STAFF REVIEW of Serious Sam Collection, The (Xbox 360)

Saturday, August 3, 2013.
by Adam Dileva

Serious Sam Collection, The Box art Nostalgia is a funny thing. It tends to make you remember the better parts about something while you completely forget all the bad things. I’ve had this happen to me many times, as I’ll rewatch a TV show I loved as a kid only to realize that it simply wasn’t that good. This has happened for me with a few video games as well; as I would always play anything I could get my hands on. Back when Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem were THE games to play, Serious Sam hit the scene as well and tried to do something a little differently. The Serious Sam games simply threw you into a world with a ton of guns with a horde of enemies running at you and let you have at it. When this came out there was almost nothing better, no story to sit through, no real cutscenes to watch, just simply shoot anything that moved and ran towards you. Like I said, nostalgia has a funny way of making you remember things better than they actually were.

If you’ve never experienced a Serious Sam game, I’ve already essentially explained everything you need to know about it already. There was no cover based hiding, no regenerating health, no super armor, just simply guns, guns, and more guns. Serious Sam never takes itself too seriously (see the irony there), and simply pits you against a massive onslaught of oncoming enemies for you to shoot anything you can. Sure, there’s a little backstory to tie it all together, but it won’t matter as you won’t really care, you’ll be too busy shooting attacking enemies running right towards you anyway.

The Serious Sam Collection is just that, and contains Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter (TFE), Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter (TSE), Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter (BFE) along with its DLC companion Jewel of the Nile, and lastly Serious Sam Double D XXL. Essentially you’re getting four separate games and a piece of DLC for one of them. That being said, these are the same versions that were released on Xbox Live Arcade years ago, so if you already own them, there’s nothing new here for you. All of these games run off of the disc, and I’m not sure why an install option wasn’t presented to make things easier and hopefully help with the horrendous loading that I’ll get into later. The Serious Sam Collection is a no nonsense first person shooter that gives you big guns and plenty of enemies and aliens to shoot at.

The Serous Sam series follows the protagonist Sam “Serious” Stone in his ongoing battle against the alien overlord Mental who wants to destroy humanity. Mental orders his seemingly endless army of odd followers against Sam to try and stop him at a consistent rate. Enemies are spawned across the large maps thick in number while Sam must try to avoid the projectiles and kamikaze enemies by jumping and strafing before he blasts them away. Combat is usually quite frantic and chaotic as you almost have waves of enemies rushing towards you without worry for their own wellbeing. Combat is simple and straight to the point; shoot anything that moves while constantly moving without thinking about it. Once the set amounts of enemies are defeated you can move on to the next area which will spawn the next wave of enemies for you to blast away. Repeat over and over and you have the formula for Serious Sam.

Mental’s army will throw an odd sort of enemies at Sam that range from suicide bombers without heads, soldiers with rocket launchers, undead skeleton horses, one eyed monsters that look like a ringer for Gossamer, robots, and many more other oddities you simply won’t see in other games. While some enemies will shoot and throw things at Sam, most will simply just run in a straight line towards Sam, clearly showing a lack of AI (or a care). You’ll need to constantly strafe and backpedal to avoid being blown up by screaming headless kamikaze’s and to get a safe distance from all the enemies running towards you. I can’t even think of any other modern games that rely on this circle strafing for a mechanic any longer, which shows how dated the gameplay is. Serious Sam is not about taking your time to strategize the best method of approach, using the right perks, or weapon upgrades. Enemies always know where you are and will run right towards Sam regardless of where you try and hide, so you might as well take on the massive enemies head on. When you become surrounded by dozens of enemies, this is easier said than done. It’s a good thing Sam is gifted with the ability to run backwards as fast as he can forwards.

Since Sam exists in a time before regenerative health and cover mechanics, you’ll have to top up your health the old fashioned way, by finding health and armor powerups littered throughout the stages. You can always see your health and armor numbers in the bottom left corner of the screen, and when things get hectic with a mass amount of enemies, you’ll have to always be on the lookout for health pickups, especially on the harder difficulty levels.

Your goal is to reach the end of the level while constantly having enemies thrown at you. Sometimes this isn’t as easy as you would think, as your goal as to where to go isn’t always as clear as it should be, especially in Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter, but more on that shortly. Each of the games have multiplayer included but because of how old these releases are (since they came out on Xbox Live Arcade years go) I wasn’t able to find a single game across any of the titles over the course of this review. The community for these games is dead, so don’t expect to get much multiplayer time with each of the games (which includes the multiplayer achievements). If you’ve played the Serious Sam games before, there’s nothing too much new here. Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter tries to change things up a little bit but it’s the same gameplay at its core. The only drastically different game on the disc is XXL.

