STAFF REVIEW of Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010.
by Adam Dileva

Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter Box art When Serious Sam released back in 2001 it was met with different reactions by people for many reasons. Firstly, at the time Duke Nukem was still a big name in gaming and it took that popularity and had its own spin on things. Sam himself may resemble Duke very closely in character and cheesy one-liners, but what Serious Sam brought that really wasnt seen before was massive battles of endless hordes of enemies. Also, this was one of the first games I can remember with absolutely massive bosses (much like how Painkiller did well) that were quite the sight to simply see.

Before perks, weapon upgrades and tactical strategy there was Serious Sam that was all about blowing anything up that moved without thinking. The game was simple in principle and straight to the point; shoot and kill everything while trying to survive.

Now Serious Sam HD is here for the masses of people that may have missed or completely forgotten about this classic title. The entire game is a 1 for 1 remake of its 2001 counterpart down to every enemy and every secret; this is its strength and weakness though. For people that have played the title before, there is nothing new here for you other than some slightly polished graphics, and for the new comers they get to experience what a simple gung-ho guns-a-blazing shooter was all about almost a decade ago.

Its 2104 and aliens from across the universe has almost decimated humankind and the only hope is to send the planets greatest hero; Serious Sam Stone back in time to collect an ancient Egyptian artifact that will help defeat the aliens leader who is 20 stories tall; Mental. You arent playing Serious Sam for the story as you can see; you are playing it to zone out and kill some alien scum.

Serious Sam wont win awards for level design or innovative weapons, but thats not what its here to do. Its a humorous take on the genre at whole and just does what it can to throw everything at Sam that is possible all at once.

In single player you will plow through 13 different Egyptian levels, tombs, hallways and courtyards and nothing can be said for the level design as its nothing special; though I dont believe its really trying to be. The same can be said for the enemies youll encounter as there are less than two dozen types of enemies all of which have no real smart AI and will simply try to run at you in a straight line. Because of this type of enemy intelligence you will constantly have to circle strafe which is something that hasnt been relied upon in a shooter for quite some time. Luckily there are 5 different difficult modes and the hardest being Serious Mode that will have you dying many times.

You are eventually given up to 10 different weapons to choose from as you find them along your way and with many of the guns not needing to ever reload; you will simply be spraying and preying at anything that gets in your way.

Because there is no regenerating shields or cover system, you will have to do things the old way, by picking up health packs and shields to keep you alive. It feels very old school and its not necessarily a bad thing.

All the enemies from the original game are here including the famous headless suicide bombers (though Im still unsure how they have no head yet they scream at you while running towards Sam). Serious Sam is all about killing wave 1 of enemies, having a brief moment to get health packs and ammo then killing wave 2. Repeat this a few more times per room and courtyard and thats the simple design behind the game. Enemies are simply respawned and thrown towards Sam over and over. The charm can wear off very quickly of doing the same thing over and over again though.

Something new with the XBLA version of this remake is the heavy inclusion of auto aiming to the point of being too heavily relied upon and youll feel like youll have homing bullets sometimes.

Also, with a press of the Y button, you can autosave on the fly (though it will slightly lag your gameplay) and does come in handy while playing single player. A quick B press will bring up your help journal that has all the info you need from enemy statistics to a small (though usually useless) strategy guide built right in. Its a good inclusion if you enjoy reading all the back story and every bit of information, but chances are if you are playing Serious Sam, then you arent known for having the longest attention span and would like to just get back to killing aliens.

Multiplayer has been included with the XBLA release which was unexpected, but with a price. The PC version had 16 player co-op and deathmatch where as the XBLA release only has 4 player co-op and no deathmatch. While playing 4 players co-operatively is immensely more fun than playing solo; the game scales enemy numbers and waves based on how many are playing. This means there are a vast amount of more aliens to kill and because of this the frame rate can and will drop quite often and quite substantially. While I can understand the scale back from 16 to 4 players due to framerate issues, the complete annihilation of deathmatch mode is quite a deal breaker as you can only play the campaign mode so many times when it has no progression or story.

While the title may have HD it its name, the HD graphics boost didnt overly impress me in any way. This may be because the textures were bumped but the models themselves seem almost the same. Comparing to the original releases side by side may prove more and an improvement but there was no enhancements over the original game; even the same monotone sound bites from each enemy were reused and not improved.

With no new levels, no new weapons and no new enemies, the only people interested in this are going to be die hard Serious Sam fans and people that have never played it before; other than that this remake really seemed quite unnecessary.

Serious Sam reminds me of a great cult movie hit; the fans get it and love it and the rest dont see whats so special or understand. Dont go in expecting anything innovative, just turn off your brain, blow tons of aliens up and enjoy what a mindless shooter Serious Sam excels at being.

Taking out the competitive multiplayer is a huge deal breaker when the PC version had it and the slowdown in co-op is quite detrimental on the gameplay experience overall.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.1 / 10
Visuals: 7.2 / 10
Sound: 6.8 / 10


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