Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter Review

There’s a lack of FPS games nowadays. I mean FPS as the acronym was applied way back in the boxy pixel days of its introduction – the days of Doom, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and eventually Serious Sam. These were games where stealth wasn’t really an option, and you didn’t bother keeping your eye on your exp bar because there were no levels to worry about. All there was was you, any guns and ammo and health packs you can find, and the snarling, vicious things to shoot. Many, many snarling and vicious things, ideally. The more, the bigger, the harder, the better. Those are the gaming fires Serious Sam was forged in, and Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter does not change the recipe. And thank God they didn’t!

This review will have a lot of praise for Serious Sam 3, but let’s bring the gameplay front and center. From start to finish, your only concerns are finding where the enemies are and killing them with any of the wide variety of weapons you can get your hands on. Story? It’s there, but it’s on the light side. Puzzles? Barely, unless you consider finding the next swarm of enemies to be a puzzle. You have no experience to worry about, no stealthiness to engage in, and no worrying about how to distribute your non-existent skillpoints – nothing but pure action from start to finish, drizzled with just enough story to give your rampage some meaning and direction. It’s straightforward, it’s satisfying, and it’s fun.[singlepic id=4865 w=320 h=240 float=right]

More than that, it’s well executed in Serious Sam 3. You can expect a wide variety of enemies ranging from the series’ trademark “headless men with bombs for hands running for you and somehow screaming” to humongous bipedal alien creations bent on shooting you dead or blowing you up. They’re diverse in appearance and behavior, but as the game continues you’re going to quickly notice that the enemy tactic of choice is simply to swarm at you in greater and greater numbers with a progressively deadlier mix of enemies. And you’ll be clearing out these enemies with a satisfyingly wide variety of weapons – over ten by my count – ranging from the head-crushing sledgehammer to the XL2 Lasergun, with bullet-shooting and explosion-delivering options between the two extremes. You’ll find yourself switching between these weapons not so much because the enemies are particularly strong or weak against a certain gun, but because you’ll be running out of ammo to deal with what the game is throwing at you. More than once I’ve found myself reduced to simpler weapons in desperate situations.

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If you’re a person who likes strategy-light, action-heavy gameplay, you’ll enjoy what Serious Sam 3 offers up. That much is certain. But the game also packs a graphical punch as well – both the enemies and the environments you’ll be going up against are pretty, diverse and detailed. The enemies in particular stand out in their design due in no small part to the melee ‘finishers’ you can deliver to them, ripping out giant eyeballs to hurl mockingly at the onslaught, or just plain ripping the scragglier critters up by hand. The Serious Sam series has always had a kind of Egyptian-alien theme going on in their games, and this time around is no exception. Expect to fight your way across sand, through a museum and of course in and around the pyramids, among other places – and for those of you with weaker PCs, there are a tremendous amount of graphical options to turn on and off so you can find the sweet spot for your rig’s performance.

While Serious Sam 3 has a story to go with all the combat, the real focus is on Sam himself – you’ll be hearing more out of the character you play than anyone else, with the possible exception of the roars of the aliens and foes. The best way to sum Sam up would be “Duke Nukem Done Right” – he’s got that same gravelly voice and penchant for one-liners and jokes, but I found myself grinning at the dialogue rather than grimacing. The character does a good job of setting the tone for the game, which is – oddly enough – not at all that serious. This is a series with a sense of humor, and it both comes through nicely and fits in well.[singlepic id=4863 w=320 h=240 float=right]

So blowing away alien and insect scum is satisfying, the graphics are great, the audio is fitting and the setting is fine. That brings us to the multiplayer, and here’s where we find the biggest flaw, or near-flaw, of Serious Sam 3. First of all, this really isn’t a game that shines in deathmatch, at least not in this reviewer’s opinion. While I loved the focus on wading through dozens of enemies at once, deathmatch of this type got old with me a while ago – this is one area where the diversity and intricacies introduced to modern FPS games have been best. Far more promising is the co-op multiplayer, which in theory could allow for 16 players at once facing off against an army of baddies, shoulder to shoulder. I say in theory because I haven’t been able to find much in the way of co-op action, at least not to such a degree. What I did find was enjoyable and played smoothly enough, but consider the co-op in this game to be more of a ‘bring your own friend’ affair, rather than expecting to jump into the midst of a 16-player stranger-dominated situation.

When all is said and done, Serious Sam 3 is just plain refreshing. It’s nice to have a game that relies so much on flat-out enemy decimation, and which does it so well, so beautifully, and while providing at least the opportunity to share the experience with friends online. If you think the best kind of “depth” in a game is measured in how far up your ankles the blood of your enemies will get, then you owe it to yourself to check this game out.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.

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