Xbox/PC Preview - 'Serious Sam II'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on Sept. 21, 2005 @ 2:45 a.m. PDT

The series famous for relentless intensity is returning bigger, better looking and more frantic than ever before. Sam Stone is back to rescue the universe one bullet at a time against overwhelming hordes of time traveling enemies in Serious Sam 2. Built from the ground up with a completely new engine, Serious Sam 2 will be a shot of adrenaline to the hearts of first-person shooter fans across the world.

Genre: Action
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Croteam
Release Date: October 10, 2005

Back in the dusty years of 2001, before 4GHz systems with 2GB of RAM and more hard disk space than the Pentagon, a tiny, unsightly creature dragged itself onto the shores of the gaming world. Spawned by the sweat, tears, and slightly psychotic tendencies of a rag-tag group of Russian developers and fostered into life by G.O.D. themselves, this creature, a slightly less-than-intelligent beast with a penchant for slaughter arose to its sneaker-clad feet, looked about, grinned, and said ...

"Sam. I. Am."

And at that moment, one of the least innovative yet most astoundingly fun FPSes of all time took on the very world around it. Since then, there've been imitators (Gore or Project: Firestarter), outright copycats (Will Rock and Painkiller), and a pair of extensions to the original game (Second Encounter and the console-only Next Encounter). This October, however, Sam's the Man yet again.

For those of you who've missed the party we've been holding here at Serious Headquarters for the last few years, let me clue you in. Sam "Serious" Stone is, by all accounts, a badass. That's about all the character development you're going to get — he's tall, thick, not exactly smart, and fond of ladies, one-liners, and the finest in overpowered excessive military hardware. If you're looking for more depth, then get a planet ticket to Egypt, because it won't come from anywhere near here.

Serious Sam is all about super-fast screaming action, fired at you at a million rounds per second. With an engine that's capable of dozens of enemies on-screen simultaneously and maps with boundaries multiple scale miles wide, the only thing to think about here is maybe a trigger-finger cramp or two. There's nothing in the puzzle department, no deep and meaningful plot development, and most of all, no stealth whatsoever. This is about gunnin' 'em down, baby.

SS2 picks up shortly after the end of Second Encounter. Sam, having demonstrated that he is The Supreme Bad Mamma Jamma, is picked up by a set of bizarrely screwed up alien ... things ... that tell him there's an amulet that can help him defeat his arch nemesis, the time-hopping bad guy MENTAL. The problem is that the Amulet has been dunked in pieces across five planets. The aliens are more than willing and able to get Sam to where he needs to be, and the rest is up to him and his arsenal. I'm not a console FPS fan by any stretch, and I'm happy to report that the control system is more than up to the task (the optional auto-aim system helps a lot), no matter your skill with the controller.

And boy howdy, that arsenal's more than a capable partner. While you'll start off with nothing but Sam's trusty revolvers (which look like laser-sighted Casulls or American Eagles), a weird "Sungun," and the buzz saw (replacing Second Encounter's chainsaw), that doesn't last more than the first couple of minutes. Before too long, you'll be fully armed and loaded with over two dozen of the most insane machinery money could buy, if Sam were willing to pay. Look forward to a fully automatic rotary shotgun, parrot bombs, dual Uzis (as seen in Next Encounter), Sam's trusty sniper rifle, parrot-mounted explosives, turrets, spacecraft, the Fusion Carbine, and those bloodletting favorites, the iron cannon and the Serious Bomb. Everything's big and shiny, featuring far more detail than the original game's models.

At that, everything's even bigger and prettier than you may be used to. Enemies are far more intricate, and the environments, while still having a lot of repetition (the Serious Engine does not lend well to beauty, but to efficiency), are infinitely more attractive. They're even technically stunning: if you can see it, you can get to it. Yes folks, you heard me right: the only thing flat mapped against a polygon is the sky; everything else is really there, really rendered, and really accessible (although in some cases only by cheating, but still!). The initial jungle levels on the first planet are really wonderful things, full of foliage, beach, and enough variety to make the original maps downright plain.

Let's not forget who's out there to make sure you don't get to those amulet bits, either – the enemies. The original had a dozen or so types of enemies, which is just enough to keep things interesting. That's toast, kids. Now you'll see everything from Primitives with bulletproof shields to massive battleships and everything in between. Get ready to cap off Demondogs, zombie accountants, Wind 'Em Up Bulls, Superspiders, Rocket Grunts, Giant Blue Thingies, monstrosities with even bigger swords, and those old standards, The Kamikazes (who still have that agonizing scream). Before you think they got left behind, one of the pieces landed on the Planet Kleer. You may now collectively shudder. Does anyone else here "cloppity cloppity" in their sleep?

It's hard to cover everything that's new this time. The voices are better, and NETricsa now has a human form and walks around with you. There are hundreds of secrets tucked all over the place, and more humor than the first three bundled together (one of the best early lines: "Wow, you've got a body!" "Yeah. They tell me it's got something to do with having a bigger budget this time..." "We had a budget?"). Explosives, hidden areas, gag items, cut scenes, and the vehicles — Sam pilots turrets, hovercrafts, motorcycles, and all sorts of what-have-yous — it's just too much to try and consider. All of this doesn't even get into one of Serious Sam's greatest feats: the multiplayer. Deathmatch and co-op modes both make triumphant returns, now offering even more players per game and modifiers. (I was, however, unable to test any of this, as the online play is not yet active.)

If the original Xbox version of Sam set you a little on edge with its chunky framerates and hand-hold controls, that's all gone now, kids. If this isn't a near exact PC port, the PC version is certainly going to knock the socks off of people. Even if the earlier Sam titles didn't thrill you, maybe you should take another step back this October and see what's coming out of the pipe. This is more of the same, sure, but it's even bigger, badder, and louder. Heck ...

I'd even say the situation is serious. Very Serious.

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