Serious Sam 2, released in 2005, was developed by Croteam and released to Windows and Xbox. It’s now available on Steam and it runs pretty well on Linux. This game is a piece of video game history. In many ways it is completely hideous, but it became almost a time capsule of the time it was created. Combining over the top and merciless gameplay with a keen sense of the absurd, it is the sort of guilty pleasure you don’t like to admit you have.
During the so called ‘Golden Age of First Person Shooters’ we had pretty hardcore games with merciless gameplay, in which the main goal of making the player feel badass. Games like Blood, Doom, Quake, Hexen and the ones alike were extremely popular, and provided a platform to when people feel at least in control of something. Of course the reason of any game to exist is to provide a new way for the player to interact with the world, but in the mid 90’s and early 2000’s, things were simpler and more limited. As the industry progressed, we started to have games with more emphasis in the story and delving into different moods, and some people didn’t quite like this kind of change. Hence, we have the background for the Serious Sam series, games meant to be focused on the fun action of shooting monsters and making things go boom.
Even though the game reviewed here is called Serious Sam 2, it is the third installment in this series, taking place after Serious Sam: the Second Encounter. It is important to highlight that Croteam created the game’s engine (inspired by Doom), and it’s pretty impressive to see how it handles so many entities on screen without lagging or crashing. It’s truly admirable and adds an overall sense of rebellion to the series.
Serious Sam 2 is available on PC via Steam.
STORY: GOING MENTAL
In this game, our hero, Sam ‘Serious’ Stone, has to defeat an extraterrestrial enemy called Mental. In order to do that, he must travel between different worlds and collect pieces of a medallion, until the final battle. To aid you in this quest you’ll have a British accented computer/companion entity telling you what to do, and you’ll meet up with some aliens tribes to fight back the alien invasion. The premise is that simple – not really developed and a bit embarrassing, but it does the job.
Sam Stone is the cliché male protagonist with a deep and sarcastic voice and one liners, and he was inspired by the protagonists of classics Duke Nukem and Shadow Warrior. He is a badass dude with big guns, and the difference between him and other protagonists is that he talks a lot, with jokes and complaints about the dreadful situations he has to face in the game, like going into the sewers. This gives him a likable personality, and helps to alleviate the tension during the relentless gameplay.
GAMEPLAY: AHHHH, PIECE OF CAKE
While the gameplay is simple, there’s the potential to cause any sane mind to rage quit: the game’s difficulty is very unfair. As we face hordes and hordes of enemies, it is to be expected to take some damage, but in this case the creatures pop up from every direction, so that you cannot move properly (strafing is almost pointless here). Enemies behave unpredictably, but not intelligently. They just spring up from somewhere and shoot at you, or go kamikaze in your direction.
However, we have a crucial factor which spoils most of the fun: Sam is painfully slow! The movement drags, and the game seems to know that, because it often gives you some short-lived vehicle to make you drag your carcass a bit faster. After they expire it’s shocking how slowly Sam walks, and we don’t have a ‘run’ button to assist us in this journey. As a result, you die a lot. It’s also hard to come up with any strategy to complete each arena, as the game is based on the player’s quick reflexes to survive, which is borderline torturing, since Sam is basically a snail with guns.
On the good side, the weapons are quite fun to use. Enemies usually die with 2-3 hits, and it’s extremely satisfying to clear a stage and move on. The particle effects are responsive and beautiful, adding to the enjoyment. Each arena is packed with ammo and health/armor, so you just have to move fast to get them in time. You start with three guns: a chainsaw, two revolvers and a laser pistol. They are fast and the aim is precise. As you progress, you get a Shotgun, a Double Barreled Shotgun, a Rocket Launcher, a pair of Uzis, a Laser Rifle, a Mini Gun and so on: the arsenal is quite vast.
Apart from the main guns, you can throw grenades and bombs quite easily (just press the RMB), and it’s possible to combine shooting with bombing in a precise and satisfying way. The easiness to shoot the secondary weapons is well thought and it makes the game more dynamic.
The power ups are also refreshing. You can become invisible, move faster (please), cause more damage and get more points (the game has a score system), among others. Surprisingly enough, these power ups last for quite a long time, and it’s possible to save them in the arena, while waiting for a stronger enemy to pop.
The level design is interesting enough, with some secrets and places to explore. There’s a variety of challenges and environments, and the colors and mood follow the progression. The gameplay is quite linear and the difficulty escalates as you progress. Some stages are so confusing and chaotic (in the wrong way) that it is very unlikely that anyone will endure this game nowadays.
GRAPHICS: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
While I was playing it was striking how cartoony the game is. Some enemies, like witches, seemed to have come out of PS1’s Crash Bandicoot, for instance. We have a plethora of robot dinosaurs, gorillas, the famous suicide bombers, buffaloes and cyberdemons.
Each level feels entirely different from each other, with good design, textures and colors. Sometimes the graphics can be quite stunning, but it’s hard to appreciate the view while being attacked by hundreds of monsters. You can see how much work the developers put into this game: for example, when you get closer to a building you can see the great quality of the textures, a feat that even newer games can’t accomplish (or bother with).
Another great quality is that the levels are clear and coherent, and if you take extra effort to explore, it’s satisfying to find the secrets and hidden details. The general mood of the game is of fun and enjoyment, and the bright color palette helps to make this game alive, differently from games with a more monotonous color scheme,
What drags the graphics quality down is the modeling of the NPC’s, the cutscenes and some bosses, which look particularly terrible. Again, it’s hard to understand the game’s tone – sometimes it looks like Shrek, and other times we have enemies in armor similar to the Doom Guy. But the main issue is, again, the cutscenes: they are so bad it makes you want to cry (or just skip). It’s rare to find a game in which 100% of the jokes are borderline unbearable.
The sound design is chaotic. The weapons sound pretty good, as well as the explosions and other things. What makes it hard to endure is that most enemies say something when they appear, so you listen to the same noises, grunts and catchphrases over and over again. Another issue is noticed from Sam’s allies, whom keeps yelling “YIIIIPY!” and “Yohooo!”, non-stop. It sounds plain silly. On top of this cacophony, the music oscillates between ‘action time’ and ‘quiet time’, in a bizarre (and annoying) alternation. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all these pointless noises, and the never-ending repetition is quite hard to bear.
Some voice acting is good enough, and the player can hear clearly what’s supposed to be done to complete a level. Sam’s voice is also pretty funny, the problem is just the text being delivered.
SAM, SAM, SAM…
Even though this review was focused on Serious Sam 2, I am, unfortunately, sad to say that overall, Serious Sam is an inconsistent series. When the first game came out, I could feel something new happening, with a different kind of gameplay and the ‘horde FPS’ approach was innovative and challenging. The original game took everything by storm when it was released, and it’s quite an achievement for a small team of developers, creating an engine on their own.
The main issue with this series is that you don’t understand what kind of game we are playing. I mean, are they supposed to be funny? Or should you take them, uh, ‘seriously’?
Serious Sam: the First and Second Encounters were a good start, being released in the same year of Halo: Combat Evolved and Max Payne. Move on to 2005, we have Serious Sam 2 with the aforementioned cartoony approach, culminating with the truly awful Serious Sam 3 BFE in 2011, in which we have a more realistic setting in a kind of weird war zone mess.
Let’s hope for Serious Sam 4 to successfully make this series transition to the new generation of consoles and graphics cards knocking on our door.
Serious Sam 2 was reviewed on PC.