Sam isn’t a man of change. You won’t find him giving Yoga a whirl and you probably won’t find him taking a leap on a VitaBoost passion-mango smoothie or whatever. And it shows in Serious Sam 3: BFE — a case where minimal change actually ends up being a good thing.

I was able to check out two different levels here at E3: the first level, a tutorial stage set in the streets of Cairo that eases you into the action, and a later, more traditional Serious Sam stage set amongst some ruins in a desert.

Gallery: Serioius Sam 3: BFE (E3 2011) | 4 Photos

When the game starts off, Mental’s forces have pretty much decimated the Earth. Sam, in a desperate race to get to the Time Lock so he can go back in time and prevent Mental from ever invading, is in the streets of Cairo. No weapons, no help and, as far as appearances go, no hope. Mental’s forces are looking for Sam and it isn’t long before they find him.

Even without his traditional weaponry, Sam isn’t without defense. As a Gnaar emerges and rushes Sam, he simply thrusts his fist into its eye socket and rips the pupil right out. Instantly, I’m filled with joy. Soon after, Sam finds a sledgehammer and I get my first sample of the destructible environments: Sam knocks down a brick wall to advance down an alley and out into the streets.

Yes, gone are the days when you could trick enemies into corners and lay into them, or simply take cover behind a wall to catch your breath. Enemies barrel through stone, topple trees and generally come at you with the enthusiasm they’ve had in the past, only now you can’t game the AI to get yourself out of danger.

The sledgehammer has two different attacks: an overhead smash, ideal for hitting one enemy at a time, and a spin maneuver that clears Sam’s immediate vicinity of all threats. Considering a core component of the Serious Sam experience is being overwhelmed to all hell, the latter is a pretty useful move.

It doesn’t take long until a pistol is acquired and I’m given a sample of something new to the series: aiming down the iron sights. A few rocket-wielding Kamikazes are cleared out and it’s time to jump forward in the game to the next level, where Sam is armed with considerably more firepower.

Sam’s sporting an assault rifle, a shotgun, a minigun and a double-barreled shotgun in this later level — the latter the perfect weapon for taking out Werebulls, which spawn en masse as soon as Sam makes his way to a small body of water amidst some dilapidated buildings. At this point, I’m still sticking to my past knowledge of the series: I hug walls and try to cling for my dear life, thinking I’ll be safe from any Werebulls on my six.

It’s a strategy that is quickly dashed, however, as Werebulls come crashing toward me from all sides and start bouncing me around like I was nothing. Thankfully my instincts kick in again and I start playing matador with those Werebulls, blasting them in the hind quarters with the double-barreled shotgun as they dash past me. Dead.

And in typical Serious Sam fashion, that wasn’t the end of it. Off in the distance I hear the screams and know what’s coming: Beheaded Kamikazes. As I start backing up and taking them off from a distance with the assault rifle, I start to realize it’s not enough. There are too many of them and I begin backing up as quickly as I can, mouthing «move, move!» to myself. At this point, I’m entirely into it — and then the rep says something odd.

«You can hit the Shift key to sprint,» he says. «Wait, what?» I ask like some kind of crazy person. But he was right: There’s a sprint now and it’s immensely helpful against the droves of Beheaded Kamikaze charging toward me.

The final new addition I was able to experience was the Scrapjack, a giant lumbering enemy with rocket launchers for hands. But instead of being eased me into this new encounter, I’m tasked with facing two at once. It’s then that the rep suggests using them against each other. While directly engaging one, I maneuver him into the firing path of the one off in the distance. Soon after, the faraway Scrapjack is laying out the one in front of me. A useful tactic, although just shooting them both in the face would’ve been a much quicker way to dispatch them.

My small taste of Serious Sam 3: BFE proved one thing to me: the Serious Sam formula has aged well, but has been made that much better through a few careful tweaks. Sprinting could be considered a minor thing, but when Sam is constantly bombarded by enemies the added mobility really comes in handy. Aiming down the sights is yet another standard part of shooters today, yet new to Serious Sam — here it aids in the strategy of threat management in new ways. The only issue I have is with the melee and its value later in the game, where I’m pretty sure the absence of firearms will guarantee death.

Serious Sam 3: BFE, in this Alpha state, showed a cautious update to the original formula. It doesn’t stray from its intense, arcadey roots, and that’s something fans of the first two games are sure to appreciate. With its few careful additions to the formula, it’s an experience enriched by a marriage between the old and new.

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