Platforms: Xbox 360
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Developer: Croteam/Devolver Digital
Placing the Serious Sam Collection disc into the console and firing it up is like stepping through a portal back in time, opening up a simpler days for the FPS genre when taking cover and carefully advancing were for pussies that didn’t have the reflexes required to get up close and personal with the enemy. Back in the days of those simpler shooters people began to wish for something more, and we slowly got it, with the likes of Halo making massive steps forward in the genre. Eventually a little game by the name of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came along and changed everything, popularising the cinematic, set-piece driven singleplayer FPS experience that is so common these days and introducing the concepts of XP and loadouts into the multiplayer side of things, turning them into something commonplace. Things would never be the same again.
It’s in the nature of humans to reminisce about the good old days and pine after them, and therefore it’s unsurprising that there’s now a desire to see the “good old days” of FPS gaming come back. But the problem about nostalgia is that it often tends to cover up all the bad memories, leaving only the good ones to stand alone in our mind’s eye. This can be a treacherous thing, and leads to such nonsense as thinking Alex the Kidd is still good to this day. So, how does Serious Sam fare in this modern climate?
The Serious Sam Collection packages together Serious Sam: The First Encounter, Serious Sam 2: The Second Encounter and the more recent Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter. It also tosses in the side scrolling Serious Sam: Double D XXL and Serious Sam 3: Jewel of the Nile, a DLC pack for…well, Serious Sam 3. That’s a fair bit of gaming goodness for your cash, offering up oodles of hours of blasting. If you already happen to own all of the Serious Sam games then you may as well just stop reading now as there’s no reason to pick up this physical collection since there’s nothing more in the box that will interest you, unless you simply have some intense desire to own a physical copy of the games.
The first question that springs to mind when it comes to collection of HD remakes is whether the games actually look decent or not. The answer to that particular question when it pertains to Serious Sam is that the games do indeed look decent, although be warned they’re still nowhere near up to today’s visual standards, not that we would really expect them to be unless the developers choose to do a true makeover in the same vein as Halo HD. The Serious Sam games have always been a bright and vibrant series, and that’s certainly not changed, but there’s still a sense of emptiness to the vast levels in the first game and also a distinct lack of detail. Serious Sam 3, having been made in 2011, fairs much better with a higher level of detail, although the first half of the game is considerably more boringly colored than the previous two titles. It does also retain that sense of emptiness, though, like the levels are vast film sets devoid of actors.
It’s also worth noting that Serious Sam 3 is full of visual bugs. The intro alone was pretty much ruined by the fact that the helicopter transporting Sam and his comrades actually dissapeared completely. On the plus side this did create an unintentionally hilarious introduction to the game in which Sam flew through the air in a seated position, utterly oblivious to the fact that this metal thing that should be holding him up had vanished. It’s plagued with other visual problems, and quite frankly is something of an embarrassment to Croteam in this regard.
In terms of the storyline there’s really no danger of being overwhelmed by a complex and heart-wrenching tale when it comes Serious Sam. Essentially it boils down to the fact that humanity has found a way to traverse the galaxy and many of the aliens inhabiting it are none too pleased with this, and so one of them, by the name of Mental, decides to wipe humans out, and it’s up to meathead Sam to save the day while spouting one-liners from the Duke Nukem school of heroics. And if I’m to be fair to the alien hordes, the fact that we send an utter twat like Sam into the far reaches of space is a completely justifiable reason for wanting to commit the genocide of the human race.
Serious Sam 3 attempts to introduce a little more plot, taking place before Serious Sam: The First Encounter and explaining how Sam wound up back in time at the start of the first game. It does this by occasionally stopping the action so that Sam can have a conversation with one of the many disembodied voices which run the military. Exactly how somebody like Sam, who wears a T-shirt, jeans and shades, got into the army is something of a mystery and is never actually explained. I assume he just turned up one day during exercises and nobody questioned it. Anyway, Serious Sam is one of those cases in which trying to inject even a little more plot just doesn’t work. Sam’s occasional earpiece chats serve only to get in the way of the action.
Ah yes, the action. As I said earlier firing up the Serious Sam games is like stepping back in time to the days when first-person shooters were a far simpler beast. The focus here is on the massive open arenas with little to no cover, hordes of enemies and plenty of guns with which to do battle. Strafing is the name of the game, requiring you to have nimble figures and a solid spatial awareness with which to track the multitude of foes surrounding you. It’s frantic, hectic and mental, and your only friends are the good old-fashioned power-ups strewn around, as well as health packs and armor pick-ups. The array of weapons at your disposal also feel nice and meaty, bringing a nice degree of oomph to the gunplay.
