Tag Archives: Serious Sam

Serious Sam Collection Review

The Nintendo Switch has had a track record of being like my niece when she was a toddler. “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” she would exclaim when she got interested in trying something. Like when she flew a kite for the first time. She’s a teenager now (Time flies)but she would never give up on anything at 4. Much like her, the Nintendo Switch has been running video game software most would not have thought possible. While visual concessions were there, we still saw Panic Button port DOOM (2016), we saw Shiver port Mortal Kombat 11 last year, CD Projeckt Red migrated The Witcher 3 with all of its DLC content onto the thing, and now Croteam has migrated Serious Sam Collection.

PROS: Customization options. Performance enhancement options. Bonus content.

CONS: Minor performance issues. No gyroscopic aiming. No physical editions as of now.

BONUS CONTENT: A Horde mode, and Split-Screen multiplayer added.

While this bundle is on all of the current generation platforms I’m focusing on the Switch version here since that’s the one I bought. But I can compare the games with the original PC releases as I explain how well the transition to Nintendo’s tablet system has gone. I imagine the PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions will look a little bit better as they share some technology with the PC in components. But the content will be pretty much the same, so if you plan on looking into either of those versions this review may still help you.

It’s hard to believe but Serious Sam has been with us for almost twenty years already. I can still remember working at an OEM when I played a demo for the first time. I would get computer game magazines and read up on new releases and this was at a time when often times demos of new games would come on CDs bundled with magazines. PC Gamer had given away one such demo disc with the Serious Sam The First Encounter demo along with the free Seriously Warped Deathmatch mod for those who bought the full game. It was one of the demos that hit home (along with the poor performance of UT, and SIN on my current machine at the time) that I would need a new computer.

Fast forward over the years and Croteam would make The First Encounter, The Second Encounter with GODGames, then go to Take 2 Interactive (2k) where they would make Serious Sam II, leave Take 2, and go to Devolver Digital (Founded by ex GODGames members) where they would put out HD remasters of The First Encounter and The Second Encounter before giving us Serious Sam 3 BFE, and The Talos Principle. These all ran on updated versions of their Serious Engine. Serious Sam II on Serious Engine 2, the remasters on Serious Engine 3, and SS3 on Serious Engine 3.5.

Since this collection runs under Serious Engine 3.5 you won’t be seeing Serious Sam II. Previously, Croteam did put out a similar collection on the Xbox 360 that came with one of the indie spinoff games normally on digital stores like Steam. So if you don’t have a respectable computer these days, but you do have that 360 collection and one of the current consoles, do you need to get this collection? Well this collection gives you a DLC that collection did not. So you may want to indeed if you’re a big fan of the franchise. But there’s more to it than that.

Serious Sam Collection for Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 here includes Serious Sam HD The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD The Second Encounter with its Legend Of The Beast DLC, and Serious Sam 3: BFE with its Jewel Of The Nile DLC. It doesn’t include any of the indie spinoff games like the 360 collection did, but you do get the DLC for the second title here that that collection did not include. So this feels a bit more complete.

Of course on the PC, there is Serious Sam Complete Pack which also included Serious Sam Fusion which acts like a similar launcher hub as the one built into this collection. So in either case you can play these three games from one executable program. But the PC collection also does give you the indie spinoffs as well as Serious Sam II. If you just have to have every canon game in the series, that’s one edge to getting these games on Steam.

On the other hand, while a few of the games and spinoffs have been on previous video game systems many have never heard of these games or played them outside of Europe. This is despite their massive popularity on computers and those previous ports and iterations Stateside. So getting these again on consoles gives people who have played them in the past a convenient way to play them again in their living room. The fact that the Switch is a tablet means it’s also an easy way to enjoy yourself while terrorizing patrons with the sounds of headless kamikazes when you get your morning coffee. But more importantly, it potentially introduces these games to an entirely new audience preparing them for the eventual day when they play Serious Sam 4 or try to track down Serious Sam II out of curiosity.

So for those who have never played these games, what do you do? Serious Sam is a series inspired by the id Software and 3D Realms games of old. Games like DOOM, Quake, Wolfensten, Duke Nukem 3D, and Blood. However, many make the mistake of coming into these games and playing them like those games. Serious Sam may be inspired by those old shooters of yore, but it plays nothing like them. It plays more like a First-Person version of a 1980s or early 90s twin stick arcade shooter. Games Eugene Jarvis made for Midway, like Robotron 2084, Smash T.V., and Total Carnage.

In all of these games you’ll be placed in long, intricate levels that feature massively open rooms, fields and arenas. You’ll explore rooms and areas looking for secrets, killing a couple of enemies here and there before getting into one of these battlefields. You’ll immediately be swarmed from all sides with hundreds and hundreds of enemies. Survive these onslaughts, pick up some health, and ammunition and continue the cycle over 15 levels or so. But that’s just the barebones version. These games do a lot with so little. Just when you begin to get the hang of fighting low-level enemies, the games introduce new enemies. Each enemy type has to be dealt with a certain way. The Kleer Skeletons are best dealt with by using a shot gun at just the right moment as they pounce at you. But get more than five of them and you may want a minigun. But while you’re dealing with those, the game will quietly send in Harpies from the heavens that require different tactics to defeat. By the middle of these games you begin to very quickly juggle different weapons for different threats while fighting them all at the same time. It’s crazy, stressful, and a lot of fun. On the downside, some might find it too repetitive. But honestly, the combination of 80s arcade gaming and late 90s PC FPS action is a winning one. You’re always doing something. When you’re not killing monsters you’re resupplying. When you’re not resupplying you’re hunting for secrets. And despite the name of our hero, these games do not take themselves seriously at all. Even the grittier newer releases with their more realistic graphics are still about being over-the-top arcade action. With funny one liners that could be in a Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and plenty of hilarious Easter Eggs.

So that’s a summary of what you do in general. I’m not going to review each game individually here as I’m talking about a collection. Though I will talk a little about the differences in each before getting into how well these games have made the transition from computers to consoles. The two Serious Sam HD titles are remastered versions of the original games that came out in 2009, and 2010. While Serious Sam 3: BFE was originally released in 2011. The DLCs for the second HD Remaster and Serious Sam 3 came about in 2012.

The two HD remasters have a slightly less realistic look to them than the third game does, being older. But the general play style is the same. Here’s where the series began in a sense of releases. Sam is sent back to ancient Egypt to defeat Mental in the past so that in the future the alien race is unable to conquer the Earth. You’ll spend hours in each of them and it’s important to remember these are technically two halves of one game. The second half has a much wider variety of settings than the first half, and really perfects the formula set up in the First Encounter. Moving onto Serious Sam 3 you’ll learn you’re playing a prequel. the BFE stands for Before First Encounter. So in that game you’re playing the events just before the original game. There are a number of visual effects that the third game has over the remasters. But that does come at a price of performance.

Serious Sam Collection does give you a remarkable number of options for a console release. And while the number of options are not as deep as they are in the PC releases over the years, it’s impressive. Very few console games give you any customization. Many of the core game options have made their way over as you can tinker with your crosshair, turn gibs on or off, change the color of the blood from red to different colors or even use the hippie texture which changes the blood texture to flowers. You can also turn the blood off entirely. You can change the order of weapons when cycling them, and you can pick which character you want to use for multiplayer modes.

