I was amazed in early 2002 when I came across a jewel-case FPS game at my local EBGames for $19.99 called ‘Serious Sam: The Second Encounter’. The images on the back looked quite nice and the description of a fast-paced action romp sounded like a complete blast – and somewhat of an anachronism.
The funny thing is that when I first saw the Serious Sam games, I passed on buying them that day because they were on the ‘junk rack’. There was a four-sided rack of jewel-case games in that store, and they were pretty much universally either low budget junk or re-releases of games no one bought before. Of course, since then the market for re-releases and jewel-case games has changed dramatically, but in 2002 I held tight to my $20.
But after a quick look on the internet, I discovered that Serious Sam was actually supposed to be pretty decent. Low budget, not many reviews, not many folks playing it – but those who did appreciated what it offered.
And what Serious Sam offers is straight-out over-the-top balls-to-the-walls action with a stunning amount of enemies on screen at any given time. The aim isn’t working through stories or puzzles or in-depth or even remotely interesting characters – it is about blasting your way through a colorful world using cool weapons against crazy monsters.
You play as ‘Serious’ Sam Stone, Earth’s greatest hero, a macho guy who makes wry commentary on an occasional basis but is not much of a conversationalist – which is fine since there isn’t much talking to do.
Each game starts with a simple and fairly silly introduction that leads you into the start of the action. In each case you are put down in a relatively deserted area so you can get your bearings and equip some basic stuff before the onslaught starts.
There are three things to think about with this game: weapons, enemies, and pacing … well, and also performance on the netbook.
As I alluded to earlier, the pacing is fairly frenetic – but it is actually more binary. When you enter an area you get a few moments to get your bearings and appreciate the beauty of the area. But once you start moving around, you will quickly get spotted and then the onslaught of enemies will begin and won’t stop until you clear the area. At that point, there is no respawning of enemies, so you can once again enjoy the landscapes.
The enemies come in all shapes and sizes, from cute little creatures to massive demonic beasts – and depending on what weapons you have at your disposal they can be difficult or trivial. But unlike many other games of the era and certainly since, the enemies here attack you with absolute tenacity and no sense of self-preservation.
The weapons you get are fairly typical to the FPS genre: single and double pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, rockets, and so on. Ammunition is fairly plentiful, but due to the heavy concentration of enemies you will definitely need to make sure you conserve the more powerful weapons for more powerful enemies.
While the enemy behavior might sound like something out of Doom or Quake, there is a major difference: Serious Sam is all about massive waves of enemies. I know I have said it before, but when you suddenly find yourself surrounded by a dozen enemies of six different types and need to keep moving at all times … it is just other-worldly crazy.
But the amazing thing is – in spite of the tons of enemies, the gorgeous graphics and really cool lens flare effects everywhere (this was before it was the ‘effect of the day’), the explosions and on and on … Serious Sam Gold performs amazingly well. It performed great nearly a decade ago on modest hardware, and it looks great today. As you look at the screens in the review, remember these were all grabbed on my netbook at high settings with full speed action.
Serious Sam represented a change in many ways – a celebration of old-school shoot-em-up fun, a celebration of the small shop developer, and a celebration of great-looking games that don’t need a PC upgrade to play.
RetroGamer Perspective: As I said, Serious Sam represents a classic style of gameplay yet is thoroughly modern in many other ways. It was fairly popular when initially released, and has grown in esteem since. The recent HD releases have helped give the game a wider audience, which is always a good thing. However, this game sort of falls through the cracks when it comes to the Retro-Gamer – it is too modern to appeal for those looking for another run at Quake or Jedi Knight, yet lacks the strategic feel and intelligent AI of more recent games. For FPS fans, though, none of that matters – Serious Sam stands alongside the best the genre has to offer and deserves to be played by anyone who has access to a mouse & keyboard!
Netbook Gamer Perspective:
– Digital Download / CD version? – Serious Sam Gold was available on most digital download sites as a single file download. Since the recent HD releases, it seems to have been pulled … at least temporarily. The CD version is no longer widely available.
– Installation Notes: The installation goes quickly and results in the choice of starting either the First or Second Encounter.
– Disk Space Requirements: full-install takes ~950MB.
– CD Required to Play? No – neither the CD nor digital versions require a CD to play.
– Control Considerations? Serious Sam is very much a modern WASD-based shooter with every control detailed during the opening areas and also available for customization.
– Will it run on a VIA C7? Yes!
– Will it run with 1GB RAM? Yes!
– Special Considerations for running in Windows XP / Vista / Win 7? Serious Sam included Windows XP in the release compatibility lists and works great on all modern operating systems.
– Compatible versions for other OS such as Linux or Mac OS? There was never a Mac or Linux version released.
– Notes on the Digital Version: As mentioned, it might be harder to find the original Serious Sam Gold now that the ‘HD’ versions are out. Sadly those games offer little to anyone who has the originals.
Conclusion: Serious Sam is a game that is about the past, present and future: it recalls the gaming styles of shooters past, played on most computers that were available when it was released, and remains an absolute blast to play nearly a decade later.