In a cruel twist of fate, though, Serious Sam’s iconic gameplay is both its single greatest asset and its downfall. The is no enemy AI to speak of: everything simply charges head-first at you, and so the gameplay quickly begins to feel repetitive and tiresome. At first the mayhem is awesome, but it begins to drag its feet when you realise that Serious Sam has no other tricks. Battle are almost always the same: you back pedal for a bit as the enemy charges you, and then you go from side to side hammering away at the triggers. The wide variety of enemies and weapons do help somewhat, but by halfway through Serious Sam 1 or 2 you’re going to be feeling tired of it. In short I’d recommend playing these games in short bursts rather than long sessions in order to counteract the samey gameplay.
As for Serious Sam 3 it shows some improvement over its predecessors, boasting a better AI that’s capable of doing more than just charging straight at you in a fit or rage, although that is still what a lot of the enemy types tend to do. Sam 3 also eases up a little on the massive hordes of enemies that could often make the first 2 games a little frustrating, choosing to be more thoughtful with the enemy mixes in order to present a challenge to the player rather than simply spamming them all, making for more enjoyable gameplay. Serious Sam 3 also brings the inclusion of sprinting and iron sights, relatively small changes that bring a modern vibe to the game while it still manages to retain much of the charm of the original titles. Even with these tweaks, though, the game does become repetitive, just like it’s ancestors, and doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to stand alongside the past games or if it wants to try to face off against the current breed of shooters.
Both Sam 2 and 3 offer up some multilayer mayhem, with Second Encounter sporting a barebones packages with straight-up run and gun action, and Before First Encounter boasting a considerably more chunkly roster of modes. However, since it has been some considerable time since either of these games were released on XBLA there’s really nobody online. The few games that I did get in were enjoyable enough, but the simple truth is that I just couldn’t get enough games played to fairly render an opinion on it.
Oddly enough arguably the best game in the entire package is the side-scrolling mayhem of Serious Sam: Double D XXL, a project brought to life by an indie developer in 2011 for PC and which found its way to consoles in 2013. The game subscribes to the same bloody stupid charging AI of the first two games as well as the love of essentially bombarding you with enemies almost all of the time, but in a 2D context it all works rather well, using the standard twin-stick controller layout. There is also a bit of light platforming thrown in to help keep things interesting, and as such it doesn’t get as repetitive as quickly as its FPS cousins.
Where Double D XXL really stands out is in its odd stance on weapon usage. Any of the various weapons you pick up along the way can be used in the game’s ‘stacking’ system, which quite literally allows you to place guns on top of each other using connectors, so that when you pull the trigger all of the weapons fire. Not only is it a strange and cool idea, but there’s also absolutely zero limitations placed upon you, allowing you to chuck together anything you’ve found, provided you’ve got enough connectors to do so. Want to put a shotgun on top of a chainsaw? Go for it!
Double D XXL can also be played in co-op, which is damn good fun.
Before I round off this review with some long-winded closing thoughts, I do have one more grievance to air: the Serious Sam Collection has some serious loading times. Going from actually starting the disc to getting in to the game takes several minutes at least. Using manual save in the first two games or hitting a checkpoint in Sam 3 or Double D causes the game to come to a grinding halt for a few seconds as well.
Playing through the Serious Sam Collection is something of a strange and surreal experience. On the one hand it’s nice to get back to a simpler time when things could be as easy as just blasting monsters to bits without having to worry about whether it was morally correct do so or having to witness an emotional scene with the dead monsters family crying over its grave. And yet when you grow bored of the repetitive gameplay and the simplicity of it all it does makes you appreciate all the more how far the FPS has actually come over the years, regardless of whether you actually agree with many of the genre tropes to emerge from this evolution.
Whether or not the Serious Sam Collection is worth your money largely comes down to how much of a nostalgic gamer you are. For me, I don’t tend to don the rose-tinted glasses very often and so playing through the Serious Sam games again, especially the older ones, was enjoyable in short bursts, but ultimately struggled to hold my attention for very long. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of playing the Serious Sam games when I was younger, and in a way I felt like I tarnished those happy memories somewhat by playing through the games again in 2013. Sure, I had some fun, but it also reminded of just how limited the games were. In another way it as fun to revisit the madness of Serious Sam. I accepted that the game’s hadn’t aged all that well, and took them for what they were: mindless fun.
As such I struggle to assign a score to the Serious Sam Collection. How much should it be pitted against its modern-day contemporaries? Ultimately, though, I do believe that since it was released now, it has to compete against the other titles taking up shelf-space, hence my scoring.
+ Plenty of game for your money.
+ old-school blasting.
+ It’s nostalgia in a box!
– Hasn’t aged all that well.
– Get’s repetitive pretty quickly.
– Irritating loading times.
The Verdict: 3/5
A trip back in time that is good fun, in controlled bursts.