But it doesn’t end there, the game will also let you choose from a number of preset button mapping settings including some that will swap the thumb sticks’ roles to accommodate left handed players. You can also disable auto aim and you can tinker with the sensitivity of the thumb sticks for your aiming. Croteam also migrated the color scheme graphics options here. So like on PC, you can change the tone of the colors to be brighter, darker, richer, or softer with different presets and then tweak the individual brightness, contrast, saturation, and gamma of each. But probably the coolest thing here is the fact you can optimize the game for graphics settings or performance. When you go into the actual game it doesn’t seem to make a dramatic change in visuals either. But you do feel the difference while playing the games. This is especially true in Serious Sam 3.

On Nintendo Switch the games look comparable to a computer running with lower and medium settings enabled. Things like shadows and Antialiasing are obviously set lower as you can see jag lines along things like cables or palm trees. Performance with the graphics set to optimize graphics over performance seems pretty similar to setting it to optimize performance in the HD remasters. The frame rate seems to hover around 60 most of the time, though when things got hairy with hundreds, upon hundreds of enemies setting it for graphics could sometimes see a split second dip in framerate into the 20s where things would chop up a second before going back to normal. Setting it to performance made this even rarer, and it would come at the cost of some less defined shadows, AA, and draw distance. Not that big a deal. Serious Sam 3 however, almost requires you set it to performance as the bump in graphics requires more from the Switch’s Tegra. It never gets unplayable on Graphics, but it does kick way down to the 30s in frame rate.

And while you may not physically see it with your eyes, you can feel the difference in your hands. Things are much less responsive and the dips that are uncommon in the remasters are more common. The performance setting seems to uncap the frame rate (I’m not a coder, I can’t say for certain) but it feels much closer to what it does on a computer. It still dips once in awhile, but it feels much better. And visually, it doesn’t look that much different. You can really analyze it and then notice some of the things I mentioned when talking about these settings on the remasters. But it’s not a massive difference save for the rare occasion you might notice something in the far, far, distance sprinkling into view.

While there will no doubt be some who downplay having these games on the Switch due to the lower settings, they’re missing another marvel. Serious Sam Collection joins the likes of Mortal Kombat 11, The Witcher 3, DOOM (2016), and Wolfenstein: The New Order, as games that probably shouldn’t have been possible on the system, not only running on the system but running well. And while concessions in the graphics were made, these games still look pretty great. And tweaking the color options can actually compensate a bit for taste. I tinkered a bit by starting out with the “Vivid” setting, and then moved the contrast, brightness, gamma settings around a bit and found it really made some of the moments in the third game look a bit more lively. The settings get shared across all of the games though, which is a little disappointing when you consider that the earlier games are more colorful, and so what you do for the third game may not work out as well for one of the other games for you. Turning off the blood, and gibs can also help you slightly with performance as it’s a tiny bit less for your Switch to draw and animate during the massive battles. And so if it saves you a couple of frames per second here or there, those who want the best speed possible may just do that.

To this day, there are some video game players on the PC end that will run games on the lowest settings possible, even on a new system with bleeding edge parts because they do not want a sub 60 FPS experience under any circumstances. And while there’s certainly a point where you can become so obsessed with framerate it keeps you from enjoying a game, there’s something to be said for having a framerate that stays high so that when intensive things happen and it has to drop, it drops from really high to high. That way as a player you’re not seeing or feeling it the way you do when it goes from high to low. Even some of those who buy this for one of the other consoles may consider this. I didn’t notice enough of a change to warrant leaving it off for myself. But your mileage may vary.

When compared to the PC versions of these games, obviously the PC versions are going to come out ahead, as they’re more feature rich on the computer and unless your computer is well over a decade old, they’ll probably perform better there. But that said, it is interesting to see how close these get to the computer versions. In terms of content, everything is here. The same stages, the same number of enemies, the DLC is here in its entirety. Everything is here. And it looks and sounds terrific by the standards of the Nintendo Switch. As I said earlier, that they squeezed all of it onto the little tablet that could, and had it perform as well as it does and still looking nice really speaks to the talent at Croteam. The console versions all also add split-screen co-op campaigns, horde modes, and deathmatches to the mix. Which is fantastic for anybody who has friends, family, or roommates as you can play together without everyone having to buy the game and a console plus a subscription. But like the computer versions, it supports online play as well. So you can still go through the campaign, or play deathmatches, or horde games together that way.

Be that as it may, there is one sticking point with the multiplayer and that is draw distance of enemies. Whether you’re playing the game online with friends or strangers or you delve into split screen you can expect this issue to crop up. It seems that enemies will draw into view six feet in front of you at times. This can be an issue because when you play the game normally, you may have harpies coming from the distance, or a large herd of werebulls gunning for you. Not being able to see them until they get close increases the difficulty a lot. Even if you’re playing on a lower setting with less enemies, it’s something to be aware of. This is presumably to keep the game’s framerate from tanking as it has to draw everything multiple times. And while it doesn’t break the game, it does increase the challenge beyond what was intended. It’s still going to be fun, but you have to expect some unfair moments. Fortunately, you can spawn right where you died during a multiplayer match, and you have unlimited lives unless you set it otherwise. So co-operatively beating the campaign is doable.

And while this isn’t going to look nearly as good as a computer running everything maxed out in 1080p, 1440p, 4k or 8k, it does look the part. Again, compare it to a 7 year old machine with a midrange card of the era in it, running at medium or low. It’s following the trend of those other PC games, and Mortal Kombat 11 I mentioned before. If you’ve never played these games before and only have a console, you’re probably going to love them on your Switch or PS4 or XB1. They’re fun games on any platform really, and they’ve made the transition to consoles pretty well. I do however have one major issue with the Switch version. In spite of all of the customization that made its way over, and amenities made for consoles it would have been a slam dunk to have motion controls be the icing on the cake. Splatoon 2, DOOM, Wolfenstein, and even Overwatch have gyroscopic aiming. This is one edge the Switch has when it comes to shooter games. While some might deride motion controls, when it comes to shooters on controllers, it has always been far superior than using thumb sticks. Because it’s much closer to the movement of a mouse on PC. It would especially benefit these games considering just how many enemies are thrown to you at any given time.

Still, in spite of the lack of motion controls, and some technical workarounds stifling multiplayer a little, I still recommend Serious Sam Collection. If you’ve never played these beforehand this is a fantastic way to become introduced to the series. If you have played them, this gives you the perfect opportunity to replay them in the living room, and in the case of the Switch version you can conveniently play them on the go, which is great because you can play these for five hours or five minutes. The occasional performance dip is disappointing but these are still very playable versions that perform very well most of the time. The lack of motion aiming on the Switch is a missed opportunity, but the games are still so fun its worth dealing with their omission. Plus you get all of the DLC expansion packs and you’re getting the bonus of couch co-op. Sadly, as of now there are no physical versions, so video game collectors might feel a little disappointed by that. But these are nevertheless worth picking up even if they won’t be booted from a card, or Blu Ray. For some it will be a new experience, and for veterans it’ll be fun reliving them and comparing them. And who wouldn’t love hearing the loud chorus of “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!” emanating from your Nintendo Switch during your morning coffee run at Starbucks? If the coffee doesn’t wake you up, the explosions of headless kamikazes will.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Serious Sam 4 Review

It’s finally here. It’s hard to believe, but Serious Sam 3 is almost 9 years old as I’ve started typing this. Over that time there has been a lot of concern with many fans. Many wondered if it would see the light of day after Croteam had such luck with the beloved Talos Principle and then their VR efforts with Serious Sam VR games like The Last Hope, and ports of The First and Second Encounter to VR. From there it was a sporadic blip or two. A quick quip to say it was coming, or news that the writers of The Talos Principle would be writing the storyline to this game. A couple of years ago we got the first trailer, then not much of anything. But then leading up to the release, we suddenly saw several trailers.

