First released last year as a full-priced game for the PC, Serious Sam 3: BFE is an unabashed throwback to the old-school FPS style. Rather than offer players a laundry list of features, Serious Sam 3 can be boiled down to: shoot, kill, survive. It's a game that requires fast reflexes, encourages controlled chaos and doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is.
Earlier this year, Serious Sam 3 made the jump to the Xbox 360 as a budget-priced (1200 MSP/$15 USD) XBLA title, bringing Sam's latest escapade of wanton destruction to the console. It's not a perfect game, but for those who simply want to blow up stuff, Serious Sam 3 is surprisingly enjoyable. In many ways, it is the game that Duke Nukem Forever desperately wanted to be.
The story, as it were, is pretty thin. It's the future. Mankind has gone off into space. Evil aliens are pissed off. Earth has been invaded. Humans are screwed. Sam is humanity's last hope. He doesn't give a damn, he's good with a gun, and high explosives are the perfect solution to most of his problems. Most of the dialogue is corny with a side helping of heavy cheese, but there are a few laughs sprinkled throughout. The game isn't afraid to poke fun at genre conventions, and Sam is more or less a self-aggrandizing caricature of the "buff dumb hero" stereotype.
Gameplay is in line with what players have come to expect from previous games in the series. There is no cover system. Weapons and ammunition are plentiful. Enemies are numerous and deadly. Firefights can happen in corridors, but wide-open spaces are more common. In short, it's shoot or be shot.
Sam does take a page from the current-generation competition by easing players into things with the first couple of levels, keeping both the weapons and early enemies basic. Once you get past that initial quarter of the game, the weapon variety opens up, and that's where the fun begins, as the guns can be just as over-the-top as the baddies.
Even though Serious Sam 3 throws a lot of weapons your way, it still expects the player to use them wisely. Just because a gun is more powerful doesn't necessarily mean it is the most efficient weapon for the job. For example, lobbing rockets can certainly be satisfying, but the devastator gun is better for taking out small groups due to wider splash damage. The cannon fires relatively slowly, and the balls are easy to sidestep in the open. Use it at a chokepoint, however, and it's like leading lambs to the slaughter.
Tactics in the traditional sense aren't exactly applicable to Serious Sam 3. At certain points, enemies will warp in from all sides. This means you always have to be listening for the teleport sound. Simply because you cleared out an area doesn't mean it's safe to turn your back on it.
Oddly, there are a number of visual and audio issues that plague the XBLA version of Serious Sam 3. They are common enough that it makes us wonder if Microsoft issued a certification waiver in order to see the title released.
Among other things, the game freezes for a few seconds every time it autosaves, there is a temporary freeze whenever an Achievement pops, cut scenes sometimes start without audio (which kicks in after a second or two), and visual tearing is common. There is also noticeable pop-in as you run through the levels, with things like ground cover magically appearing in front of your eyes. In-game, the sound is usually on point, though positional audio seems to be lacking. This was most noticeable with the headless kamikazes, as their screams sounded as if they were coming from all directions, even on a Dolby Digital setup.
Still, even with all of the technical issues, Sam somehow manages to soldier on. It's a testament to the underlying gameplay that the fun factor outweighs the annoyances caused by the lack of polish.
In addition to the campaign, Serious Sam 3 also offers a survival mode. Here, the action is even more intense, with a never-ending onslaught of enemies doing their best to kill you as quickly as possible. Both campaign and survival can be played online in co-op mode with up to four players. Finally, you have the option of playing locally with a split screen.
Unlike the PC version, there is no competitive multiplayer included with the XBLA version of Serious Sam 3. For that, you'll need to purchase a separate DLC pack, but to be honest, it's not something most players will miss; Serious Sam is at its best when you're blasting alien hordes as opposed to other players.
As a stand-alone offering, the XBLA version of Serious Sam 3 is undeniably flawed but also undeniably enjoyable. Production values are rough and graphical issues abound, yet the purity of gameplay still shines through to make it more fun than it has any right to be. If you have a choice, the PC version is the better option, but if not, playing on the Xbox is worth it. This is the current-generation title that reaffirms the oft-repeated "gameplay over graphics" axiom.
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