I’ll quickly give a rundown of each of the titles included on The Serious Same Collection.

First up is the original Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter. Sam is sent back through time to Egypt to battle Mental’s army while searching for an ancient artifact to help save humanity. This game was one of the first games that I could remember that had massive bosses which was quite awesome to see at the time. Sure nowadays it’s no big deal to see an enemy the size of a building, but back then it wasn’t really done. Don’t let the HD in the title fool you though, as this HD remake does look better than its original counterpart, though not by much. The textures are updated and crisper, but the sound, models, environment, and animations have gone untouched, which defeats the whole purpose of doing an HD remake. It should have been called Serious Sam Slightly Better Textures, as nothing else in the game seemed to have been improved in any way I could notice. It even still uses the old (albeit classic) sound files, as the kamikaze’s sound exactly the same as they did back in the original release.

Next is Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter. Once again Sam is battling against the endless waves of Mental’s army as he tries to stop Sam from foiling his plans of destruction. It wasn’t explained anywhere until I randomly found it, but The First Encounter and The Second Encounter both utilize a quick save feature by pressing the Y button. After a few cheap deaths in the first level, you’ll want to use this feature almost after each significant battle of Metal’s minions. Also, just like The First Encounter, calling this HD is really stretching the use of the word. Again, the game contains no major upgrades other than some slightly better looking textures and effects as it’s using a newer engine.

Next up is Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter. This is actually a prequel to the first game, hence its title Before First Encounter, where the story began, on Earth. For being the newest of the games I actually expected this title to be the standout of the collection included on the disc; while it looked the prettiest, I had the most frustrating and consistent issues with this game compared to the others.

Before First Encounter slightly changes the tired and worn Serious Sam approach to gameplay and opts for a slightly more modern way of gameplay and storytelling. Instead of massive open areas to slog through, most of the levels are much more tight and confined, and while still linear, it’s quite the change from the first two games that generally put you in open areas one after another. Cutscenes are done more modernly which take place after each significant battle, but the horrendous voiceover work just ruins anything it’s trying to accomplish. I understand it’s not supposed to be taken seriously, but the lines and delivery is so bad that it’s hard to not notice. It almost feels like they tried to make Before First Encounter a more serious game but something just doesn’t flow right when the gameplay is still mindless shooting.

New features have been included such as iron sights for certain weapons, sprinting (which you’ll end up using quite often), and certain weapons need to be reloaded often as well. Iron sights seem like a good inclusion, but doesn’t fit with the flow of the game since you need to be constantly back stepping and circle strafing just to survive, and looking down the barrel slows you down drastically. Level design seems to have been done by one or two people, as each level looks almost exactly the same; In a desert, in an urban setting, outside a pyramid, inside a pyramid with your light on. A certain section that has an auto turret you need to get by never explained that there were switches nearby that I could use to disable them, which made my playthrough much more difficult. Many things aren’t actually explained and leave you to explore and figure it out on your own which becomes frustrating. I got lost numerous times, and even in one underground stage with the flashlight, I somehow got turned around (from the seemingly lock-on melee attack) and back tracked all the way to the beginning of the stage somehow. You’re not told where to go, you just have to figure it out and there are no visual markers or anything to guide you.

Other problems that plague Before First Encounter is the terrible texture pop-in, even during cutscenes or randomly while playing. Numerous times I had almost everything on my screen lose its textures, only to have it pop back in a few seconds later. The game doesn’t’ even try and hide that it will spawn enemies behind or even in front of you, and you will always here the combat music turn on when an enemy is near (which is basically constant), causing you to try and find them. I can’t even count the amount of times I had an enemy spawn right in front of me.

The biggest problem with Before First Encounter though is its massive freezes and glitches. When the game autosaves it will cause your game to freeze for a few seconds. There were other times though where my game froze for literally thirty seconds or so, thinking my 360 hard locked, only to find it eventually started playing again as if nothing happened. I actually wasn’t able to finish Before First Encounter though due to this bug, as it froze one time and I left it, but it never fixed itself, deleting my game save in the process.

DLC for Before First Encounter is also included on the disc (which allows for an install, so I’m not sure why it doesn’t give the option for the other games) and is titled Jewel of the Nile. It contains a new weapon (which is not very exciting), a new enemy, new boss, tow multiplayer maps (which is useless as no one plays online any longer), and three new single player levels. If you manage to suffer through the freezing, terrible voice work, and other glitches, this DLC add-on will keep you busy a little longer with Before First Encounter, but it’s certainly not a selling point in any way.