PROS: Legion System. Writing. Added Features. Classic gameplay is retained.

CONS: Bugs. Uneven optimization. Inconsistent visual quality at times. Unbalanced segments.

RIDE: Piloting Werebulls and Khnums is one of the most fun things you can do here.

Those trailers got a lot of people psyched. And shortly after I began my initial play through, I saw a few people lamenting the game. And I couldn’t understand why. When first starting the game I had a pretty exceptional first impression. The game has a slew of options for tweaking graphics, performance, audio, and more. The game does a pretty good job of pre picking options based upon your hardware configuration when it does its initial scan. But if you want to lower things for performance, or raise things to make them look as good as things allow.

That said, the requirements for Serious Sam 4 are a little bit beefy. While they’re nowhere near the level of hardware you’ll need for some of the AAA multiplatform blockbusters from the likes of Activision, EA, or Ubisoft, you won’t be able to get by on a potato machine. You’ll need at least a 64-bit quad core processor running 2.5Ghz or better, 8GB of memory, an nVidia GeForce 780 or better on the graphics end. If you prefer AMD graphics you’ll need a Radeon 7950 or better. The video cards have to have at least 3GB of Video memory on them and even that might be a bit anemic. The game will take 40GB or more of hard disk space. According to the game’s Steam page that should let you run the game at around a 720p resolution at 30 Frames per second (approximately 1280 x 720). Things may not look so sharp for those with an older computer but a 1080p monitor resolution or higher. Particularly if you want to run it full screen.

My computer (the one I played the game on) contains an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB M2 SSD along with an nVidia GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER. So I actually exceeded the recommended requirements a little bit. Be that as it may, I did have a couple of issues I’ll get to later in the review. But most of the time, things seemed to run the way they ought to. At least through the first half of the game anyway.

When the game begins we’re treated to an interactive introduction where the characters in the story can be seen talking. Or rather their reflections of themselves talking on broken satellite panels and spaceship debris floating above the Earth’s atmosphere. Things then shift down to the surface where we see a massive battle going on with the tens of thousands of enemies that Croteam promised us we would see. And to their credit, it’s one of the coolest things you’ll see in a video game. As I said, this is an interactive scene. In engine. Not a cutscene. You move around, fighting the hordes of Mental’s minions. It’s a short-lived moment though because you’ll be knocked out by a giant monster. Once this happens, we’re sent back a few months before this scene takes place.

This sets up the storyline by The Talos Principle’s writers Jonas and Verena Kyratzes. And if you thought that the deep, philosophical writing style of that game would be repeated here, and overshadowing everything you would be wrong. Here they go for a Direct-To-Video Dolph Lundgren vehicle, and it fits the series’ mix of violent, gristly action, and tongue in cheek effectively. Much like Serious Sam 3, this game dabbles in expanding the world of Serious Sam by introducing some newer characters as well as fleshing out some background ones a little bit more.

But the game never makes you delve into any of it if you don’t care to. You can skip every single cutscene the game has to offer if you choose to do so. One of the earliest characters you’ll meet is Kenny, who is basically like the Orko to your He-Man. He’s a comic relief character but almost in reverse. What I mean by that, is when the game introduces the other members of Sam’s team over time, you’ll find most of them have the 1980s action movie vibe about them. They crack one-liners while blowing away hordes of enemies. Kenny is more like a traditional rank and file soldier. Not a chiseled, gritty veteran (Though the game has one of those), but a character with an almost straight-man comedy role. Over time, the characters become an Expendables-like ensemble. The storyline basically starts right before the events of Serious Sam 3 so we have another prequel. A prequel to a prequel. But the story is honestly pretty entertaining.

One of the highest ranking officials in Mental’s army, Lord Achriman has all but conquered Earth. But he is constantly being annoyed by the small uprisings around the globe that keep him from putting a period on the end of his proverbial sentence. Throughout the game’s cutscene’s and in game background audio he fills the role of Half-Life 2’s Dr. Breen. Appearing on TV and Radio to spout off his propaganda and thinly veiled attempts to get the human race to just give up and let him have the last 10 percent of Earth as well. Sadly, as of this writing the character doesn’t seem to have a credit for the voice actor. But it’s easily one of the best performances here. Obviously, John J Dick reprises his role as Serious Sam, and he does it as well as ever.

Over the course of the game you’re tasked with helping a Priest, Father Mikhail get to the Ark Of The Covenant, so that the human resistance can use the Holy Grail to defeat Mental’s forces. This is another fantastic character who is well-written and somehow both grounded and over-the-top. A lot of the humor they sprinkle in is also over-the-top. Over-the-top without doing anything that very many would find too offensive either. Not that I’m debating comedy here, rather saying I didn’t see anything very sensitive people on any spectrum would be too bothered by. And honestly, when it’s funny, it’s really, really funny. I genuinely laughed several times during my playthrough. The characters are all likeable, even the villains, and the story even throws you a few curveballs here and there. Some you’ll see coming. But some will honestly catch you by surprise.

But don’t think this is going to be a game of escort missions, or boring fetch-quests. Well fetch-quests that don’t involve getting a key or other item you don’t really need. This is still very much a Serious Sam game. Though we’re given a number of new features here as well as find a few other features from previous games expanded upon. First off, Serious Sam 3 introduced a melee kill system that DOOM 2016 perfected in the eyes of many. It’s returned here, and it feels like they’ve given iD Software the kudos here because this will feel very similar. That said, some of the melee kills here are more involved than you might expect. They’ve also implemented a point system similar to DOOM 2016. Over the course of the game you can find these blue glass orbs. You can then use these to access a skill tree, and you can use the points to unlock abilities. And its used to great effect here. You’ll want to use these too, because Serious Sam 4 is the most challenging installment yet.

That’s because of something Croteam calls the Legion System, a software engine enhancement they’ve created that (as I mentioned earlier describing the intro) allows the game to display tens of thousands of enemies at once without a massive resource drain (most of the time. more on that later). As such there are a number of times throughout the game where you’ll be killing more aliens than ever. And while they are only that insane number a handful of times throughout the campaign, most of the time you’ll still be going up against more enemies than you did in the older games.

For those new to Serious Sam as a series, many have made the mistake of thinking of these games in the same vein as classic twitch FPS games like DOOM, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D due to the fast gameplay, crazy weapons, and wise-cracking protagonist. But while those certainly inspired elements of the games Croteam’s series shares more in common with classic twin stick arcade games when it comes to level design. Where DOOM often has tight corridors, monster closets of a dozen to thirty most times and few massive arenas, Serious Sam does not. Serious Sam’s missions and maps share more in common with something like Midway’s Smash T.V..

You’ll often start in an area that gives you health items, and perhaps a weapon. You then leave that area and enter a large arena or vista. Here, you’ll be swarmed by many, many enemies. Often times it numbers in the hundreds. That’s not to say the games only put you in giant maps or sections with enemies. Each of them do, in fact put you in smaller structures, or areas with thin hallways, or mazes with a smaller number of enemies. But unlike other FPS games, it’s almost relentless. There aren’t very many moments where you can let your guard down in Serious Sam games, and Serious Sam 4 is no exception. Serious Sam’s enemies are also more vulnerable to some weapons than others. So it’s a constant management on the fly requirement as you’re always switching weapons as you confront different enemy types in the same massive wave.

