Serious Sam: Next Encounter Review

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Publisher: Global Star Software (Take-Two Interactive)
Developer: Climax


Platform: PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

"Ever since the discovery of ancient Sirian artifacts at the beginning of the 21st century, Earth and its solar system have attracted the attention of the evil being known as Mental. Countless times he has sent his hordes of depraved monsters to attack humanity, beaming them back in time to steal the power of the Sirians.

"And each time, one man has stood in the way of evil. One man, standing tall in the fight against those that would wipe us from the face of the universe. That man?

"Serious Sam... Armed only with his pistol, and his signature T-shirt and jeans to protect him from the elements, Sam is launched back in time..."

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


After only a few moments of play, you'll hear a far-away scream. It's an enraged roar that drones on at a constant pitch, getting ever louder. If you catch it fast enough, you can blast a headless Kamikaze Marine with bombs grafted to both wrists. If not, he'll blow up in your face. That's when you can be sure you're playing a Serious Sam game.

The action is simple enough. Our macho hero is sent back in time to ancient Rome, early China and Atlantis to face huge battles against Mental's bizarrely engineered minions. Every battle is just an elaborate trap – enter an area and an assortment of baddies are beamed in by Mental. Wipe out those and they'll be followed by another wave. After a few sets of creatures, you'll move to the next area and start the process anew.

Mental's creatures aren't bright. They either charge straight at you, or stay where they are and start blasting away. As Sam, you keep your finger on the trigger, try to keep the reticle on one enemy or another, and keep moving. The whole Serious Sam franchise sometimes feels as if Croteam (the developer of the original game) decided to build an entire game out of the traditional first-person shooter technique of circle-strafing.

Don't Think, Just Squeeze The Trigger!


This particular game wasn't developed by Croteam. Rather, it was designed as a separate adventure for Sam by Climax. They've managed to capture the crux of the Serious Sam style: massive, open areas filled with hordes of monsters that just keep on coming. This isn't a thoughtful shooter. You blast, blast and blast some more. Your only real decisions are which way to swing the barrel, and whether the shotgun or rocket launcher is better for this particular pickle. To capture the sense of scale of a Serious Sam game on the PlayStation 2, the graphical depth (such as texture detail) is low, but the game compensates with its bright colors and high-contrast environs that make the game very comfortable to play. Also, while there are huge numbers of enemies, sometimes they are so far away that they are effectively invisible. Often, your cursor will change color, you'll shoot and kill something, and never see what you slew.

As a first-person shooter on a console, the game's generous auto-lock-on function makes it possible to challenge Mental's armies. Between four settings of difficulty and the ability to turn off the auto-lock, gamers should be able to find a difficulty level that poses an individual challenge. The main goal is simply to make it through the single-player campaign, killing countless creatures and facing three, challenging boss battles. There's no question that Serious Sam: Next Encounter is repetitive. You'll be relieved each time you make it to a new region and get a few additional creatures to mix up the same waves you've been seeing level after level. Still, it's a budget title, and if you sit down to blast through an occasional level rather than pushing through the entire game in eight to ten hours, you'll find it easy to enjoy the mindless simplicity of the action. Repetitive slaying aside, the major drawback of the design is in the late levels. While the Atlantean levels are by far the most interesting visually, they rely heavily on thin, high walkways that are easy to plummet from, sending you back to the last checkpoint.

Every individual level has an associated high score, so replayability in Serious Sam: Next Encounter comes from working to beat your previous bests. Score points for finishing under a certain time, finding secret areas, or going on a rapid killing rampage. Higher scores can earn silver and gold medals – earn enough gold medals and you'll unlock extra maps called the "Lost Levels." Dying only costs you points and sends you back to the last checkpoint, so it's only significant if you're trying to earn that medal.

It's The Co-Operative Multiplayer, Not The Monkeys


The game becomes far better in cooperative play. You can split the screen horizontally and pit yourself and a buddy against Mental's forces. The action is so over-the-top that when you and a friend are hurling rockets against hordes of mutated monkeys and elephants with cannons implanted in their trunks, you can truly appreciate the absurd purity of the action-game genre without the burden of plot or realism.

Despite the lack of plot, you'll have to put up with Sam's (lack of) wit. Sam's one-liners are particularly juvenile, even on a video game scale that includes Duke Nukem's banter. He'll sing atonal variations on Christmas carols, and query a brutal gladiator with a single sword, "How'd you get such a big arm?" Others quips are just cheap jokes like "Minigun – maximum pleasure" or "Studies show that games with monkeys in ‘em are 30% more fun." The creatures in the game are far funnier than the one-liners Sam spouts. Mental's creations are dead funny, such as the toothy green globs, with the propellers on their beanies, that fly.

There is an online component to Serious Sam: Next Encounter, allowing you to battle against up to seven other players. The basic deathmatch-type play is joined by a mode that challenges players to hold a flag for as long as possible (you drop the flag when slain) and a mode that sticks one player with a bomb. That player then desperately tries to offload the bomb before it detonates. Online, the game is jerky, making it hard to draw a bead on other players – as you might expect, this means the player with the rocket launcher rules. There are simply better online titles available for the PlayStation 2, and if this is the only online-capable multiplayer shooter you have, odds are you don't own a network adapter and won't be tempted to try Sam out online. There are, at least, some great skins for multiplayer play, including a grumpy skeleton, fry cook and would-be superhero.

The online multiplayer component may not be deeply compelling, but the lighthearted monster design, lack of pretense and serious carnage make this game easily worth the $20 price tag. If you have a friend for co-operative play, but haven't had access to Serious Sam's earlier incarnations, you'll be glad he made it to the PlayStation 2. If not, you may still find Sam provides lots of simple fun without placing undue strain on your pocketbook.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 25, 2004 7:56 PM.

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