I’m sat here watching a blinking cursor taunt me with its strange dance. It flickers from one reality to the next – invisible and then visible. As I search for the right words to express my feelings on Serious Sam’s latest adventure in the Indie world, one thought keeps scratching at me.
I really wanted to like this game.
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is the latest instalment in the Serious Sam Indie Series. You see, Croteam thought it would be a good idea to approach three different independent developers, Vlambeer, Mommy’s Best Games and Be-Rad Entertainment, and give them the chance to throw their own version into the mix. It was also a very clever promotional strategy for the upcoming, Serious Sam 3: BFE, which I hope is a real game, and not something like this.
So think of this game as the opening act of a concert. You’re not expecting perfection and you’re not going to get it. You won’t be fighting a manic crowd of fans in a post-show queue to buy their band merchandise and – to be honest – you’ve probably already forget about them. “Surely it isn’t that bad? I’ve heard great things about it on Twitter.” Well, people on Twitter are stupid. Okay, maybe that’s a bit much, and it can be fun for up to an hour, but it quickly goes downhill from then onwards.
The main problem is the simplicity of the whole thing.
There are two modes, the World Mode and the Battle Mode. In the World Mode, you walk around a level searching for crates that contain power-up items. The goal is to traverse the level and reach the exit, fighting hordes of monsters and the occasional boss along the way for fun and profit.
After initiating a boss or horde of monsters, you enter Battle Mode. In Battle Mode you control your party of Sam’s who are running backwards from a horde of monsters. You control your backward-running squad by moving them up or down as they fire into the oncoming horde of monsters. After a few seconds, time will freeze and an option menu will be available for each character. This gives you the chance to re-aim, use an item or change weapon. This turn-based system continues every few seconds until you have defeated the wave.
Adjusting their aim is instant, whereas changing weapon, or using an item takes valuable seconds. There are a variety of weapons to choose from, including shotguns, laser cannons, miniguns, rocket and grenade launchers. All are equally enjoyable tools of destruction; the minigun for instance, mows down enemies in a straight line that can be re-adjusted at each turn. The power-ups are varied, from the basic stuff like speed and health improvement to fun items like increased damage and Serious Bombs.
And that’s pretty much the entire game. Run backwards, shoot enemies and hope to survive. Or die by a seemingly random difficulty level.
I feel like I’m being a little unfair to Vlambeer, I mean there are a few positives. They have gone with nifty 16-bit styled retro graphics and equally retro controls. There is a lot of attention to detail in the graphic department; the guns, the characters and the environments are all well-crafted. Dialogue between the characters is amusing at times and there are a couple of laughs to be had. I suppose the sound isn’t that bad either, and it only costs a few quid after all.
Whilst Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is most certainly not the worst game in the world then, it’s clearly far away from being labelled good, even by the relatively low entry requirements it sets. It contains a stab at some important design elements such as style and humour, and Vlambeer has at least captured the essence of the Serious Sam universe, mixing in their own ideas to produce what amounts to a little tribute game. You can’t fault them for that remit.
Yet, even with those important elements in the bag, the overall experience lacks the essential ingredient for any successful game – it just isn’t fun.
I really love what Croteam has done with the Serious Sam series, opening it up to indie developers and letting fans have their input., but sadly, not every reincarnation is going to live up to the original.
If you ‘re a hardcore Serious Sam fan, this might – just about – be one for your collection. If you‘re a gamer that expects games to entertain for more than half an hour however, give it a miss.