Serious Sam: The Second Encounter
Serious ‘Sam’ Stone has always been something of a black sheep in the first-person shooter family; his decidedly ‘old school’ approach to fun, his Duke Nukem-esque comedic ironies, and his addictive, and diverse approach to design (coupled with a total disinterest in the values of realism and immersive plot), have left Sam somewhat alone in a genre full of titles claiming to be ‘the next step’, and advocating the constant progression of in-game stories. What’s more, he’s cheap too.
So once again, Mr Stone returns to grace our monitors, and you’ll be less than surprised to hear that his ethics haven’t changed one iota; still the story mocks it’s competitors with it’s outlandish B-movie influences, still the design places the in-your-face, and the bizarre, ahead of anything tangible and in-keeping with a meaningful plot, and still a whole-host of over-the-top and imaginative bad-guys are a hell bent on stopping Sam in his fight for galactic justice. Or whatever it was.
It’s a breath of fresh air, to say the least. Whilst tense, realistic and heavily-plotted games like id’s excellent Return to Castle Wolfenstein will always have their place, a game like this is very refreshing once in a while; purely for it’s original blend of intense arcade gameplay, and diverse scenery / foes. On the whole then, as you may have already guessed, it’s business as usual in The Second Encounter. With only a few minor tweaks and improvements here and there, not to mention some diversifications, the game continues very much in the outlandish vein stipulated so loudly in the original, and believe me it’s no worse for it.
The plot, such as it is, continues from where the previous instalment concluded, though Lord of the Rings this is not, and developers Croteam appear to have put a concerted effort into ensuring the plot is stupid, and ‘out there’. The usual hokum of ‘time-locks’, the evil ‘Mental’ and something to do with taking over the universe providing Sam with more than sufficient excuse to ‘go kick some alien booty’, if you’ll pardon my expression. It’s with this light-hearted approach that the game begins too; with Sam falling from a crashed spacecraft into a picturesque lake (complete with it’s own misty waterfall). From here on the pace is as frenetic as it ever was, perhaps even more so, as you collect the chainsaw (one of the new weapons) and fast-paced battling begins as herds of lunging ghoulish aliens, and headless beasties come at you in startling fashion. You will then proceed down a nicely detailed valley to an Incan/Aztec-styled temple where your Sniper rifle (yet another new one!) will come in handy for something nasty waiting for you on the roof, and you’ll also have to make use of the chainsaw to deal with a ‘Bird’ problem. It’s all very very fast, and very very fun, the action of the game progressing far too quickly to become repetitive.
I won’t spoil the subsequent joys of the opening level (and what follows) any more, but suffice to say it demonstrated beautifully the power of Croteam’s Serious Sam engine and it’s underlying technology; the lush vistas of the valley, giving way to atmospheric temple catacombs; complete with moody lighting, eerie shadows and crumbling stone walls. It is this impressive diversity that marks another one of Sam’s main strengths, and Croteam’s attention to detail in designing the game’s environments. Whilst the structure of the game may indeed be rather linear, this simple approach has allowed for a pleasing ease of progression, without the worries of having missed something crucial and having to go back, etc. Of course, you could argue that this ‘no-brainer’ approach can quickly become predictable, but there is a definite pleasure in being able to play something without having to worry about what has gone before; safe in the knowledge that you won’t have to bore yourself with the same scenery again. It is this arcade approach to gameplay, which is often easily likened to that of a 3d-platform game, that yields surprising dividends, as Croteam’s totally un-retro approach to level and monster design keeps the game fresh and exciting.
With this in mind a number of exciting locales are included; South American jungle/ruins, Persia (desert, etc.) and a Medieval setting. What’s equally impressive is that these settings each have their own very distinct atmosphere; which is enhanced brilliantly by the superb dynamic music, which reflects the pace of play nicely, as well as the style of the locations. This was a particular favourite of mine, being an unambiguous subtlety of the design.
So, not great deal has changed from the first encounter really, the graphics have improved a little; with certain particle effects adding to the attractiveness of the worlds, as well as rendering improvements making for more detailed environments, though the game’s main plus is still there: the enemy count. Which once again is as huge and daunting as it ever was. Which is a very good thing, and makes for some immense battles. The huge bosses also return in dramatic style, with some even bigger and more outlandish brutes for our hero to contend with. I won’t spoil it for you though…
A number of the original weapons have returned for the second encounter, as well as three entirely new machines of destruction, which are pivotal to your game from the outset; the Sniper gun is a pleasing addition and works rather well, the Chainsaw is another particularly psychotic inclusion, whilst the new Flamethrower quickly became my weapon of choice purely for the sheer hellish image of the demons continuing to attack, whilst burning to death; and for the ability to set all manner of scenery ablaze.
The multiplayer options remain pretty much the same from the original title, and the split-screen options are once again of particular welcome, as a feature not usually present in games of the genre. The dedicated multiplayer levels are particular well-designed too, with an excellent future-styled military base and a humorous snowy Swiss-style town (complete with rotating windmill) being particularly enjoyable. Most notably for the latter’s hilarious theme-tune…
The all-important Sam humour is once again present to large degree, no only in his ‘witty’ comments, but in the text of the message system, which helps keep the game jovial, and fun; whilst adding personality to the experience. It is this richness of characterisation that frequently elevates Serious Sam from the crowd, as a memorable and rewarding game.
To conclude then, Serious Sam: The second Encounter is something of a must for those that enjoyed the original; as well as fans of the genre. Whilst it’s not as epic as some, nor as complex as others, for the bargain price it’s available at you can’t really go wrong, safe in the knowledge that Serious Sam’s Second Encounter is, above all else, a damn fun game.