Serious Sam stages are always quite large when you take into account the fact that with the exception of the second game, you can go almost anywhere within reason to hunt for secrets and other items. You can still very much do that in Serious Sam 4. But instead of just blindly roaming around for hours, this time stages have alternate missions that going off the beaten path will lead to. The game does mark these, and puts up little descriptors telling you what lies in store for you if you succeed in finding it. Often times it pays to take the risk, and go for these. They’ll have little cutscenes often times to set things up in the story to explain why Sam isn’t just going for the goal. Sometimes you’re getting something for a citizen, other times you’re trying for some meta storyline stuff. But in any case you do get useful things for doing so.

Among these are some of the new items you can use in combat. One of these is a thermos that basically gives Serious Sam super speed like the shoes in the other games did. The difference here is its been combined with Serious Damage from the older games. So you’ll outrun enemies, and have four times the stopping power. Another one of these items is effectively bullet time. So you get a splash of Max Payne in your Serious Sam 4. And it benefits you greatly when you’re fighting in some of the larger scale events and you need that extra time to dodge the 486 rockets from the 56 Scrapjacks that just warped into the battle. Then there’s the Black Hole Bomb, which like Mega Man 10’s, sucks all of the on screen enemies into a black hole. A fun, and well-executed take on the classic smart bomb. Finally there’s the tactical nuke which is more or less a flashy smart bomb.

Throughout the game you’ll also find audio logs, text files, and other things that fill out some of the story details the cutscenes and voiceover might miss. They do manage to do a couple of funny fourth wall breaking jokes here too. But by the end you’ll probably find a lot of it endearing. They’ve done a great job in the action and comedy side of Serious Sam.

Beyond that, they’ve once again retooled many of the classic enemies, and given them some noteworthy updates to their looks. In most cases, they’ve built upon their Serious Sam 3 counterparts, blending some of the more contemporary horror and sci-fi feel with these fantastical characters. But at the same time, they’ve brought back some of that classic, silly feel from the old games here, reminding us of just how not serious, Serious Sam is. This is reflected in the bright colors, and crazy designs of some of the newly introduced enemies. There are vampires that scream at you like Sindel, the Draconian Pyromaniacs that shoot fireballs with flamethrowers, and The dreaded Processed, a bunch of mutant Prisoners who swarm you and shank you with knives.

Combine it all together with far more numbers than you’ve ever seen previously and we’re talking quite a few dicey moments. Especially if you find yourself in an area with very limited ammo or health drops. Which happens a couple of times at dire moments in this game. It’s one of the handful of issues I had in my initial run. There are a couple of large scale fights where you simply will not have enough supplies on hand to survive. While this can happen to you even in the old games, in the old games it’s usually the result of you being a little too callous and free wheeling with your ammo. Here, these fights are going to be especially hard if you come into a situation with only four rockets, and find that there is a scant two, rockets flashing in the field waiting to be picked up. Now don’t misunderstand me. This is not a frequent problem. But when it happens, it really hurts. To remedy this the game does have a couple of options to help a little bit.

The first thing you can do, is save, and save OFTEN. That probably goes without saying. But if you can go back three or four rooms, pick up the right ammo again, then try to get back to the point you’ll have trouble with without using it, that’s something. The second thing you can do is use the aforementioned perk system by choosing options that will make enemies drop ammo for your currently held weapon when you kill them, or give you 1 to 5 percent health back if you dispatch them with a melee attack.

The third thing is one of the newer features, and that is headshots. If you can hit the enemies square between the eyes it does big damage. Most of your small enemies like the Processed, and Octarian foot soldiers will die in a single hit. Some of the medium enemies will take four to ten. Like the Scrapjacks. Large enemies like the Khnum will have you admitting you’re boned no matter what you use. Though you can use the perk system to allow you to ride some enemies like Werebull or Khnum as vehicles. This is honestly pretty cool.

Other ways to try to work around that are to save the aforementioned Black Hole Bombs, Bullet Time, and Nuke for the most dire situations. There’s also a health syringe I forgot to mention. It falls under that category as well as the enemy on enemy gas canister I also forgot to mention. This gas makes the enemies fight each other for a short time. So if you find some of those be sure to save them up for when those undefeatable waves turn up. One last power up I forgot to mention is the decoy, where quite humorously, a hologram of our hero skates around and fakes out the enemies causing them to shoot at it instead of you.

Some may complain that these are ways to make some of the game easier. But considering the fact that you’ll often fight several hundred to a thousand enemies, you’ll be glad they’re here. Despite ALL of those workarounds, there will be some moments where there just won’t be enough extra ammo or health lying in the area. So try to conserve ammo wherever and whenever possible.

One of the other things Croteam mentioned is just how large they can now make maps as well as their new vegetation system. Well there is one massive stage where you’ll be able to see it in action as it does indeed display a bevy of bushes, flowers, and trees. Unfortunately this is the stage where a lot of the technical problems reared their ugly heads in my initial play through. The first of these was a strange A.I. bug. I ran into an encampment of enemies where none of them moved around at all whatsoever until I shot one of them. Not a major problem in the grand scheme of things, but still odd enough. And it could make things a little too easy. This is also the stage where you’ll get to use a few different vehicles. These are some truly fun moments, especially when you can use them in combat.

Near the end of the stage, I started to get some of the other issues. There were a couple of weird pop in issues where the game seemed to suddenly have issues loading higher quality textures, and I also had some brief stuttering in a large scale battle. This wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow had it not been the one and only time I really saw it happen.

While I’m talking about the look of the game here, I’ll address one complaint I’ve seen come up a few different places online, and that is how the game allegedly doesn’t look much better than Serious Sam 3. That, in my opinion, isn’t entirely true. While the main characters look slightly better than the ones in the last game, the enemies here look FAR more detailed, and varied. The lighting here is greatly improved, and one also has to remember that this game renders an obscene amount of enemies at any given time, which likely requires as much power as rendering some of the Hollywood visuals present in some other new releases.

Some of the revised characters like the Gnarrs, Headless Kamikazes, and Scorpions look markedly better than they did in the previous game, and a lot of the new combatants have a level of detail that will simply amaze you, especially when there are 25 of them among the 400 other creatures charging at you. like the flying Kalopsys’ Brain stems or the wrinkles in the Processeds’ orange jumpsuits. Even the weapon models have some really nice textures on them that add a sense of realism to them. Environments also look noticeably better than they did in the last game. Especially thanks to the enhanced lighting effects.

Now that isn’t to say, that the game looks on par with some of the AAA games out there, but again, that is offset somewhat by the impressive animation and enemy counts. The other thing to consider is that development did stall for the creation of The Talos Principle, and the VR Serious Sam games. So it’s likely that they enhanced their existing software technology rather than create an entirely new iteration of their Serious Engine.

One part of the game that is undeniably fantastic however is the soundtrack. Damjan Mravunac really outdid themselves this time, giving us not only a lot of awesome new songs that fit the motif of each stage they appear in, but some remixed versions, and reimagined versions of classic songs from The First Encounter, The Second Encounter, and Serious Sam 3. One of the ones that especially stuck out to me was the Vatican Fight music that played during the lead up to an epic boss fight involving a Gundam in Italy.

Boss fights in Serious Sam have always been these grand scale, larger than life fights and the ones in Serious Sam 4 really up the ante. Almost all of them involve fighting skyscraper sized behemoths, and even the ones that don’t will still require some level of puzzle solving skills. This is especially true when you get to the last couple of them where mere brute force won’t be enough to take them down.

