When the first-person shooter was pushing hard to grow up in the early years of the 21st century, Serious Sam: The First Encounter rocked up with a cannonball gun and skittled many a gamer with its stubborn refusal to be taken seriously. A couple of sequels and a few cheeky remakes later, and Croteam still believe that the gaming world is ready to cast their tastes back to yesteryear by way of Serious Sam: BFE. Considering there’s no regional price gouging for this title on Steam and it sits at a worldwide price of $39.99USD, you’re not likely to break the bank investing in it, either.
For anyone that cares about the chronology as it relates to the overarching storyline (HA!), BFE takes place before the events of Serious Sam: The First Encounter when those alien bastards first invade Earth. Once again, you’ll find yourself in the combat boots of Sam “Serious” Stone in the sands of Egypt as you take on seemingly relentless waves of alien enemy types.
All of the old favourites make a welcome return. Headless guys with bombs for hands who can still somehow scream, skeletal quadrupeds that launch themselves at you and the long-armed Cyclops kinsmen that just seem to run at you. And then there are the winged Harpies that have ditched their bikini tops but have horrific faces that’ll make you think twice about staring at their boobs.
If you’re looking for revolution or even evolution beyond a new game engine, you’ve come to the wrong game. BFE remains faithful to its old-school gaming roots and so it should, because it can still offer a hell of a lot of fun. Basically every enemy will run headlong at you with zero intelligence in an effort to take you out or make you feel like the ultimate badass as you wax legions of alien baddies. Sometimes, they’ll even get stuck running at you because they can’t navigate an obstacle; such is their desire to get to you that they’ll keep sprinting on the spot until you kill them or run past them so they can turn around.
You really don’t want to play this game by yourself, though, and with a maximum cooperative player count of 16, Croteam doesn’t want you to do that either. On one hand, Serious Sam is a dish best made in banquet portions because the overall hilarity of the gameplay spikes when you’re able to share it with others. On the other hand, Serious Sam almost needs to be played with others—particularly on any difficulty higher than normal—because of how frustratingly difficult certain bottleneck sections become when you’ve only got a single arsenal to throw at the alien hordes.
BFE is more of a prettification and refinement of the Serious Sam formula than an attempt at anything else. The latest version of the Serious Engine (3.5), has a totally acceptable level of pretty in this high-definition gaming age. Sure, it’s no Battlefield 3, but it holds its own for what it needs to achieve, even if there are occasional graphics pop-in issues. The biggest frustration with the familiar Serious Sam formula is that there seems to be no bullet penetration, so you can forget about lining up enemies with bullet-based weapons and scoring multi-kills; an addition that would have suited this style of gameplay perfectly.
Sam’s hit or miss one liners are still there, but the real humour is found in the backpedalling approach to gameplay. Throw in a pitch-perfect high-adrenaline soundtrack, and the mood is set right from the time the game starts.
In fact, Croteam had me laughing before the outset of the game when they sent through a so called strategy guide for my reviewing reference. It had three simple steps: hold down the trigger, run backwards and repeat. Croteam aren’t at all in denial about the kind of game they’re making and neither was I.
Interestingly, controller-loving PC gamers can also play the game with up to three other people locally, as long as you have enough controllers to go around and don’t mind dealing with a quarter of the screen (not to mention cramped seating arrangements). But even though the option is there, you really don’t have to play offline.
What you really want to do is head online with as many buddies as possible, even though it becomes infinitely easier whenever you add a player; particularly considering the overpowered nature of the one-hit melee kills that can be performed on most core enemies along with the ridiculously large enemy hit-boxes. You can choose from one of four modes that essentially dictate how many lives you have (as a player or as a team) and then it’s straight into the fray. At the time of review, there were no populated Aussie servers, but considering the option to run a dedicated server downloads with the game, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t change.
Worst case scenario, you can play on a populated foreign server. I tried a variety of servers from around the globe—some with 400+ ping—and found the experience totally playable. Yes, you’ll have to lead enemies more with slower-firing projectiles but, for me, that added to the old-school charm.
Croteam has also shown that they have plenty of PC love in their ranks. First and foremost, Serious Sam: BFE is only currently available on PC; it’s a refreshing move in the wake of a release movement that sees PC gamers playing second fiddle to console owners. Couple this with the aforementioned open dedicated server option and included editing tools—along with the ability to start the game up in a moddable version—and Serious Sam: BFE has a whole lotta love for the desktop.
As with the ranks of returning enemy types, the arsenal will also be familiar to anyone who’s played a Serious Sam game in the past. Pistols, multiple shotgun and machine gun varieties make a welcome return, along with a rocket launcher that perfectly complements the semi-destructible environment and, of course, the cannonball gun. And then there are the new items such as the powerful sledgehammer, devastatingly destructive C4 charges and the co-op-friendly Mutilator. When collected, the Mutilator slots to your wrist and lets you use a Bulletstorm-like electric leash that is great for detonating explosive foes and decapitating more powerful ones. The more players that use the leash, the quicker the enemy’s demise.
There are a handful of competitive multiplayer modes on offer, and some of the off-kilter options sounded interesting on digital paper. Unfortunately, the gaming community didn’t seem too interested in straying from the tried and tested deathmatch/capture the flag combo as there weren’t any populated servers for the other modes.
As with online co-op, the only populated competitive servers at the time of review were located internationally. But, thankfully, the experience was every bit as playable as the cooperative mode despite the high pings. The competitive multiplayer doesn’t translate as well as campaign co-op, though, and despite its frantic pace, there’s little reason to sink hours of time into this with more compelling competitive first-person shooter experiences on offer.
At the end of the day, Serious Sam: BFE isn’t as much of a welcome throwback to old-school gaming staples as the original title was a decade ago. But, thankfully, that doesn’t mean that it’s a failure or a complete waste of time. If anything, Serious Sam: BFE does a better job of achieving what Duke Nukem Forever set out to do earlier this year: showing the gaming world that there’s still very much a place for traditional shooter gameplay with an emphasis on playing with your friends, be it in the same room or online. Single-player may be a chore and competitive multiplayer doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3, but you’ll be flat strapped to find a cooperative experience that has you perpetually grinning throughout.