For all my interest in video game stories, sometimes you just want to run around a level with a shotgun despatching foes left, right, and centre. I recently installed Doom (2016) for this very reason, but am currently struggling juuust a little bit with motion sickness. Might have to adjust the blur settings and whatnot. Or move slower. Probably change the settings.
Anyway, back in the early 2000s, there was no Doom (2016) for your shotgun rampages, and Doom and Quake and whatnot were already starting to feel old, even their sequels. Where were you going to get your fix of slick shooters with pointless plots?
Enter Serious Sam, deadliest man on the planet.
Serious Sam opens with a stellar text crawl, telling us about the dire future humanity finds itself in - under threat from alien nasties. The only solution to our increasingly desperate situation is to send the greatest warrior alive back in time to deal with aliens in ancient Egypt. Seriously.
It is 1378 B.C., and we are armed with a six-shooter, on a quest to defeat the alien menace. It's going to be a bloody affair, but someone has to do it.
Controlling Sam is snappy and straightforward. He's no slouch, and you'll feel like you're zipping around the desert, offing opponents with ease. There are keys to crouch and jump, but I don't see where crouching can come into play with the pace of these encounters.
There are, inexplicably, ammunition and armour pickups scattered around the map to aid you on your mission. There's nobody around to drop them off. Maybe the aliens left them. Health packs don't make sense either, they're brightly coloured glowing potion bottles floating above the floor. Sensible Sam is very much an old school shooter in its look and feel. No realism here, thanks.
Enemies come in all shapes and sizes, some shooting you from afar, some preferring an up close and personal approach, but all of them homing in on you from the moment they spot you. This is a game where you can stand still and pick targets off from afar, but you're going to want to get used to moving quite quickly.
The shotgun is a welcome sight, with satisfying results whenever you pull the trigger. It's deadly at any range, surprisingly, so I just keep running and gunning with it.
There's plenty of ammo for it just lying around, so I might as well stick with it, hoovering up extra shells and firing them at whatever headless monstrosity approaches me next. Why are all these enemies headless, anyway? And what's that sound?
I'm going to need to try that again. And I'm going to need to show you Serious Sam in motion, the way it was meant to be seen.
It's a tad repetitive, with not a whole lot of strategy to it thus far, but strafe circling and shotgun firing seems to be doing the trick. I'm playing on normal difficulty, and things are manageable. Sketchy moments are there, certainly, as you desperately search for a useful pickup to keep you alive just that little longer...
I've pushed some of the default graphics settings up and notch or two, and it looks pretty damn good. It makes absolutely no sense thematically, as the level design is very much corridor shooter first, vaguely accurate depiction of ancient Egypt distant second, but it's most definitely a game that you can instantly read and dive into.
I wish I had another gun to play with, though. For as good as the shotgun is at seemingly any range, I do want to mix things up. I saw a gun of some kind, once, but couldn't find a way to reach the platform it was hovering over. Maybe I just mistimed my jumps.
Still, onwards into the alien hordes we march.
Or not. Next time, I suppose.
So that was a quick whip around Serious Sam, and what an enjoyable trip through time it was. It's a technical marvel, with no slow down no matter how many ugly things were charging towards the business end of my boomstick. It's not amazing in the graphics, but damn close and definitely playable.
But for how long? It does get a bit repetitive, fighting the same foes over and over, wave after wave. Every now and then a new threat gets thrown in for you to deal with, but they look like they turn into regularly enemies as you make progress. How much variety in the enemy design is there? I don't know. There seems to be a fair few, which is good, but they seem to do one of two things, shoot or charge, which isn't so good.
I wish I could have got to play with some more weapons, too. Satisfying though that shotgun was, it was all I heard for an hour. Bang, cha-chuk. Bang, cha-chuk. Bang, cha-chuk. And I had near endless amounts of ammo for it as well, so I was never scared of running out, and never had to think about juggling it and my pistols to not waste the wrong ammo on the wrong enemy.
I'm sure my grumbles are solved the deeper you get into the game, and with multiple difficulty levels and customizable controls, you can tailor it to suit your style and have a right old blast.
And that's what Serious Sam is all about: having a blast. It's not to be taken seriously in terms of story and setting, but on a technical level, this is a game to seriously take note off. It's not a throwaway title for five minutes of fun. Some serious thought has gone into making this game work whether there are two or twenty-two enemies out to get you. It's a sight to see, for sure.
With sequels and HD remakes, you can take your pick of how to play, but even the original title holds up so well after so many years. It's seriously worth a play.
The villain of this game is called Mental. Seriously.
Serious Sam, developed by Croteam, first released in 2001.
Version played: Serious Sam: The First Encounter, PC, 2001.