Once you do clear the game, there are a couple of factors that will likely lead to replays if you find you really enjoyed your run. The first of these are the side missions. Any of the ones you might have missed are still there for you to experience. So if you’re the type who likes to do everything a game has for you to go for, this gives you a great reason to play it again. The other thing is the multiplayer. Like previous Serious Sam games, you can go through the entire campaign in Co-Op. This makes an already fun game even more so. Unfortunately , this time around you can only have four players. This is likely a concession for performance concerns. But coming from previous titles where sixteen people could play together, it can be a little bit disappointing. Still, this is the perfect kind of FPS to play with friends of all skill levels as everyone can contribute to slaying down the hordes of skeletons, kamikazes, scorpions and harpy menace.

In closing, Serious Sam 4 is a terrific entry in the franchise that mostly follows the familiar formula that made the series beloved. It’s simplistic but brutal blend of arcade mayhem and difficulty is as fun as it ever was. And most of the new ideas, imported features from other games, as well as the clever writing and voice acting really accent the proven formula nicely. It really will give you some moments that will wow you, and it will genuinely make you laugh when it throws some humor your way. That said, the bugs, and performance problems that crop up three quarters of the way through the game can be pretty annoying at times. If and when you run into any of them you’ll either have to try to tweak the game settings, and settings on your computer to compensate if they happen to get pretty bad for you, or (In the case of A.I. inconsistency) you’ll have to find a way to cheese your way through. As of this writing, Croteam has said they’re looking into these problems and hope to have patches out to fix them. But as it stands they can mar an otherwise wonderful game. The other thing I would be remiss to not mention is that if you’ve played one of the older games and didn’t enjoy it for whatever reason, this won’t change your mind. While I feel they really improved on some things here, it’s again, still very much a Serious Sam game. The core concept is centered around clearing large waves of enemies to advance, and if that isn’t your thing, this probably won’t change that.

Problems aside, I still found this game incredibly enjoyable. It’s easy to recommend to franchise fans because of how fun it truly is, and I can even recommend it to newcomers who are looking for a fast-paced action game experience. Serious Sam games have their own unique flair and feel. They’re not in the Doom, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D area of classic shooter despite the large amount of action they provide. But they’re nothing like any of the various military themed shooters, or the popular hero arena shooters out there either. This one also has a number of new additions that you may find yourself wishing the older entries had. Serious Sam 4 is a bad ass game hampered by some hitches that will hopefully be ironed out sooner than later. But even with its problems, it’s more than worth playing through. Especially if you have a couple of friends looking for a co-operative experience who are also willing to buy a copy for themselves.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

The Talos Principle Review

Croteam. A company that has given us a series inspired by Robotron 2084, Doom, and Duke Nukem 3D over the past decade. They’ve branched out, and given us a first person puzzle game. The Talos Principle has had a lot of praise heaped upon it since its release at the tail end of last year. Yet many people still haven’t heard of the game, let alone played it. Is it worth the critical acclaim? Yes. Is it as grand as claimed? Not entirely, but once you play it, it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded.

PROS: Engaging story. Crafty puzzles. Some clever writing.

CONS: Begins to drag near the end. Subject matter won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

EASTER EGGS: Many, many, MANY Easter Eggs.

The Talos Principle is a big surprise considering the sorts of games Croteam has made. But it is not an action game. Instead, the game follows the path of Valve’s Portal, and the Namco published Deadcore. Very much like those games you’ll be solving logic puzzles in first person. The game tries to follow a similar path too. Easing you into each mechanic, at least until the half way point. You’ll find some puzzles involve moving boxes onto levers to open doors. Or bridging lines of light with crystal connectors to open doors, or turn on another contraption. By the last leg of puzzles, you’ll even have to use security cameras, that use an in-game playback of your actions to solve puzzles. These, along with others can be very difficult to finish.

Sometimes the game likes to mess with you, by adding doors, switches or items you don’t need to use at all whatsoever. Other times it isn’t always obvious what to do, which is fine. But sometimes you’ll have a puzzle that is VERY particular about how it needs to be solved. Moments like these can take you a good hour or more to figure out, and even then might require a level of dexterity you need practice to reach.

When you first start the game you’re cast into an initial puzzle that not only tries to ease you into the mechanics, but the story as well. Talos Principle is about an Artificial Intelligence construct who is in a simulation. As that construct you’ll hear a voice from a being called Elohim. He guides you through the first half of the game, telling you to solve these logic puzzles before you can reach the highest level of consciousness. But once you begin exploring these levels you begin tor realize not is all what it seems. Throughout the game are audio logs from a woman who talks a lot about philosophical, theological, scientific topics, and theories. You also begin to find these very old IBM XT styled computer terminals. Many of these have similarly themed documents, along with emails, blog entries, articles, and so forth. Eventually these terminals begin to even debate these topics with you, and you’ll eventually discover that this is much more than a simulation. This part of the review might let off a couple of minor spoilers. So if you don’t want the story leaked out to you, skip ahead a couple of paragraphs.

It turns out the human race is wiped extinct from a cataclysmic event, and that the entire world you explore is an attempt to put all of the species’ knowledge into one machine. The one glaring flaw in this is that it is never explained exactly how logic puzzles do this, but the rest of what you are given is pretty captivating. What is really nice is the game doesn’t get too pretentious, or authoritative about anything. There are certainly allegorical elements to the story, and one might be able to infer some of the writer’s viewpoint. But at the same time it doesn’t beat you over the head screaming “This is how it is.” For the most part it throws things out there, and doesn’t try to change your mind. Rather it throws out a lot of different viewpoints, and lets you digest them. It certainly takes some influence from other works of fiction. I was reminded of stories like Dark City, and Do Robots Dream Of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, among others.

While the story isn’t the most original one, it is a nice take on the idea of worlds within worlds, and the aftermath of the apocalypse. It also lends itself well to the actual gameplay, as everything in the game is centered around puzzles. So even the story bringing up the big philosophical questions of life can be seen as yet another puzzle.  The puzzles themselves do follow a structure. When you complete the first  puzzle you’ll find your rewards for solving puzzles are pieces out of Tetris the game calls Sigils. The goal is to earn enough of these sigils to open a barrier with them which takes you into the next leg of your journey. Eventually you’ll find yourself in a hub world. The hub world leads to 8 worlds. Each with so many sigils locked behind puzzles. Defeat enough of these, and you can use the sigils to solve a puzzle, and escape.

But your escape leads you to yet another hub world. Which has other hub worlds. One of which is a giant tower, while another leads to an underground church hub level. A third takes you to a hub level based on ancient Egypt. Which shouldn’t surprise you as much of Serious Sam’s stages went with that theme. The voice of Elohim warns you not to go into the tower which leads to the fact the game has a number of endings. If you can beat all of the puzzles you can either get a good or bad ending depending on which exit you take. There is one in the tower, and of course one in the church hub.

But there is also a third finish which is tied to one of the most grueling, and difficult aspects of the game. Star sigils. Each hub world has a number of super secret sigils shaped like stars in its puzzle stages. If you can manage to collect all of them, you then have access to more secret puzzles, that upon defeat lead you to a third super secret ending. The Talos Principle has almost too much content as a result. Even those who want the base level experience, and the least satisfying finish can put many, many hours into it. The last leg of normal puzzles can be very challenging, and have a negative side effect of dragging on.

The game does have a hint system, but it’s obfuscated by more puzzles. Throughout the game you’ll find QR codes, much like the ones on products you scan with a cell phone. In this you can find shrines where you can place one, and the game will answer you with a hint. On the stipulation you’ve found these super secret hub worlds, and solved enough puzzles in them to awaken a helper. The helper also answers you with a cryptic hint as to beating any given level. Moreover, you only get so many hints before your answered with “Figure it out on your own”.

