Serious Sam HD
How you feel about Serious Sam HD likely depends on how you approach it or, more specifically, how old you are. When it was first released, almost a decade ago, it was a then-modern channelling of nineties shooter nostalgia into a period when, thanks to games like Half-Life and Deus Ex, that once-mighty mould was already on its way out.
2001, then, where a bevy of PC gamers fell head-over-heels with Serious Sam’s penchant for concentrating hyperbolic amounts of gunfire on unremitting waves of wacky adversaries. “It’s like a modern DOOM!” they might have thought, then dialled into the internet for chaotic 56k co-op sessions, conversing with simple text – typing things like ‘w00t’ in resplendent celebration – whilst engaging in frenetic wide-open slaughter. Oh, to go back to the turn of the millennium again. Only now we can, for 1200 Microsoft points, and reacquaint ourselves with a much loved cult favourite, only with shinier surfaces and achievements points.
Its price might be a little bulky, but its fifteen levels make up a considerable wedge of content. The First Encounter is more than enough to occupy for you for a good eight hours, and this HD release is a 1:1 reproduction of the original’s bloody trek through ancient Egypt: it’s only the little bits of bloom, bump and shade smeared over the faithfully reproduced polygons that set it apart from the bargain-bin copy of the original you can pick up on the PC for a quid. That’s a bit of a shame, especially for ardent fans of the series already familiar with these levels. While the overhaul is appreciated, I fail to believe Croteam’s development forces are so engulfed with Serious Sam 3’s production they couldn’t have thrown out a few new levels and weapons.
My first thought, however: why so slow? The XBLA version of Serious Sam, unlike the PC versions of both the HD update and the low-fi original, is locked to 30fps – a contemporary compromise in most cases, but one that feels immediately jarring for some who’s bounced and strafed his way across the landscape a few times already. It’s by no means a dealbreaker, but it does work to the game’s detriment as the frame-rate doesn’t live up to Sam’s notably twitchy, zippy gameplay.
Then there’s the control. Aiming isn’t as smooth as the PC’s famed keyboard/mouse combination but Croteam have done a respectable job of incorporating just the right amount of auto-aim to quell any potential problems. Sam’s significant armoury is also neatly mapped onto the d-pad, making it easy to flick to and from the rocket launcher and double-barrel shotgun. Quicksave has been plonked onto Y, too, which saves you having to keep ducking into the menus and fiddling around.
An average jaunt through the game on normal difficulty will require you to shoot your way through the best part of four thousand monsters. Enemies come in two distinct categories: those that run at you and those that don’t. The former are usually handled by running backwards and firing, and the latter (who fire all sorts of nasty projectiles with pin-point accuracy) are best despatched by hiding behind some cover and plinking away at until gibbed. The levels frequently spawn nasties in behind you, too, so a lot of time is spent running backwards, shooting, spinning around to see a monster, shooting, and then running backwards in the direction you originally came from. Whilst shooting. There’s a lot of shooting, basically.
It’s to Croteam’s credit that the game never becomes boring, even for those who’ve had their fill of Serious Sam over the years. It works because it’s fun; the 18 types of enemy all fly at you with murderous insanity and the weapons all pack a charming punch. The rocket launcher and shotgun variants are here, and as useful as ever, but there’s also a neat Tommy gun, four-pronged pew-pew laser and a bloody great cannon that looks like it was yanked off the HMS Victory, amongst others. With this eclectic arsenal you take pop-shots at possessed, decapitated soldiers, including the iconic kamikaze lot who come flooding in from every corner of the map; blow chunks out of the one-eyed Fnarr; reduce the skeletal, four-legged Kleer into piles of bones; side-step the momentous bulk of dead Sirian werebulls as they haplessly steer towards you, and topple gigantic bipedal monstrosities with well-aimed rockets.
Whether or not you should buy it is another question. There’s nothing new added to the package to make it appealing for anyone Serious Sam’d out over the years, but the convenience of having it stored on your Xbox might be appealing enough to make it worthwhile. It’s fun, sure, but it’s also a lot of money to pay to take another trek down a road that’s been seriously well travelled over the last decade. If Croteam had added in some extra content or thrown in The Second Encounter it would be an essential purchase, but instead it ends up as something I’d only recommend if you’ve got cash to spare.
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