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Serious Sam 3: BFE Review

By Jeff Buckland, 12/3/2011

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It seems that bringing back decade-old FPS mechanics is rather risky. If you make things deliciously old-school with few of today's modern shooter tropes, you limit your audience but those who stick around will be very satisfied with your efforts. Put in too many of today's conveniences, though, like RAGE or Duke Nukem Forever did, and the same things that gained people's support in other games suddenly become detractors; no one complains about regenerating health in Gears of War 3, but Duke Forever sure got flak over it (including a healthy dose from me).

With a new publisher overseeing the business side of things, the upcoming success of developer Croteam's Serious Sam 3: BFE always seemed just a little bit iffy to me, mostly because I had no idea what Devolver Digital would do to try and promote this game, and it seemed unclear where the developers would go beyond just mad amounts of monsters and huge explosions. Turns out, they didn't really have to go anywhere, nor did they try, and the result turns out be rather refreshing - almost not even as a result of the developers' efforts, though, because Croteam has managed to differentiate themselves by staying the same. I guess it just shows that FPS games have really changed that much.

Serious Sam 3 stars Sam, er, something or other, as he, er, shoots a bunch of crap out in Egypt. Yeah, there's a story, but frankly, nearly every time I played I couldn't stand to watch it. Online co-op players voted almost unanimously to skip the cutscenes, too, as all you really need is hordes of monsters, huge guns, and Sam kicking out awful one-liners at the end of every big gunfight. The level design alternates between wide-open spaces and tight, flashlight-illuminated corridors, although I quickly found that the big, outdoor spaces probably should have been focused on just a bit more - especially once you start playing alongside other poeple.

I experienced much of the game's frantic and ridiculous campaign over in cooperative mode, where up to sixteen (!) players are supported to bring together some of the most chaotic FPS gameplay I've seen in years. Classic co-op mode seems to be the way this game was intended to be played, even compared to just playing alone, although local co-op (including split screen play - yes, on PC!) is also in. The sixteen-player games I joined were complete Charlie Foxtrots where people constantly died and respawned instantly on the highest difficulty, splinters of the group would get lost in the game's massive levels often, and everything was about as wild and unpredictable as you can imagine when 16 people get together to play Serious Sam. Admittedly, I'm not sure how long it will be viable to get this many people together, as even during prime time in the first couple weeks of the game's release, I've only usually seen two or three co-op games going with more than ten people in them. Still, every one I've been in generally ran smooth even with players from Russia and France joining, and a few weird online-only glitches with floating players and such do little to ruin the fun of this game.

Croteam probably could have scaled back some of this silliness and delivered a more polished experience that might even compete with other, more story-oriented shooters, but that's just not what Serious Sam was ever about. Many of the original enemies and weapons have returned in full force and the same Egypt motif has been only mildly updated with some modern-day urban scenes. Don't get me wrong, though: everything's been remade for the HD era, without rampant reuse of old assets or anything - it's just done in pretty much the same style of the first game, and thankfully the failures of Serious Sam 2 have been left behind.

This third major game does still hold onto the original's more old-school, 90s-inspired conventions, so there's no cover, no regenerating health, and no mercy. Sam can perform cool melee kills to instantly finish quite a few of the game's enemies, although the usefulness of these becomes limited after the first few levels since Sam can take damage from other enemies while going through the long, drawn-out kill animations. Here, once the action heats up, you need to be nearly constantly running backwards and shooting, as dozens of enemies will often come rushing at you at once.

Those who expected a true spiritual successor to the frantic first person shooters of yesteryear might have had a bit of fun with Hard Reset, but if you're like me, you'll find that it's just not the same. For fans of these classics, I imagine the days of Painkiller, Doom on high difficulty, or the original Serious Sam brought great memories with little hope of them ever coming back. But luckily, SS3 does succeed in bringing those days back, and while its haphazard and sometimes lackadaisical way of slapping together old-school action with modern-day visuals can be a bit jarring, awkward, or just downright ugly, you won't likely care once you get into the thick of battle. Props to Devolver for setting the price at a slightly modest $40, which I didn't really expect, either. You get quite a bit for the money, too, as the campaign is quite long, and the wealth of features, gameplay modes (including deathmatch-type play for those who desperately need it for some reason) and configuration options make this one of the most raw, brutal, and unapologetically fun PC FPS experiences you'll have had in quite a while.

Overall: 8 out of 10



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