Of course being a game by Croteam this is powered by the Serious engine. The Talos Principle looks beautiful. Skyboxes look amazing, the game makes excellent use of its color palette, and the lighting effects never feel overdone. The bloom effects are beautiful, the lighting flares are used at just the right moments. Shadows, and shades are used to great effect here. Going along with those pretty graphics, are some excellent voice work, and background music. When you listen to a very well acted voice sample, the wistful, and somber music amplifies the emotion in the performance. The soundtrack fits the imagery constantly. Even the cathedral hub’s Gregorian styled hymnal music echoes the overall vibe of its setting. There’s a serenity to all of it, that can even be eerie at times.

Thankfully, the game controls very well most of the time. Occasionally you might find the line of sight a connector displays isn’t accurate when you place it down. Sometimes you might slip off of a surface even though you should have stopped on it. But these instances don’t happen nearly often enough to ruin anything. Although you may become a little frustrated when they do happen. Generally though, everything works the way it is supposed to. Brisk, and usually spot on. Which is good because, toward the end you’ll run into a number of puzzles that require precision, and timing.

Overall, Talos Principle is really good. It has some nice puzzles. It has an engaging story arc. It’s really hampered by going on a little bit too long. Which is a strange criticism as these days everyone asks for more, and more content in their games. Nevertheless, the long length will drag on for some. If you’re one of them you’ll have to take a couple of days away from it here, and there to avoid burning out on it. There are also a lot of Easter eggs for anybody who loves finding secrets in their video games.  If Croteam ever follows up with a sequel, one can only hope a little bit more puzzle variety is included to keep things from becoming monotonous at the end. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying the game out. It is still very enjoyable, has a science fiction story that is engaging, and is generally a really good game. Just make sure you don’t  try to power through it in a weekend.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Reposted Review: Serious Sam Complete Pack


(Originally posted on the lapsed Retro Retreat)

The collection to end all collections. Or is it?

It doesn’t seem like it should be but Serious Sam is seemingly both nostalgic, and lost to time. All the way back in 2001, a small team of Croatians developed a series that became a surprisingly big darling of the Computer Gaming World. While that last line  makes me nostalgic for the first of several magazines I used to enjoy before disappearing, I’ll press on. Serious Sam is a series of First Person Shooters that people will either really, really love. Or really, really not love.  At a first glance, many people made the mistake of comparing it to the original two DOOM games. Mainly because in those games you were sometimes placed in areas inhabited by large numbers of enemies. Also the enemies in DOOM were pretty imposing. But that comparison is actually wrong.

PROS: It’s every Serious Sam PC retail release, plus two indie games, plus all of the DLC expansion packs discounted.

CONS: Folks who don’t enjoy fast paced 80′s arcade games or 90′s arena shooters may not want to commit to the entire series.

WTF?: Is what you will ask yourself with every new enemy type you are introduced to.

Serious Sam: The First Encounter was originally put out in 2001.

The game would go on to prove itself as actually half of a game. But for it’s original launch price of only $20, at a time when most games were launching at $40-$50 a lot of people gave it a shot. What they found, was a game that was as visually stunning as the stuff the major publishers were putting out. A game that had Co-Operative play (Something that was slowly becoming rare) including split-screen (Which on a computer had been dead since around 1994.). It also had your competitive modes like death matching, as well as the access to the game engine. Like Epic Games did with the Unreal series, Croteam gave curious gamers, and budding developers their tools for free, leading to many custom maps, and modes being downloaded through the fandom.

As I stated earlier Serious Sam is thought of as a DOOM clone, but it really isn’t. It’s more in line with early 90′s Bally-Midway twin stick shooters SMASH T.V., and TOTAL CARNAGE. Those in turn were updates of their own companies’ 80′s classic Robotron 2084. While it is true DOOM had enemy waves, a key card system, and mind-blowing bosses too, DOOM was still more about trying to navigate in a way one could get the jump on imps or zombies. DOOM was (And still is) about using the environment to set up jump scares, and break the tension in between firefights.

Serious Sam rather, does little of this. It plays much closer to those arcade quarter crunchers. Entering a room, grabbing some health or ammo or even a fancy new weapon leads to enemies spawning in by the tens to hundreds. Every one of these monsters needs to be killed quickly, as the assailants will gang up on you. Levels are large, and expansive too, and Croteam’s artists, and coders have a wonderful sense of humor. Exploring the stages lets you see that, and you can spend hours just hunting out the hundreds of Easter Eggs peppered throughout the game.  You can also choose to blast your way through the campaign as quickly as possible. It’s the sort of thing you can do at your leisure. Play for a short burst of fun, or invest an entire afternoon into it. To keep the game from getting too repetitive Croteam was wise enough to put in a few puzzles every so often. These keep you from feeling fatigued, and can also get you early access to some of the nicer weapons.

Like most FPS games, there is a decent arsenal. You have your punches, a knife, a revolver that can be dual wielded with an upgrade. You get to use two different shotguns (An homage to DOOM II). One is a pump-action, while the better one is a coach shotgun that looks like something out of a John Wayne vehicle. There is a Tommy gun, a chain gun, a laser gun, a grenade launcher, a rocket launcher, and a cannonball cannon. The game is zany. Speaking of zany,  so is the enemy variety.  As you run throughout ancient Egypt,  you will face headless zombies,  guys who hold their disembodied heads firing at you. Headless suicide bombers who scream in unison, and charge from all directions.  There are flying one-eyed monsters. Bipedal one-eyed monsters. Scorpions with machineguns. Bionic dinosaurs. Winged harpies. Four armed monsters that throw rocks. Golems made out of lava. Kleer skeletons that throw bolos. Bison like creatures that ram you into the sun.

All of these have different attack patterns, and so the challenge becomes figuring out what weapons work best on which enemies. You’ll frantically be swapping weapons, and trying to memorize patterns while trying to prioritize what power ups, and ammo to grab on the battlefield.  Co-Op becomes a lot of fun in that the enemy numbers grow with every new player added to your party. This is why it’s more in common with the twin stick shooters of old. If you enjoyed those old games you’ll enjoy Serious Sam. Bosses are another high point for the game. Each is insanely huge, with it’s own weakness, and will summon thousands of enemies to protect itself. When you finally do beat one, you will feel accomplished simply due to the scope. If any of this sounds like it’s going to be too hard for you, Croteam gives several difficulty options throughout the series. Tourist is the series’ baby mode which ironically gives you the regenerating health the series tries to get away from. Easy through Serious modes however will have you questioning whether or not picking up that health box on the battleground is too early or not.

Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is the second half of the original game.

The two were also released together in a bundle called Serious Sam Gold. This was one of the most highly praised games because of the fact that it perfected the formula plotted out in Serious Sam TFE. The gameplay is pretty much exactly the same except that in TSE there are more enemy types, (Like Cucumberito the pumpkin headed chainsaw wielder) and you won’t be doing all of your fighting in Egypt. Serious Sam fights in Mayan temples, Mesopotamia, and Middle Aged Europe. The change in scenery makes much of the game more compelling, and there is a lot of it here.

Like TFE, levels are huge, with even more secrets for you to dig up. Pretty much everything about the first game applies here, it’s just bigger, and better.