Last up in The Serious Sam Collection included is also the most unique of the games: Serious Sam Double D XXL. Interestingly, this was actually developed by a smaller Indie Dev that was given the green light by the original Serous Sam developers. Rather than be the same old Sam and release a first person shooter with many a new twist, instead, XXL is a sidescroller with some crazy mechanics that differentiate itself from the other games in the series.

The main mechanic behind XXL is what’s called Gunstacker. As you progress through the game and find new guns along the way, you’ll eventually be able to stack your guns on top of one another, all of which will fire simultaneously. As you unlock the special connector pieces necessary, you can eventually stack six weapons attached to one another. That’s right, you get to stack weapons on top of one another, making for some truly unique and interesting weapons of destruction. As you collect new weapons, the more diverse your stack can become.

You’ll find many types of guns, ranging from Tommy Guns, Shotguns, Rocket Launchers, Laser Rifles, Grenade Launchers, and even Chainsaws. You can stack multiples of the same weapons if you’ve found more of the same type, or mix it up and attach Chainsaws to a Rocket Launcher. You can even make specific loadouts to be prepared for any situation. Need an up close death machine? Try stacking a Chainsaw on a few Shotguns. Want to kill from afar? Stack a Laser rifle or two on some Tommy Guns. Once the guns are connected all you have to do is fire for all your weapons to shoot at once. Experiment with different loadouts to suit each situation, though once you find a good combination or two you’ll most likely stick to it throughout.

Not only does Gunstacker allow for some interesting results, but you can also purchase special powerups for your individual weapons as well. Shopkeepers are found within levels that now only allow you change your gun stacks, but also purchase these upgrades with the currency you loot from the piles of dead enemies. For example, you can unlock a perk that allows your Tommy Gun bullets either ricochet or go through enemies but if you purchase both, you can put each one on a separate gun if you wish. There are some odd augments such as changing your Shotgun’s bullets into bees, but this just fits in with the wackiness of Serious Sam’s world. You can even purchase upgrades that allow you to increase the ammo of specific types of weapons that you can carry at once.

As I said before, I really expected Before First Encounter to be the stand out title in this collection, but XXL was the one I had the most fun with by far. It’s a shame the game is so short, as you’ll finish it in a single sitting, though it does allow for multiple playthroughs and have many collectable secrets should you feel so inclined.

As I mentioned at the beginning, nostalgia is a funny thing. I remember really enjoying Serious Sam when it came out, but replaying it now really shows its holes and mediocrity. Sure it’s not fair to judge it against modern games of today, but when you’re offering it for sale at retail in disc form, it’s competing with those other games on the shelf, which is also how I have to score it. I don’t understand why you can’t install the games from the disc to your hard drive, as maybe that would slightly help with the loading issues (especially in Before First Encounter), though I doubt that would solve it completely.

Each title, including Jewel of the Nile, sells separately on the Xbox Marketplace for 800 Microsoft Points ($10) per, for a total of $50. The Serious Sam Collection on disc is being sold in stores currently with an MSRP of $39.99. So while yes, you are saving some money by purchasing this collection, I find it hard to recommend unless you’re a hardcore Serious Sam fan, want a physical backup of your Live Arcade versions, or are very curious to see how games played almost 15 years ago. If you already own any of the titles included then the value of the disc drops and makes it even harder to recommend. Simply put, the game hasn’t aged very well over the years and I really expected a lot more from Before First Encounter as it’s not that old.

The “HD” remakes of The First Encounter and The Second Encounter won’t wow you at all and simply have some better textures than its original counterparts. I had high hopes for Before First Encounter, but was constantly let down with all the issues I had, not even including it deleting my game save after a minute long hard freeze. XXL is fun but short, and it’s not going to be the saving grace of the price for this collection unfortunately. Is Serious Sam repetitive? Absolutely. Outdated? Sadly yes. While Serious Sam won’t impress you with any large set pieces or with anything you haven’t seen before, it CAN be fun, though in very short bursts. I ended my First Encounter with this conclusion and I’ll do it again here as it encompasses everything I’m trying to convey.

Serious Sam reminds me of a great cult movie hit; the fans get it and love it for what it is while the rest don’t see what’s so special or understand how someone could enjoy it. Don’t 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.

At half the price of MSRP this would be much easier to recommend and an actual deal.

Overall: 3.5 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 4.0 / 10
Sound: 3.0 / 10


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