Anything but a problematic port, this stunning conversion might actually outdo the original game upon which it's based.
isn't exactly a hotbed of game development. So, it was with great amazement that both yours truly and the world at large watched as Serious Sam, created by the ingeniously named Croteam, rocketed up sales charts thanks to the help of Gathering of Developers and Take 2 Interactive. Having milked the PC original plus a token sequel for all they're worth, a new entity -- Gotham Games -- has now stepped forth to carry the golden torch to console audiences, bringing all the magic, mayhem, and the mindless button-mashing onto Xbox systems nationwide.
At some point during your gaming career, you likely heard about a little gem from id Software called DOOM. Serious Sam is its spiritual successor, if only in that it exploits the same design concepts -- point, shoot, run -- to a degree previously unimagined by John Carmack and co. Shortly after jumping into the action … say, perhaps three seconds, when a barrage of headless horrors with bombs for hands come screaming out of the woodwork, a thought will dawn upon you: Somebody was high on something (most likely caffeine) when this game was made. To put it bluntly, this title is all about killing things. Big things. Little things. Many things. And the more you lay low the more monsters the computer throws at you.
See, the title's biggest selling point is how many creatures can appear onscreen at any given time. The answer, specifically, is over 100. From land, air, and sea, they come at you in a massive tidal wave that threatens to wash over would-be heroes and leave nothing but a bloody smear in its wake. Some of the lovelies you'll encounter? Giant demonic bruisers, froggish fang-faced marsh hoppers, Scythian witch harpies, rampaging rhino-like critters, and anything else the mind could concoct on short notice, given a strict diet of Jolt cola and Whatchamacallit bars during the development cycle. In case you hadn't guessed, the game isn't just eccentric, it's downright bonkers.
Craziness pays off in this particular instance, however. It means you can totally discount the background story, which seldom plays a role during the experience anyway. So man has discovered the remains of a technologically advanced civilization beneath the sands that once housed humankind's earliest ancestors … big whoop. The only lesson you really need to know while blasting through 36 action-packed levels (culled from both the original PC game and its follow up, The Second Encounter) is that double-barreled shotgun plus excess ammo and more monstrous critters than you'd find hanging around local bars at 2 a.m. equals the kind of blood-soaked diversion that keeps Senator Lieberman up late nights.
Don't go in looking for the kind of atmosphere or intelligent play that characterizes the Medal of Honor series -- it isn't to be found here. Feel free to forget any hope of fancy Geo-Mod technology a la Red Faction II or massively multiplayer focused romps like Halo. Serious Sam follows both Tupac Shakur's motto and the one-man army philosophy, "It's just me against the world." Only here, the "me" in question is you. A heavily armed you, we might add, courtesy of available weapons like the shotgun, rocket launcher, chainsaw, etc., but just one lone badass nonetheless.
Honestly, glowing as the prose sounds, I hated this game on the PC. Load times were abysmal, controls unimpressive, the difficulty setting horrendous, and the title's creativity factor almost nonexistent. So you can imagine how shocked I was to find the preview build had me fiending for action within minutes. Although it's too early to pass final judgment, hands-on time reveals that the product has gone through an incredible transition to the Xbox platform. So much so that for the first time ever, you might actually think it better than the original computer-specific version.
A typical showdown at high noon this most definitely isn't. Stages are divided into more bite-sized chunks, yet load into memory post haste. The Xbox gamepad's dual joystick setup makes for an amazingly intuitive interface that'll have you hopping around, gunning enemies down by the dozen in seconds. An auto-targeting system offsets the challenge factor marvelously, at the same time letting you score multikills (wherein several foes get wasted in one fell swoop) without batting an eyelash. Even interior environments, designed on a limited budget and for an entirely different medium, are suitable, if not awe-inspiring. It's as if the gang at Croteam actually cared about their baby, taking the intervening years since the title's original release to polish it and create a quintessential edition of the game that's a must-have for any fan, whether they own an earlier edition or not.
Jacked on speed, invisibility, and invulnerability power-ups, every indication thus far points to players getting more than their money's worth from the venture. Kick in some healthy multiplayer options and the deal seems that much more attractive. All too often, conversions such as this end up as slipshod ports transferred onto DVD simply for the sake of generating cash to fill a publisher's coffers. Gotham Games obviously has it in mind to buck the trends, preparing to go against the grain and offer gamers a killer realization of an already award-winning game. For an unfinished title to have won me, a heartless critic, over this soon into the production cycle should say something -- namely, that unless something goes seriously wrong before ship date, the game will kick serious ass (pun intended).
Barring any major catastrophes, Serious Sam looks to be one of the holiday season's sleeper hits. Informed players know the title's roots are admirable to begin with, but even they should be surprised with the treatment it's received here. When everything from cutscenes to visuals, sound effects, and the gameplay experience have been given a topnotch tune-up, you have to give the designers props for a job well done. Hopefully, come ship date, we'll also be giving them an award as well. •