If you play through the HD remixes of the original, you also are treated to The Legend Of The Beast DLC. On it’s own it’s another $5, and almost rivals the expansion pack for Serious Sam 3 (Which I’ll get to later) for half the cost. Taking place before the end of TSE, Sam has to go through another 3 stages before facing an ancient Egyptian demonic force.  All three of the stages are set up in traditional Serious Sam fashion, gunning down waves of enemies, finding new secrets along the way, and getting to new areas with keys or slaughtering more baddies. The boss in this expansion is actually a lot better than the one in The Jewel of the Nile, which only makes this expansion pack’s existence a little more peculiar. One would wonder why it wasn’t simply made for the third Serious Sam instead. In any case it is the better of the two because of the lower price, and the more interesting boss fight.  Complete pack buyers need not worry, but those buying everything piecemeal may feel at odds when they finally buy both DLC packages.

The next game is Serious Sam 2.

What can be said? Serious Sam 2 is admittedly the low point of the series. It isn’t a bad game mind you. It gives you more of the arcade action fans expect. However, it is also one of those games where you can see there was something off during it’s creation.

Serious Sam 2 wasn’t published by the defunct Gathering Of Developers. Instead it was originally published by 2K games. At the time 2K had licensed the Serious Sam name from Croteam to have other studios make Serious Sam games for consoles. As such when they saw the success of the original game they thought a big part of it was the humor, and craziness of the environment. So they told Croteam they wanted SS2 to focus on that aspect of the game. Serious Sam 2 has very Saturday Morning visuals. Everything is very bright, and colorful. It doesn’t look bad by any estimation. But it is a far cry from what was seen in the original game.

Enemies have been greatly altered or replaced all together. Werebulls show up as wind up buffalos. The headless suicide bombers now have gigantic bomb heads instead. Reptilian aliens have been replaced with orcs in space marine armor. There are zombie lawyers. The one-eyed gnarrs are no longer enemies. The scorpions look different. There are robot balls that float around shooting you. There are tribal golems. Some of the new enemies admittedly are cool, and could fit in with the other games. Particularly the buzzsaw throwing martial artists, and floating old mages. Mostly unchanged are the harpies, and skeletons. Even the weapon assortment looks different, and some of your old favorites are replaced.

Like all of the other games in the series Serious Sam 2 is also a very long game. There are several medallions throughout several levels each with several sub levels. At the end of each level is a boss fight. There is admittedly a lot of variety in the stages too. From jungle villages to medieval castles to the futuristic cityscape Serious Sam 2 does succeed in changing scenery fairly well. Once again each stage can go on long if you want to take the time. However levels are now boxed in with invisible walls. Longtime fans of the first game balked when they saw this because of how limited secret hunting becomes. That being said, Serious Sam 2 does provide some genuinely funny secrets, like Duke Nukem’s dead body. There are also funny moments like Sam complaining he has to do a sewer level.

The biggest change aside from the cartoon graphics are vehicles. There are several times (Including an impressive boss fight) where you will have to pilot different vehicles like hovertanks, fighter planes, and a spiked hamster ball. Using vehicles are a must though because they buy you time in the moments you get to use them. As the first game proved, Serious Sam’s boss line up has to impress, and even Serious Sam 2 with it’s drawbacks does try to deliver on that promise. Skyscraper sized bosses are back including one that might as well be an actual skyscraper. All of these continue the trend of setting up patterns you have to memorize, while micromanaging grunt waves of enemies who interrupt the party. Serious Sam 2 also made the odd choice of only doing Co-Op multiplayer when it first came out. Since then deathmatch has been patched in, but it’s still something worth questioning.

As in previous Serious Sam titles playing with extra players means more enemies. Co-Op is still a fun, fast paced ride in Serious Sam 2. While not the best title in the series Serious Sam 2 is still a good game, and should be played through at least once by fans. The humor being the focal point in it does lead to some truly funny stuff, and there are a lot of secrets despite the reduction of exploration.

Serious Sam 3:BFE Deluxe Edition is probably the best game in the entire series.

Serious Sam 3 is an odd animal in that it does everything players want it to, and yet does try a few small changes to the formula that fans hated at first when it came out  a little over a year ago (October 2011). Over time however these changes became accepted, and even loved.

The first thing you will notice upon booting up the game are the production values. Croteam really tried to capitalize on the photo realistic trend military shooters have been obsessed with over the past 8 years now. (Deluxe edition has a really nice behind the scenes video included more on that later.) Egypt looks much more realistic. From the ancient architecture, to the small shantytowns, to the war-torn cities at first glance you might mistake the game for a Call of Duty title. Then an in-game cut scene begins to play, and unlike the prerendered FMV scenes you laughed at in Serious Sam 2 Serious Sam 3 is ironically more serious. Serious Sam 3 has a story that tries to flesh out the events of the original games, and their HD counter parts. The original First, and Second Encounters merely gave you a backdrop in that they told you “Serious Sam was sent back in time to stop Mental, leader of an evil race of aliens who met the ancient Egyptians, and came back in the distant future to destroy the Earth.”. Yes they had some humorous endings that expanded on the story a little bit, like when Sam calls Mental from inside a mothership. Or the phone booth secrets.

But here you will open up to Serious Sam in an army helicopter being told he has to rendezvous with his squadmates at a museum to rescue a brilliant anthropologist. All while hearing a Born To Be Wild parody playing in the background. Of course the chopper is gunned down, and the game begins. But through it all you will learn that Serious Sam 3 is a prequel to The First Encounter.  The game, and it’s expansion pack actually tell the story of the alien assault on Earth that led to Sam having to go back in time to ancient Egypt. As the campaign goes on you meet side characters, who exposit more story bits, and will run into other changes, and borrowings that actually help rather than hinder.

The biggest change other than the story being a bigger part of the package, and the visuals I mentioned earlier is ADS (Aim Down Sights). Longtime fans decried this feature when they first heard about it because it’s lifted right out of Call of Duty, and is only featured on one machine gun. But unlike CoD where it instantly makes your accuracy better, Serious Sam 3′s ADS only helps in certain medium range applications. It also slows Sam down much, much more than a CoD combatant. However in those medium range situations against zombies, kleer skeletons, and (Heaven help you) headless suicide bombers it makes getting groupings of them a bit easier.

Another addition you will love using against the new, and classic waves of enemies is the new melee attack. These moves allow you to dismember alien enemies, and throw their entrails.  Among other new weapons?  A sledgehammer that can knock a crowd back, and a bracelet that takes a page out of Bulletstorm. With it you can lasso several enemies together until they’re shocked to death. You can also use it to move around certain items.

Actually I lied a couple of paragraphs ago because the biggest change is actually not the ADS. It’s the fact that Croteam committed to the notion of “No cover. All man.”. Simply put. You can not hide like a bitch, and expect to live. Unlike most modern shooters, where you can duck out behind a wall, or slab of stone, and pop out to take potshots, here you can’t. At least not often. Because the environments in Serious Sam 3 are almost as destructible as those in Battlefield Bad Company 2. Trying to hide behind an abandoned hut in the desert? That werebull is going to plow right through it. Think you’re safe behind that statue, and columns? That bionic dinosaur is going to bring it all on top of you with it’s rockets.

Croteam also took a page from High Voltage Software’s The Conduit. A Wii exclusive series, one of it’s hallmarks was decoding alien, and illuminati messages that furthered it’s B movie plot, and unlocked achievements. In Serious Sam 3 they exist in similar fashion, except they only require staring at certain Arabic messages or propaganda posters. Sometimes staring at hieroglyphics will do this too.  These aren’t something you have to find, although completionists will want to replay the campaign in an attempt to find them all. Speaking of finding things, like all Serious Sam mainline games, expect to find all types of hidden items, and gags. New to the series are parkour secrets. These secrets require you to make seemingly impossible jumps to find items or health. Like the hidden messages the game doesn’t require you to find them all, but some of the most fun parts of the game are indeed uncovering these Easter Eggs.

