The Serious Sam series has always been anything but serious, and Serious Sam 3: BFE continues that fine tradition. Whereas a similar game, Duke Nukem Forever, failed to make a mark on the current first-person shooter market, Serious Sam 3 manages to avoid that pitfall. It's mostly because the developers realize that the love for the series is less about the character and his one-liners and more about the insane gunplay.
BFE kicks off with a downed helicopter in Egypt as Sam battles various alien hordes that are invading Earth. The story line actually pre-dates the rest of the series; this is a prequel that starts in the future (2060), before Sam time travels back to the point of Serious Sam 1 and 2.
Still with me? Good. The plot really isn't the important part of the game anyway. It's passable, and there are some legitimately funny parts tossed in for good measure, but it's not the reason for playing the game — and yes, you should play this game. The design can feel a little archaic at times because it doesn't feature many elements that we've grown accustomed to, but it still manages to be a lot of fun.
It's also incredibly difficult! BFE is one of the toughest games I've played all year; I needed to dial down the difficult to easy just to complete the game for review. Part of that difficulty stems from the fact that the title is somewhat designed with co-op in mind. It has 16 player co-op, as insane as that sounds, so it's a real shame that I could never get a full round going. I'm not sure if that speaks to how many copies of the game have been sold, or whether I wasn't logging in at the right times. I was able to gather a few like-minded souls on my adventure, though, and playing the game with friends is certainly an excellent way to go.
Like previous Serious Sam titles, you'll spend a lot of time in fairly open, arena-like areas fighting off swarms of enemies. The enemy design is pretty much lifted from the older games, but updated for the new, shiny graphics and engine. Sam comes equipped with a number of heavy-hitting weapons, and it's all about survival because you'll quickly and frequently find yourself outnumbered and outgunned.
The game doesn't use a cover system, and while it incorporates down-the-sights aiming for the first time, it doesn't make much of a difference. This is a game that's about shooting from the hip, and the design is more akin to old-school, '90s FPS titles like Doom 2, or even the original Duke Nukem, than more modern shooters like Modern Warfare or Battlefield 3.
Probably the biggest change in the series is a handful of opening levels that tend to ease you into the action. Previous Serious Sam games have been pretty unforgiving in that they drop you into the firefight without much of a tutorial. Serious Sam 3 is a bit slower at the start, and I found that to be a little off-putting. The issue with the first few stages is that they feel a little boring, and although the old-school design sensibilities work in its favor when the action is chaotic, they don't do the game any favors when you're plodding around the streets of Cairo and waiting for something to happen.
The opening stage is followed by a giant spider hunting section that funnels you through a series of tight corridors, and I assume the concept was to get players used to the idea of using melee for kills, which occurs a lot in this title. Again, it's pretty slow, and the confined spaces aren't indicative of what's to come.
Another bit of troublesome handholding is that the game gives you some pretty bland weapon choices at the outset, the pistol and the shotgun. They're run-of-the-mill weapons for any first-person shooter, but it feels lame to be stuck with them for a couple of hours in a series that generally blows the top off of arsenal selections.
BFE improves on its opening hours in leaps in bounds, but it's an awful slow start. If you have the patience to stick with it, you'll definitely be happy that you did.
On the visual side, the game looks and performs extremely well, even on mid-level PC rigs. My current setup isn't what I'd consider to be beefy, but I was able to run at a consistent 60 frames per second, and the game does a great job of auto-detecting the appropriate settings, but it comes equipped with the necessary sliders for customization. It also has gamepad support and will map buttons accordingly for an Xbox 360 controller. I'd highly urge you to stick with the mouse and keyboard, though, as the later levels are become pretty damn hard with analog aiming.
As far as content goes, there's a fair amount of single-player stuff to wade through, and as I mentioned before, the addition of co-op is a huge plus. The game is heavily focused on score, so you'll try to rack up something decent over and over again, and most stages don't last longer than 10 minutes. There are also a number of secrets to uncover for each stage, some of which aren't entirely obvious, giving you more reasons to replay levels more than once.
The difficulty can be a hindrance if you're going to play through the game solo, but it's a really satisfying challenge. There are a dozen ways to tackle different stages, and you certainly benefit from knowing what's coming next, so you're bound to improve. Sam's ever-increasing arsenal of massive weapons is also a big help, and you'll soon appropriately map out the right weapons for different scenarios because sometimes that minigun won't be the right weapon for the task.
The voice-over work is appropriately cheesy, with a lot of one-liners. Some of the more juvenile humor falls flat, much like it did in Duke Nukem Forever, but there are some tongue-in-cheek moments that made me crack a smile. The soundtrack, rife with generic-sounding heavy metal, is oddly appropriate for the game. Sometimes it is a bit much, but I enjoyed it here more so than I would have in any other FPS.
I won't say that BFE is an excellent game, but it's certainly more fun than I would have given it credit for before I laid hands on it. It often feels dated; while it introduces some modern elements like sight-aiming and sprinting, it still adheres closely to the feel of an old PC shooter. Its no-holds-barred approach to action works well with the lack of a cover system, and you won't miss much in the way of modern shooter elements.
Serious Sam 3: BFE is a game worth checking out, especially if you were a fan of old iD Software titles like Doom or Wolfenstein, or the even the Serious Sam series itself. If you're a gamer who's only played modern FPS titles, you'd still do well to see what Serious Sam 3 has to offer. It's more unique nowadays, and it's polished just enough to be an enjoyable experience.
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