It wasnt that long ago when a
new first-person shooter made its way into the game rotation at my regular LAN party.
Between rounds of classics like Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament someone slipped in a funny
little game called Serious Sam. It wasnt surprising when we enjoyed playing Serious
Samnew blood at a LAN party is always refreshing. However, it was surprising when
the classics lay forgotten as we devoted whole nights to playing cooperative Serious Sam
at ever higher difficulty levels. What began as fresh meat had become the main course.
Serious Sam was
perfect for LAN parties for the same reasons that distinguished it from the classics: a
versatile array of monsters who attacked in such numbers that eight simultaneous players
could be kept busy for seven hours. And then, of course, there were the weapons. Standard
shotguns and the perennially loved mini-gun set the stage, but the star took shape as an
arm cannon that rolled over every enemy in its path and then exploded for good measure. As
an over-the-top killing machine, it was a weapon on par with UTs Redeemer, but the
arm cannon was more fun to shoot and created more satisfying carnage. And that, after all,
is the reason Serious Sam itself won Game of the Yearover the top carnage that
didnt take itself too seriously and never failed to satisfy.
With a game
that good, theres always the chance that the sequel will screw something up. Like an
earnest remake of a classic B-movie, some sequels make the mistake of becoming serious and
ruining the campy joy of the original. The Evil Dead movies avoided that pitfall with
aplomb, and we can all rejoice that Croteam did likewise with Serious Sam: The Second
Encounter. Serious Sam is anything but serious, and this is the source of his abiding
installment opens with Sams spaceship having malfunctioned and crashed in the course
of his pursuit of arch-enemy Mental. Sam must now search ancient civilizations for time
portals that will take him to a replacement spaceship. The story is much less impressive
than what can be found in FPSs like Half-Life, but Serious Sam makes up for story with
content and an ironic attitude that is usually clever and never aloof. Although Sams
jokes sometimes come off as the poor mans Bruce Campbell, theyre never
cloying. And a bevy of secret rooms and tricks like the Secret Santa or the Secret
Avenging Snowman give this game a thoroughly pleasurable depth that rewards repeated play.
Moreover, a game obviously has the right sense of humor when it offers a violence setting
of "Hippie" that has monsters spouting flowers when theyre shot and
exploding into melons and pears.
Other settings allow the difficulty to be set from Easy to Serious. More difficult
settings dont dramatically change the number of monsters Sam faces, but they control
the amount of ammunition on offer and the toughness of each monster. The amount of
monsters doesnt dramatically change because, as any mathematician will tell you,
individual numbers are practically the same as they approach infinity.
volume is about the same as it was in the first installment, The Second Encounter offers a
broader variety of baddies. Mentals forces are rounded out by a pumpkin-headed
chainsaw-wielding hillbilly and a mercenary force of space creatures that die with a
keening mechanical whine. There are also new power-ups that make Sam invulnerable,
seriously fast, or allow him to inflict serious damage. But dont worrythese
power-ups never threaten to tip the balance in your favor, even though they last long
enough to provide serious help in seriously hard circumstances. Finally, and perhaps most
importantly, theres a new sniper rifle powerful enough to bring down 3-story demons
with two shots and so cool it just might topple the arm-cannon as my favorite weapon.
But the best additions to Serious Sam: The Second Encounter are the beautiful graphics
and magnificent light texturing. Tweaks to the original Serious engine have enhanced
almost every aspect of the way this game looks. Haze and fog cloud the landscape without
distorting or hiding it. The environment of ancient Babylon is rendered so lush with
vegetation, and its ruins packed with such colorful and vivid detail, that even non-gamers
like my girlfriend will pause and take notice. More spectacular yet is the way this engine
handles lighting. Mobile ambient lighting makes a flame thrower come alive, and lens
flares from single sources of intense light are so realistic that its now a viable
excuse to say you were killed because the sun was in your eyes. Unfortunately, the
environment isnt interactive enough to create your own doors by rocketing through
stone walls, an innovation in the FPS genre that hasnt yet come into its own. But
this game is so pretty, and levels progress so fluidly along perfectly logical and linear
lines, that gameplay never feels clumsy or overwrought.
succeeds with sound. Background music is on a nice, long loop that never sounds
repetitive. Better yet, the music increases tempo or switches to rock rhythms whenever a
battle breaks out, spiking the excitement with a subtle but distinctly pleasurable dose of
aural adrenaline. Sound continues to be the best warning of hidden, advancing enemies,
especially the headless kamikaze bombers who continue to plague Sam with even deadlier
explosions. In one scene, fire raining from the sky explodes at variable distances with
variable sounds, even as kamikaze bombers grow nearer with their trademark scream. Add the
music to this auditory cornucopia and it becomes obvious how much sound contributes to
making The Second Encounter the most enjoyable Serious Sam yet.
Finally, all the modes and interfaces that made the original Serious Sam an outstanding
deathmatch or cooperative LAN game are included with The Second Encounter, making it an
equally excellent multiplayer experience. If you liked the first one or love FPSs in
general, if youre looking for an excellent LAN game or a challenging flood of
monsters coming at you in overwhelming waves, or if you just have a yen to kick a whole
lot of ass, then its time to get serious about buying The Second Encounter.