping classic twitch shooters of old like Quake and Doom, there’s no cover mechanic and no limited weapon choice. Instead, players are simple given an array of imaginatively designed weapons, including the legendary mini-gun, and are required to march head-first into vast hordes of different enemies looming large on the horizon.
However the formula isn’t quite that simple, as Croteam has tried to weave in something which resembles a story – bless them. In a twist, this effort is actually a prequel set before the first Serious Sam, with humanity fighting a massive alien invasion. The only way to combat this consistently bizarre threat is to look around some Egyptian pyramids and activate? something. Look, it really isn’t important, but there are cut-scenes to break up the levels and they help to allow players to catch their breath.
For a lot of the campaign you’re just wandering between one sandy town to another, with a brief incursion inside a dark pyramid, before again moving off. As a result, the sandy surroundings quickly become a little dull. Thankfully the level design does its part to stave off aesthetic boredom, as whether playing on your own or co-op – optimised for between two to 16 players – you’ll be constantly overwhelmed with the number of enemies you need to send
to the underworld.
The new Serious Engine 3.5 technology allows levels to take place
in vast open spaces with literally hundreds of different enemies teleporting in at once. It all gets very hectic, with the substantial challenge requiring players to strafe to avoid enemies while surveying the situation in order to ascertain which enemies need to be gotten rid of first. The gunplay feels fast and satisfying as Sam feels mobile enough – with the help of sprint and a jump – that you can backtrack away from screaming Headless Kamikazes, quickly sidestep to avoid a Kleer Skeleton’s flying chained cannonballs or swiftly dodge a Scrapjack’s barrage of rockets.
It’s easier just to show these enemies rather than describe them, but fighting them Spartan-style has a strange rhythm to it. Playing Serious Sam at times feels like an elaborate dance routine, with every keystroke and mouse-click resulting in a shower of death all around you.
The well-knit gunplay has always been what this series has done best, and it’s all here in addition to a new melee mechanic which lets players kill smaller foes up close, offering up special trophies. Certain pieces of the environment are also destructible. We’re only talking about a few stone columns here and there, so don’t expect a Battlefield level of destructibility but it’s a nice touch.
On the co-op front everything works as it should, with Steam implementation allowing matches to be easily set up. The large open environments accommodate the number of enemies needed to satisfy 16 players hungry for blood, and even though friendly fire makes it easy to strafe in front of another person’s weapon, it kind of adds to the experience, too. There are also secrets to be found in the campaign as well, ranging from trophies to other neat homages (a la id Software) so it pays to go through the game more than once.
Even though the co-op campaign has won a lot of attention – mainly because the 16-player limit is sheer well-implemented lunacy – it was the competitive side of things we were really impressed by. There are nine different modes in total, ranging from regular deathmatch and instagib options to more team-orientated CTF and a competitive horde mode. Unfortunately the map count isn’t anywhere near as comprehensive as there’s only eight offered, some of which are only compatible with their respective mode, so you’ll get used to your surroundings perhaps too quickly. More maps are certainly on the way care of the community, but it shouldn’t be up to them to pick up the slack.
On the surface it would be easy to dismiss Sam as a brainless old-school shooter, but it’s much more technically impressive than it initially lets on. Duke Nukem Forever showed that re-producing the old-school shooter appeal is very difficult, but Croteam has done it expertly. So raise a glass to old boy Sam, as he’s back in all his glory!
To read this review in its unadulterated glory and find out the score, check out the latest issue of PCGZine
Tags: Serious Sam 3 BFE
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