In 2001, Croteam did an admirable job of plopping the twitch mechanics of "DOOM" into a not-so-serious shooter called "Serious Sam: The First Encounter." Its mind numbing-hypersonic pace, frenetic enemies, and the flippant protagonist won over critics and made a name for the studio. In 2010, Croteam hopes to reintroduce us all to the game, this time with crisper visuals and co-op in the XBLA version of "Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter."
You play as the swivel-headed Serious Sam, a less churlish Duke Nukem. When he's not busy humming the "Indiana Jones" theme as a vicious boulder bounds by his head, he's holding down a trigger, mowing down ugly alien after ugly alien.
This "shoot first and then continue shooting" mantra holds throughout the game, but think of its pacing like that of the speed of a hummingbird's wings. It holds true to the "DOOM" mold, thrusting you in tight corridors and epic arenas filled with uglies and forcing you to fire fast, run fast, or die even faster.
And there's a wee point to this. Sam has been sent back to ancient Egypt to stop an alien invasion on future Earth. The aliens followed him to this sandy setting, obviously aware of his goal, and ready to bite Sam's head off if it all possible.
There's a Gun for That.
The dated design of "Serious Sam HD" does nothing for it, except in this regard: There's a perfect weapon answer for every creep. Men with saw blades for skulls, squat cyclopedian monstrosities, or even organic "War of the Worlds"-style walkers -- it doesn't matter, there's a gun for it. This keeps choice fresh and kept me away from relying on a single weapon like I do in so many other games built well after the original "Serious Sam: The First Encounter."
The addition of a competent co-operative mode does the same as the guns -- it adds just a bit more to a bland experience. It settles the hectic combat sections and makes beating the game on a harder difficulty possible.
Old Combat Design
I still knock on "DOOM" for its monster closets, but "Serious Sam HD" takes this archaic design element to another level. "Serious Sam HD" is a monster closet. Enemies pop from every nook and cranny. They erupt from the floor, fall from the ceiling, and spawn next to vital items like health packs and armor.
It's hard enough to fight a screen full of foes, but this chaotic mash of spawns from front, behind, and to the side makes combat stickier than it needs to be and complicates it to the point of frustration. There's nothing worse than fending off something from the front, only to be destroyed by a surprise attack from the rear.
And there are no real combat dynamics. The AI has one pattern: rush forward. This means you're left with using the same old combat tactics over and over again: run backwards or run in a circle while blasting until the vibration in the controller numbs your hand.
Bad Level Design
Some levels are disasters, flooded with recycled Egyptian assets and rife with boring and predictable wide-open arena locations that cater to the creature spawn mania and bullet-pumping glory of "Serious Sam." And that's not to mention the boring aesthetics: everything in Egypt is brown and nasty, and the monsters don't fair any better in this department either.
There's nothing worse than losing extended minutes of play, but that's exactly what happens in "Serious Sam HD" if you die before hitting the Quick Save button. Lord knows how many times this happened to me.
"Serious Sam HD" is a game for the people who like the original. Aside from the momentary visceral satisfaction of ravaging wave after wave of alien scum, there's nothing here for a person looking for a fresh FPS experience. The repetitive combat, muddy visuals and archaic design of the game all work against it.