But it had charm. It was fun. And because it wasn't trying very hard to look sharp, the game could serve up loads and loads of on-screen enemies; wave after wave of enemies fell to your relentless stream of bullets, and sometimes several hundred enemies would be murdered before a level's end. Our hero, "Serious" Sam Stone, often quipped cute one-liners as the carnage unfolded, creating a harmless Duke Nukem atmosphere that perfectly accompanied the simplistic, cartoony characters and colorful environments.
After Serious Sam was published for the PC, it began to gain something of a following. People appreciated the game's simple but fun gameplay. The game was revamped and released on the Xbox, and a sequel using the same game engine expanded on what was already there, tiding over Sam fans until the real Serious Sam 2 neared completion.
Finally, Serious Sam 2 is nearly on store shelves. Was the wait worth it, though?
Croteam claims that their new Serious 2 engine is 100 times more complex than the last engine, and admittedly, as soon as one jumps into the game, loads of detail smacks you in the eyeballs. The first area, the jungle, shows off the designers' attention to detail, with blades of grass strutting up, nicely done trees sitting pretty, shacks constructed from wood, and a basketball hoop, where one can test some nifty physics.
Yes, taking a cue from Half-Life 2, Serious Sam 2 features some nice physics and the ability to pick up and throw many objects to test them. Depending on how long you hold down, the mouse button will determine the strength you throw an object with. You might try getting the basketball in the hoop – but it actually proves quite difficult. Fortunately, most of the game's new physics-related puzzles are much simpler (the first being the apparent prerequisite of "setting the crate on the large switch to keep the door open" brain teaser that's only been featured in about five million games by this point).
But Serious Sam 2 isn't about the puzzles or the physics. It's about shooting down hordes of enemies charging at you with a multitude of cool weapons. You'll find that the game gets down to business quite quickly in that respect, with several guns available nearly from the get-go, including the ever-handy buzz-saw melee tool, the infinite ammo plasma gun, a pair of somewhat weak revolvers, a shotgun that is strangely good at shooting long distances, a rocket launcher – all in all, there are 20 weapons or so, and they're all fairly fun to use.
The enemies themselves haven't changed much from Sam's earlier adventures, which is either good or bad, depending on what you're interested in. They're mindless. They're dumb. They have the AI of bricks with legs and teeth, basically, but they come at you in seemingly endless waves, dozens at a time. This is fine and dandy for those hoping for a prettier version of the original, but those who expected some innovative leaps might not be so impressed.
Not to imply that nothing new has been added, though. For starters, vehicles play an integral role in Serious Sam 2, whether it's on the back of a dinosaur that brings back memories of Yoshi in the 1993 Super Mario Brothers movie, something a bit more modern with wheels, or the absolutely bizarre, like big rolling balls lined with spikes that Sam hops into. You'll find that these vehicles are often placed before the start of an area, where you pretty much have to race away from the enemy, mixing up gameplay a bit – or sometimes, they're just there for extra speedy death deliveries.
The game also seems to have a fair share of more stationary goals. That may mean defending an important character, as loads of foes attack a village from all directions, or hopping into a turret to blast down some helicopters, or the oncoming legions of blood-thirsty evil minions. While the game is always focused around heavy shooting, Croteam has thought up a number of ways to keep things relatively fresh. Although none of these things are terribly new, they at least keep things from getting too repetitive.
It's too bad that killing enemies isn't more satisfying, though. While it's certainly exhilarating to take down dozens upon dozens of baddies, I can't help but feel a little miffed. Many, many enemies explode into blood and giblets when they die in a completely unrealistic fashion, and there's no rag-doll animation – and for that matter, animation isn't exactly top-notch anywhere in the game. It seems like a petty thing to nitpick about, but having experienced how bloody cool rag-doll animation can be, it's a pity that a game like this, with so much killing, has fairly uninteresting death animation.
Nonetheless, the rest of the graphics do their job. The 3D modeling is nicely done in the environments, and characters look pretty decent, as long as you aren't too up close and personal. Textures are crisp and detailed and make everything look that much nicer. The lighting, while decent, was not overly impressive. Some other special effects like the water appeared rather glitchy in this incomplete version of the game.
The sound in this preview copy was also quite screwy, with chopped-up voiceovers and an apparent lack of many sound effects, which may also have something to do with a somewhat discontent feeling of triumph at taking the lives of so many evildoers. The music was fine, and I am positive the sound glitches will be fixed – things can only go up from here.
Serious Sam 2 is shaping up to be something that Sam fans are probably going to love very dearly. You take the basic formula of the original – that is, powerful guns in big environments with truckloads of things to shoot – toss in some vehicles, spicier graphics, and a lot more detail, and this is the result. If you didn't like Serious Sam or were tired of it by its finish, this game probably won't make you much of a believer, but anyone into some simple, charming gameplay should be in for another nice treat.
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