If you like First Person Shooter games with a lot of gritty realism, whip smart Artificial Intelligence, and complex storylines, then steer clear of the Serious Sam series - very, very far away. Serious Sam is a FPS that revels in its simplicity and over the top gameplay.
The gameplay largely consists of putting you in an enclosed areas and sending waves and waves of enemies toward you to mow down. There are no complex tactics involved, and most enemies simply make a direct beeline toward your position. You rarely stop moving, and almost never remove your finger from the trigger button. It is a throwback FPSlike the old-school DOOM games, where hordes of enemies relentlessly attack, and similar in feel to classic arcade games like Robotron. This game has lots of mindless action, and plenty to keep your twitch reflexes sharp.
The lead character, Sam, is a likeable hero - despite the fact that he is a muscle bound, egotistical, testosterone filled, wise-cracking fellow. He reminds me of a cross between Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In this, his 2nd adventure on the Xbox, Sam is sent to 5 different parts of the universe to collect 5 pieces of a medallion that can be used to defeat his arch nemesis, Mental. Of course, who cares about plot? Youre just here to blow stuff up real good.
Quite simply, Serious Sam II is a weird game. There are not many games that you can say you battle zombie accountants using a parrot strapped with a bomb as a weapon in a village populated with what appears to be Smurfs. As a matter of fact, Im going to go out on a limb and say this is the only game that does that.
The controls are like any other FPS that has been released in the last few years on the Xbox. If youve ever played Halo, youll jump right in to SSII without a problem. There are a couple small odd quirks to SSII. First off, there is no reloading. If you have 200 shotgun shells, you can continually fire without reloading until youre out of shells. Secondly, you can throw grenades when you are dual wielding weapons (two weapons are automatically dual wielded the pistols and uzis). The grenade flies out without your hands ever leaving either weapon. I would really like to know how Sam is throwing those on second thought, maybe I dont want to know.
By now youre probably thinking this all sounds really good, right? A game with a quirky sense of humor, non-stop wacky action, and no in depth story to slow you down does sound pretty appealing on paper. However, before you run out and purchase SSII, I should warn you that there is a downside to all of this the mind numbing repetition. Sure, its fun for a couple hours, but after 10 hours of mindless shooting at hordes of brainless enemies it can all get pretty old. It might be the only game where you actually wish things would slow down for a few moments just for a change of pace.
There are a few things injected in the single player campaign to attempt to break up the monotony, such as the ability to use a few vehicles, or gun turrets. There are also several more cut-scenes, when compared to the first Serious Sam. While those are welcome breaks from the routine, in the end it does not do much to improve the overall feeling of repetition.
On the positive side, there are plenty of game modes in case you get bored. You can play online through Xbox Live. So if you tire of the mindless enemies in the single player campaign, you can hook up against human opponents that display a wide variety of intelligence, or lack thereof. There is a co-op mode, but unfortunately it is only available through the system link feature. There is no split screen co-op on a single Xbox, and none available through Xbox Live.
SSII is also slightly disappointing in the visual category. It looks no better than the first Serious Sam which was released in the early days of the Xbox. Being that this was released nearly 3 years later in the twilight years of the Xbox - I expected to see noticeable improvement between the games. Unfortunately, that was not that case. Most surfaces look very flat and uninspiring. There were times where I felt like I was in a world crafted by Nintendo - a Mario-esque type world - colorful yet flat looking surfaces.
The music mostly consists of generic melodies that play up tempo when there are enemies around, or on those rare occasions where there isnt anything in the vicinity to shoot at, it plays much more softly. Since enemies spawn from every conceivable direction, it is handy to have the music as a cue when something is nearby.
Sams voice is one of my personal favorites in any video games. Its very distinct, humorous, and is a booming bass filled tone. My one beef is with the grunt Sam makes when he jumps. If you move Sam close to a small ledge or stair step he makes the grunt noise automatically. Get in a tight space near a step or ledge and you can hear Sam grunt repeatedly. It can get very annoying. The rest of the voice work is serviceable, but unmemorable. The same goes for all the gunfire, explosions, sound effects, etc very unremarkable one way or the other.
The bottom line is that if you can overlook the mind numbing repetition and youre looking for a FPS with non-stop brainless action and a quirky sense of humor, than SSII is for you.