He may sound like he has the IQ of a daft caveman who’s been kicked in the head by one too many wooly mammoths, but Sam «Serious» Stone is the future’s greatest soldier. He’s also darn good at what he does: carrying large weapons and killing lots, and lots, and lots of things. If it lives, he can kill it. And if it doesn’t, he can at least shoot a lot of crap at it.
It was only last April when we were first introduced to a futuristic Earth that sadly found itself under siege by a tyrannical alien known as Mental and his army of mutants, freaks, weirdoes, and San Franciscans. At that time, humanity’s last-ditch effort at salvation was to send Dancing Dan back in time to save the world. Sadly, Dancing appeared in the air four feet above the ground and got killed when he landed on a fern (he’s a gentle lad, that Dancing is). Old Serious was the next to go back. His mission: destroy the evil Syrian armies and then find and eliminate Mental himself.
After arriving way back when, Sam, the prolific ass kicker he is, did a pretty darn good job round about Egypt. In weeding through Mental’s minions, he murdered close to a million drones of evil, and spent enough ammunition to keep intrepid arms dealers rolling in it for centuries to come. After all was said and done, Sam borrowed himself a spaceship and then crashed it into South America. Not quite the pilot it seems (extenuating circumstances not withstanding).
Now he’s trekking all over the place, killing more stuff, and looking for a new way to hunt down Mental. Who says twitch shooters can’t have developed storylines?
Not even a year since the original Serious Sam blew open the bargain bin and blazed a new trail for the possibilities pertaining to PC pricing and production value, the appropriately named Croatian developers at Croteam are ready to unleash Sam’s second outing, the also properly titled Second Encounter. Not to be confused with a true sequel, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter takes everything that made the first iteration so good and simply expands upon it in all the right ways. Thus, the game is better thought of as an entirely standalone expansion pack, though it does easily contain enough content to be justifiably, but still wrongly, labeled a sequel.
If you’ve yet to in anyway experience the joy that lies hereafter, it should be known that Serious Sam and subsequently this, his Second Encounter, are today’s pinnacles of the strictly twitch FPS. The games in no way compete with the likes of Deus Ex,Thief, or other thinking men’s shooters, but then nor are they intended to. Sam is all about straight up action of such an intense and relentless variety that it would make savvy masters of all that is Doom cringe and yet still beg for more.
The Second Encounter takes this underlying formula of an unpretentious, no holds barred romp and adds to it new weapons, new enemies, new environments, new multiplayer, and new graphics. Amazingly enough, all of this standalone goodness still comes for the old price of just twenty dollars. Again, you can see my reiteration that this is a sort of standalone expansion and not (even in an official capacity) in any way considered to be a sequel by the conventional and accepted sense of the word. This entire review is accordingly written with that in mind.
As if the first game wasn’t pretty enough, SE has gotten a visual makeover that includes, among a slew of other notable additions, a wealth of new flora (green things that come out of the dirt) that dot the game’s many vast landscapes (so I like plants, what of it?). The plentiful usage of plant life to coat entire plots of land does away with any impression the original Serious Sam may have gave of the game being nothing more than an assemblage of large lifeless flat things («may have» being the operative phrase). More visual splendor of course still comes from the always outstanding texture detail, meticulous design, liberal, saturating lighting, and insanely large environments with seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor areas. That’s a welcome mouthful of information, isn’t it?
More than just large killing fields, The Second Encounter’s levels are now far more varied and involved than before. When once all we were able to play in was Egypt and variations of it, we now have three distinctly different areas in which to commence the slaughtering of the extraterrestrial wicked. The European, Babylonian and Mesoamerican levels are different enough to be new, but are still so readily in keeping with the overall theme and design of the game that they accentuate an already brilliant experience that much further. Snow capped houses, lighting illuminated haunted roads, and lush valleys are welcome changes from the sand and sphinxes so prevalently displayed the first time out, but are also now crafted to enhance the experience of general play and, more specifically, play with the new weapons.
