Been there. Done that. Still awesome.
As you can guess from the title, Serious Sam 3 is the third Serious Sam game, although it’s more of a prequel, chronologically set before the previous two games (BFE is for “Before First Encounter”). It hardly matters. Serious Sam has always been about discovering a vast array of weird alien creatures and killing them as grotesquely as possible.
You’re introduced to hyper-macho Sam in the opening sequence, complaining that he should be “doing blow off a stripper’s ass”; killing aliens is apparently the next best thing. A chopper accident and a de-eyeballing of a cyclopean monstrosity later, the game begins.
Serious Same 3 is a throwback to old school first-person shooter days, when graphics and realism were far more limited by computer processing speed. Instead, the old games were about killing enemies, lots and lots of them. That’s the core gameplay of Serious Sam 3, and it’s been a long time since a game focused on interesting (or at least challenging) fights over ever more detailed graphics.
A gamer should go into this knowing the graphics are hit-and-miss. Often the streets and scenery look cut-and-pasted, and there will definitely be times when the geysers of blood that spray from your enemies (I’m not exaggerating) will be more annoying than anything else. Sam himself seems out of place in the world, like he’s been drawn by a different, more skilled, hand.
Sound likewise has ups and downs. The music is often annoying but necessary as it changes when monsters are around — some monsters are sneaky, so you’ll need the music to get a clue at times. Sam’s lines are pretty funny, and I often found myself laughing at his mockery of the enemies, a rarity in shooter games.
"The trusty ol’ shotgun is your pal as always…"
The guns are straight out of central casting. The trusty ol’ shotgun is your pal as always, and the other weapons are all familiar. The best “new” weapon is the sledgehammer, a devastatingly useful tool that kills most monsters in one shot, provided you’re willing to get within melee range. Sam also has a built-in “melee attack,” useful for finishing monsters that get too close.
While most modern shooters feature maps that are basically linear railroads (to better support the graphics), the maps here allow for plenty of side paths. It’s very easy to get lost in the bland-looking city streets and various tunnels. I found myself often missing the modern convention of an ever present arrow telling me which way to go, but this game is clearly trying to be retro. The maps are loaded with sometimes diabolically-hidden secret areas filled with little goodies like extra ammo and armor. There are also very welcome wide-open areas, the better to support the swarms of monsters. It may not be a full sandbox, but you’re definitely on a wide set of rails here.
The battles with monsters are the whole point of the game, and, goodness, what battles they are. The game starts slowly, carefully introducing monsters one at a time, then groups of the same monsters, then swarms of complementary monsters. Another throwback to older shooters is the “player always has a chance” idea. You always hear the monsters coming (especially the guys with bombs for hands). Even the monsters with guns and missiles give you every opportunity to realize you’re about to meet your end. While recent shooters revel in the “Bam, you’re dead, re-spawn is in ten seconds” philosophy, your death in Serious Sam is always preceded by fair notification, and you almost always get to realize it was your own mistake that caused it. Got blown up by a rocket? Rockets move slowly enough that you had opportunity to get out of the way. Blasted by a goon with a shotgun? They always grunt before they raise their weapons and fire. Blown up by a swarm of bomb guys? You probably shouldn’t have moved into the swarm, then. Every monster telegraphs its moves; trying to pay attention to everything is what makes and keeps the game exciting.
"…now this design of constant arcade style combat is a rarity."
The battles start simply, but after an hour or two become very challenging. Overall strategy is simply to kill everything, and while general tactics seldom vary from conducting fighting retreats to previously cleared territory, the sheer quantity of monsters creates a quality of combat all its own. Twenty years ago, nearly every shooting game was like this, but now this design of constant arcade style combat is a rarity.
Death comes often in a game like this, but the game auto-saves before every major battle, and you can quick-save whenever you like. Various items restore hit points (again, a throwback to older games, where you have 100 hit points and lose them through taking damage), and small pieces of armor are scattered about the game, as is ammunition and weaponry. You don’t have “lives,” but you must replay each mission until you defeat everything without being killed.
Adding considerably to the replay value of the game is a scoring system for each mission, which generally runs for five minutes or so. You gain points for killing monsters (of course), finding secrets, and completing the map as quickly as possible, even losing points if you take too long — easy to do if you spend time looking for secrets. You get a multiplier to those points based on the difficulty level (from “tourist” easy to “serious” impossibility). I think Doom, from the 1990s, was the last game to actually track time and secrets like this, and it’s amazing how much of a motivator it is to replay the game, trying to find those last few secrets or track down a few well-hidden monsters, or simply to complete the mission as quickly as possible.
Serious Sam 3 might not be for everyone, but it’s the type of game that made first-person shooters a genre all their own, and serious – at the risk of abusing the word – gamers should absolutely give this game, if not the whole series, a serious look.