Croteam also added some new characters into the mix, like cave demons that hate light. Clone soldiers with shotguns. Spiders that only a certain T.G.W.T.G meme could love. Helicopters with tentacles. 12 story tall demons named “Khnum”. An homage to Doom II’s Mancubus called Scrapjack. And the biggest pain in the ass enemy of any action game you’ll ever go up against: The Witch-Bride of Achriman. Why is she such an annoyance? She can cast a spell on you that messes up your movement. In turn this allows the other enemies to take you down a lot easier. She’s like the Taser cop in Payday: The Heist. Or the jockey in Left 4 Dead 2.

As usual, bosses will be the massive encounters you will likely poop yourself over. Nowhere more is it clearer than when you finally reach the end of the campaign to face Ugh-Zan IV. Quite literally the biggest boss in all of boss history.

Once again, Co-Op is the primary multiplayer mode you’ll want to play. 16 players can again team up for a number of stages or for the entire campaign. As in previous games this game is a lot more fun when you go through it with friends.  Also returning are your death match variants, and other staples of arena first person shooting. Croteam also again, has supplied players with it’s Serious Engine. It’s one of the few releases this generation of games that does this. It should be a boon for anyone even remotely interested in making content or full-blown games. While it doesn’t have the reputation of an Unreal, iD, CryEngine, or Frostbite engine, Serious Engine can, and does give you something you can get some experience from.

Serious Sam 3 Deluxe Edition also includes a copy of the game soundtrack in 3 different formats. As well as a digital version of an art book composed of concept sketches, and paintings made by Croteam during development. It also includes several videos, including commercials, comedy sketches, and most importantly a half hour special on how they made the game. The soundtrack is easily one of the best parts of any Serious Sam game, especially in The Second Encounter, and here in part 3. Not only do you get all of Damjan Mravunac’s ambient percussion based tracks of world music (Which even if it isn’t normally your cup of tea, does prove to be well researched, and performed.) featured in SS3, but you also get the collaborated tracks with Croatian Metal band, Undercode. These guys put out some really great rock tracks that fit the environments put out by Croteam, kicking in when things get really hectic, but calming back into Damjan’s stuff when it’s safe to breathe. One of Undercode’s songs Hero is featured twice. Once as an instrumental, and once as the game’s theme song during the end credits. Even players who don’t like heavy metal will probably agree that in the instance of these games, the Undercode tracks work very well.

If you do like heavy metal, or Undercode in particular this will be one of your  favorite parts of the Serious Sam Complete pack experience.

Serious Sam Jewel of the Nile is the 3 stage DLC campaign for Serious Sam 3, and as part of the complete pack, it’s fairly nice. On it’s own it’s debatable due to the cost. Which is ironic seeing how the series’ popularity partially came about because of the low entry fee. Anyway, the Jewel of the Nile DLC reveals that one of the time locks Sam thought he had turned on really wasn’t. So he has to fight his way through another 3 stages. The stages themselves are actually very well put together. Giving a nice mix of action, puzzle solving, and looking for secrets. It culminates in a fight with an enormously sized Scrapjack. It isn’t a bad boss fight by any means, but it is a little underwhelming for anyone who beat the Ugh-Zan IV boss in the main campaign. As I said before, it also doesn’t compete very well with the Serious Sam: The Second Encounter HD DLC considering the fact it costs double the price point.

Be that as it may, you may actually want the DLC because despite it’s shortcomings, some of the user-generated stuff requires it. For die-hard fans of the game $10 really isn’t asking much, but casual players may wish to wait for a sale if they didn’t buy the complete collection which includes it.

Complete pack also includes two indie games inspired by classic gaming titles.

Serious Sam Random Encounter tries to combine the elements of console role-playing games like Final Fantasy with action gaming. Taking place in the future, Serious Sam is sent off to wander maps looking for items, and quests. You will be constantly hit with random battles (Hence the name) where you will fight 8-bit, and 16-bit versions of classic Serious Sam enemies. Along the way you’ll find items that help you, and as in many JRPG’s you’ll be able to set up items, and weapons as you see fit. It’s not a full-blown JRPG, but the inspiration is a nice take on the IP.

Serious Sam Double D goes back to basics, and tries combining the Twin stick shooting of Robotron, Smash TV, and Total Carnage with the side scrolling bullet hell of Contra. Unlike those games you won’t be dying in one hit, but you will be getting everything thrown at you from all directions. Between the two games this one is the prettier looking, as it can hang with some of the better flash games made by the guys at adultswim.com.  It even goes out of it’s way to invent it’s own new enemies. Some of these like cybernetic monkeys really work with the theme, others like pancake bugle blowers, wouldn’t even make the cut for Serious Sam 2. It does manage to be fun though, and true to Serious Sam in that you will find a lot of secret areas, enemies spawn like you’d expect, and there are even some mild puzzle elements to it. The biggest thing the game boasts about is it’s gun stacking mechanic. Finding wrenches throughout levels allows you to merge several guns together to make massive guns. It’s wacky, and it’s fun.

Neither of these games will tear you away from the mainline Serious Sam titles too long, but if you have a really old computer or an underpowered netbook these titles can offer you something new to try your hand at. I did run into a few technical hitches with both games on pretty decent hardware. Granted, my computer as of this writing isn’t some $1500 watercooled beast, but it is a midrange video card here (Radeon 6970 HD) with a quad-core Phenom II, decent RAM, and more than enough disk space. I could run every game in the bundle with no trouble except oddly enough for the indie games. Random Encounter crashed to the desktop for little to no reason, while Double D microstuttered during checkpoints at times. Your mileage may vary, but hopefully Mommy’s Best Games, and the two dutch programmers behind SSRE can eventually iron out these minor issues as they’re rare occurences.

So having gone through the collection, should you buy it? Well it’s really going to depend on the types of games you like, and how open-minded you are in the cases of some players.

As far as the mainline games go, they are first, and foremost arcade games. As such 90% of the game play is centered around shooting. It’s twitch gameplay at it’s finest, frantically switching guns around for the proper enemy type, managing your health, and ammunition.  All of them feature fun 16 player Co-Op, and competitive modes. There are a lot of funny moments, cool enemies, fun weapons, and bosses. But for those who don’t like “Horde mode” in modern shooters,  or don’t enjoy classic arcade shooters like Smash TV, Serious Sam may begin to get monotonous to you if you try to play through the entire game in one sitting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Serious Sam mind you. Those who DO long for the quarter crunching greatness of 90′s arcade machines will love it to death. But to say it’s perfect for everyone would be dishonest so I can’t. The indie games are curious, and interesting takes on the series though. Even if you haven’t been a fan of the IP but you are a fan of independently made classic games they are worth checking out, and they’re not that expensive.

With all of that out of the way, Serious Sam Complete Pack is a must buy for any longtime fan of the series. You get all of the mainline games, two indie games plus all of the DLC. It’s also rarer, and rarer these days to have games include their development tools. If you already own some of these titles, Valve does let you re-gift the games you already purchased to other people. The only exception to this are the downloadable expansion packs. So if you already own Serious Sam 3, and The Jewel of the Nile you might consider buying the rest of it piecemeal. Again for those who have never played the series, and don’t love frantic games as much as their arcade wistful brethren, start out with Serious Sam HD Double Pack instead. It will be enough to let you know if it’s the kind of game you’ll get into.

Still when you see how much you save ($18. Or A lot more when Steam does a franchise sale.) it’s hard to argue why you wouldn’t want the Serious Sam Complete Pack. (Provided of course you love the series.)

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10 (An awesome series that isn’t for everyone.)