Reviewed: May 29, 2004
Released: April 20, 2004
Climax Entertainment has given us a new installment in the nostalgia-inducing Serious Sam series that causes us to remember fondly those gaming days of yesteryear with the likes of Doom, Dark Forces, Hexen and even Duke Nuke’em. Surely, you’re all aware of the seminal first person shooting genre wherein one can relieve themselves of all the burdens of storyline and just shoot mindlessly at whatever is stupid enough to come into the same room to which you’re laying waste at the moment. And Serious Sam: Next Encounter is no different.
After a few years of the video game industry growing by leaps and bounds, a little software developer group from Croatia of all places came out with an update to that venerable progenitor, Doom. By making the game with a 3D engine and literally flooding the screen with enemies (also in full 3D), Croteam managed to breathe new life into the gaming experience that id software created with Wolfenstein 3D [over 13 years ago] and popularized with Doom. What really made it fun, was the melding of a Duke Nukem-esque sense of humor and smooth, easy gameplay.
I myself played the hell out of Doom back in the day and the adrenaline rush of entering a room and hearing dozens of enemies appearing around me bent on my destruction had no equal for a gaming experience at the time. Now, Climax Entertainment takes over the duties as Croteam focuses on other projects. The plot never really matters in these games (do you honestly remember the whole, official plot of Doom?), but suffice it to say, Sam Stone must travel through time to stop evil minions from getting a hold of a powerful artifact from a Sirian mothership – or something. Basically, it’s an excuse to design levels that differ from each other if only visually for Sam to stomp through. Fair enough, right?
The game’s interface is as free of clutter as it is plot with a very cartoony look that reminds me of Worms 3D, also for the PS2. This reinforces the idea that this game – despite its name – is anything but serious, as bomb-spitting elephants and headless kamikazes are hardly a study in real-world physics. But while the game doesn’t take the genre seriously, neither does it give proper concern to its raison d’etre: namely updated, old-school fun.
It’s painfully frustrating to get used to the twitchy controls that cause you to fall off of countless platforms in the game. Ledges and balconies present constant peril for you when you’re being assaulted by wave after wave of ammunition-tossing enemies. I know that scores of bad guys are part of the formula, but with the PS2 controller instead of the more familiar keyboard/mouse combo us old-schoolers are used to in this genre, something just gets lost in the translation.
Speaking of platforms, there is nothing more annoying than trying to negotiate jumping onto boxes in the first person perspective. It never works, even when a dozen sets of teeth with legs aren’t chewing at you the whole time. It is nice to have touch of some of the newer FPS multiplayer games like Unreal or Quake in the form of the “Killing Spree” accolade you receive when you grease 20 monsters in quick succession. In this state, the points are increased, adding to your level score – which unlocks more content. “Groovy!” as Duke would say. I just wish that the developers avoided making the baddies spawn from whatever direction you’ve got your back to at the moment in an half-hearted attempt to ramp up the tension. That bit of old school I didn’t need.
At least your standard complement of weapons for the time-traveling, killing-machine-on-the-go are in attendance, including the dual Uzis (or as I like to refer to it, “two-fisted justice” – hey, I’m from Texas), flamethrower, grenade launcher, et al, replete with secondary fire modes. These secondary modes add some depth to the game if only to provide more ways to kill monsters. For instance, the laughing gas mode of the flamethrower causes your enemies to giggle themselves into oblivion, making you a kinder, gentler Sam for all the tree huggers looking to work off a little steam after a protest.
Another welcome addition to the series is the use of vehicles, which include an off-road assault vehicle and even a machine that would make John Deere giddy. There’s something oddly satisfying (if not a bit disturbing) in being able to run down anything that moves like some bizarre cross between Marty McFly and the Terminator. And luckily load times aren’t the worst, but because this is a PS2 game and not on the PC, expect to have a moment to rehydrate yourself between levels. That’s why God made black cherry soda, right?
One complaint about Serious Sam: Next Encounter’s graphics is the gross pixelation that occurs at close proximities. From walls to floors to enemies, you get a bad case of the blurries in every level. This is the trade-off you get when you turn off your Splinter Cell game to indulge in a little bargain-priced, old-school shootin’. However, the PC versions of the Sam series games are much nicer looking despite the undemanding graphics engine that powers the action.
Fitting for a budget title, the sounds are nothing to write to the folks about with forgettable, lone Casio music, and sound effects that hearken to those old FPS games for all the wrong reasons – though the sound of those headless kamikazes screaming is kind of funny at first. At first, mind you. It did prove irksome that I could never tell from what direction they were coming until they were right on top of me.
Don’t look for high replay value in a game like this unless you enjoy the multiplayer aspect of it, though I found it hard to gather a decent group of individuals online to play with. The standard multiplayer modes of deathmatch and capture the flag deliver as advertised, but I wish that the levels were more inspired than the warmed over single player levels offered. There was seemingly no effort made to provide for a more engaging experience online in the case of this game. Still, you can’t say the game doesn’t deliver as advertised for its price.
If you’re sitting at home in your ripped jeans, watching Army of Darkness on VHS and have a crumpled Jackson in your pocket, this game is not only calling you, it’s running at you, screaming with a hissing bomb in its hands. That’s right, Serious Sam: Next Encounter is a blast from the past for the PS2 that happens to have a little pow from the now in the form of online play and co-op, but don’t expect a 10-year upgrade in the graphics department. Better yet, just rent it. Seriously.