STAFF REVIEW of Serious Sam (Xbox)

Friday, December 20, 2002.
by Stephen Cameron

Serious Sam Box art The way I see it is that everybody needs at least one game of this genre in their library for any particular system. And Serious Sam fits the bill perfectly. Sure, it?s a bit on the mindless side a lot of the time (its about monster-hunting after all), but as long as your library isn?t inundated with games in this genre everything is cool. And not only does the thing look amazing, it?s another great multiplayer game that you can play with some of your buds. Especially the cooperative mode; you?ll have you hands full with the thousands of monsters you find there, I promise. I found Croteam over-the-top approach to the first person shooter to be more appealing then anything else. One reason why this shoot?em up title is so fun, is that the character?s (Serious Sam?s) has an overly useful arsenal. The game has a great variety of weapons for you to equipped which brings a lot more intensity to the big brawls. There are only a few things I was disappointed in this game, and one of them was the replay value. It?s just not there. But I guess Croteam makes up for this when they decided to add several dozens of levels to play in and I had some difficulties going threw it on normal therefore the lack of replay value doesn?t really bother me that much. Rather than bore you by pretending Serious Sam has a story of any importance to the game I?ll summarize it as follows: Aliens attack, all hope is lost, you fight good. You get sent back in time to stop the Aliens in ancient Egypt. But don?t let this put you off, Serious Sam is all about that often forgotten concept in games nowadays, Gameplay.

Serious Sam is not a game that requires much of the observation skills, hearing or other such nonsense. Serious Sam is more a case of move from scene to scene killing everything that moves, for everything that moves in Serious Sam is quite certainly trying to kill you. Serious Sam features the seemingly generic cache of weapons that must be available in order for a game to quality as an FPS game. These generic weapons being the Pistol, Shotgun, Double Barrelled Shotgun, Machine Gun, Grenade Launcher, Rocket Launcher and Mini Gun. Other than these the game features some other semi-original for an FPS game weapons such as the Star Wars type Laser Cannon and a massive Cannonball firing... Cannon. Assuming you've played any other FPS game around the usefulness of each weapon will be fairly apparent, e.g. Shotguns are powerful up close, tend to lose accuracy over distance & take time to reload, while the Mini gun takes time to spin up, isn't too accurate over distance & is best used against large enemies, or a large group of enemy. Weapons must also be reloaded, depending on how many rounds it can hold, although some need no reloading, e.g. Laser Cannon & Mini gun. The only thing lacking with the guns is the secondary fire mode we've become accustomed too in games like Unreal Tournament. That said the game is more of an arcade style FPS game than one that needs the burden of learning key combinations or something to that effect. Overall the weapons aren't anything special, you've seen them all before in a 100 other games at least already. One of the reasons Serious Sam functions so well as a co-op game is its economic approach to map design. There are no intricate jumping sequences, no timed arcade challenges and no extended interactions with A.I. characters or the environment; rather, Croteam escorts people from one combat situation to the next, most of which occur in vast outdoor areas and large, open courts. The developers do include several switch-throwing and item gathering quests to give the proceedings a sense of structure and form. The best one comes late in the game as Sam gathers four pendants and places them on an altar while fighting a growing regiment of dogged alien s !&%$@#* . It comes at the end of an exhausting level and sets the stage for what is perhaps the most memorable boss encounter ever in a 3D action release that has to be seen to be believed. In fact, that sums up Croteam?s debut title as a whole.

Co-starring with Sam is a graphics engine that was programmed with a considerable amount of care and technical expertise. The engine is something of a minor miracle because it does the impossible -- renders high-resolution maps that are colossal in scope and then places dozens of enemies onscreen. The sense of scale is tremendous; launch a missile and its trail seems to fade into the distance forever before expiring in a pixel-sized explosion. However, there are compromises: The actual visual texture of Serious Sam is somewhat washed-out, with the buildings and landscapes being painted in drab sepia tones. The design and animation of the enemies are decent, but most of the creature models are less detailed than those in similar titles. Still, I do not see these trade-offs as negative, because each one allowed Croteam to create the relentless broad-scale action that?s the selling point of this product. Besides, the art design and lighting are top notch, even if the desert and ancient tomb motifs grow old, and the engine comes with a lot of visual bells and whistles, such as particle effects and environment mapping. Pentium II users with decent graphics acceleration should be able to run the game without so much as a hiccup, even when a dozen bulls are stampeding toward Sam while four bio-meets fire in missiles from the distance and three arachnoids sitting atop elevated columns equip their chainguns. This, all while explosions and debris and monster gibs ignite the screen in a spectacular manifestation of sci-fi violence.

Remember how important sound was to the Doom series? The snarling imps, the sonic punch of the shotgun and the high-pitched scream that accompanied each frag enhanced the character of those titles. Sure, good sound effects are still an important part of interactive entertainment, but current game audio is sometimes all soulless technique and zero spirit. Serious Sam returns to the basics; whether it?s the maniacal blaring of the headless soldiers or the deep rumbling that signals the arrival of a bull, the line-up of clear, recognizable sounds are crucial to Sam?s survival because the effects prompt him to start the appropriate defensive maneuvers. In addition, hearing the grinding gears of a regiment of bio-mechs when Sam?s health has dipped into the red zone instills a powerful sense of dread. However, the weapon and creature sounds should have been more robust, and the 3D audio is not that well-executed; a stampeding bull sounds the same whether it?s far off in the distance or staring into Sam?s open-mouthed scream. Since the action surrounds Sam, the audio should have been programmed to better indicate the bearing and location of moving objects. And the music is not so much of master pieces itself; it does not help inspire the gameplay very much.

Great job Croteam, this is a perfect over-the-top fps I?ve been looking for. But since I?m supposed to add suggestion I?ll due just that. It?s a very minor suggestion but maybe pay a bit more attention to the music and sound fx to add a bit more intensity to this title. But other than that great job guys?.uh and add chicks!

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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