Three new viewable wielders of doom have been added to Sam’s already robust arsenal. When combined with those 11 from the first, these new weapons do well to create an even more balanced experience. The sniper rifle may seem a bit out of place in a universe that revolves around constant movement and reflex, but actually works admirably, due in no small part to the levels themselves. The open environments have been strategically populated with nefarious no-gooders that’ll still appear right in front of and behind you, but now also quite a distance off. The powerful scope and devastating rounds of the rifle will consequently quickly become invaluable. The flamethrower and chainsaw are as equally useful in their own rights, only now for close-quarters combat. The flamethrower (now my personal favorite implementation of death in Sam), not only quickly disperses the legions of baddies you’ll come across, but also ignites just about everything. I could be content with sitting back and admiring the little spurts of flame that attach themselves to trees, the ground, walls, and people had I not been so involved in the action. The chainsaw is an immensely powerful weapon most effective in more confined areas (still big for SE, mind you) against those enemies intent on charging you to deliver melee attacks regardless of the bodily harm that will assuredly befall them.
So, we’ve established that the game is graphically new, but still familiar and more pleasing than the first journey of Sam. But, uninformed casual gamers will no doubt be quick to scoff at the seemingly lax character models in some of the screens. They’re passable by today’s standards, but still admittedly not in the same league as those found inWolfenstein or Medal of Honor. Still frames can, however, be deceiving.
Like its older brother, The Second Encounter, effortlessly draws literally hundreds of these enemies at the same time. Honestly, I’ve never experienced as frantic, hectic, intense, or smooth a gameplay as this without ever stuttering (assuming you play at levels inline with the power of your system). Why more games don’t opt to license this piece of technology is a mystery to me and everyone else at IGNPC. I can’t even recall how many games I’ve played of late where I’ve thought aloud that they’d be far better off with a more Serious foundation (for me, thinking aloud involves a lot of profane abuse of the English language). Let’s hope that in the future, the engine, and the game, get far more of the recognition they so readily deserve.
Despite all this praise, if there were to be one single aspect of The Second Encounterthat I would give the most props, it’d be its multiplayer component. Or, more specifically, the cooperative aspect of said component.
Sure, the game now, with the inclusion of the Warped mod comes with team and free for all versions of deathmatch, a take on UT’s Domination, a variation of steal the bacon, and even a scorematch (where players earn value based on various criteria as a match goes on, and this value is what determines the victor), but the cooperative mode is where it is at, and anyone with a LAN or respectable Internet connection will attest to that. Being able to confront the single-player game in its entirety with a friend or even enemy is truly brilliant. It was in Doom, Descent, Quake, and Halo, and it is now. Far too few games implement this feature (most developers fall back on sorry excuses that involve scripted events, or lacking AI, or some stupid crap) and The Second Encounter is, in this respect, another encouraged and applauded slap in the faces of those lazy developers.
Clearly, any gamer can see that only adding a handful of new weapons, three new environments, three new weapons, and some new multiplayer components on top of a lot of old stuff does not constitute a sequel. But, as I’ve been trying to pound in throughout the last twenty thousand words (or one and half, whatever), The Second Encounter should not be taken as a sequel. It’s an extension of the first game. A twenty-dollar, standalone extension that marvelously and miraculously does everything the first did, but better. Better enough to be warranted as a purchase? You bet your serious ass.
I’ll now and forever argue that a game need not be methodical, open-ended, non-linear, or otherwise geared toward our «intellectual» halves to be good. And Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is living proof of that. It transcends today’s trends and accepted conventions in gaming and takes us back to a time when games were associated with mind blurring, unadulterated fun, and not with profusely leveling up or unraveling some trivial, underdeveloped plotline we’d all rather ignore and then forget. As we try so vigorously to attain that next level of realism and immersion, it’s refreshing and wonderful to have a game that forsakes it all and in doing so delivers something profoundly enjoyable and cool.
I don’t care who you are, go buy The Second Encounter right now. Swallow your pride — accept that twitch can be as, if not more enjoyable than the more contemplative, serene, unruffled and placid games of today, and just have a damn blast. I did. The three new enthralling boss battles and witty repartee alone are worth the miniscule price of admission.