Review: Serious Sam 3: BFEBy Miodrag Kovačević | November 25, 2011 | Reviews | 1 comment | Share
It’s quite good. It’s amazing, actually. I can’t really think of a witty opening worthy of what I’ve just played that doesn’t boil down to typical hipster condemning of the ways of modern shooters, like carrying two guns and sucking your thumb until the blurry red vision goes away and you feel better. Oh, wait, I did end up taking a jab at the genre. It’s kind of hard not to after playing Serious Sam 3. Not because it’s an ode to days gone by, nor because it’s so old school that it only lacks 2D sprites for enemies, but because it’s the best fun I’ve had from a shooter in quite a while.
One Man and One Million Dead Aliens
The title’s acronym stands for Before First Encounter, so those who are familiar with the series would know that this is actually a prequel to the first Serious Sam game. I don’t want to go into the details of the story, not to avoid spoilers, but because talking about it for more than a few lines would probably reveal most of it. Of course, the writing deals primarily with Sam’s witty one-liners, which actually are witty for most part. He’s cocky, but he’s not annoying. He’s determined, but doesn’t have an over-inflated ego. If Duke Nukem tried to be Bruce Campbell, Serious Sam has a bit of John McClane in him, or rather, John McClane if he were to fend off an alien invasion and could take a few rockets to the face.
The game has one of the most awkward beginnings in recent memory. Looking back at it now, I am not sure whether it was an intentional spoof or not, but aliens aside, it felt like a modern military shooter at first. I started to get quite worried because after Duke Nukem Forever, I wasn’t in the mood for another letdown.
But then the game started picking up the pace slowly. You’d leave the urban environment with small alleyways and get to visit the wide open desert locales. Everything would get bigger and meaner and the whole composition reminded me a lot of Super Meat Boy, in the sense that each level is preparation for the next one. You encounter one type of enemy on its own. Then you encounter a whole group of them. Afterwards, the game teaches you to handle a different type of adversary and a group variant thereof. Then it mixes them up. Then it adds some more. The phrase “this can’t get any worse” keeps echoing through your mind and yet, it always does get worse. You either get another wave of enemies by surprise, or the game just throws everything it has at you at once just so you would go “I’m supposed to survive this?!”
Sure, you go around having to unlock some doors, get some keycards and various other excuses to get from point A to point B, but the point of each level is that you’re at the start of it, you have to get to the end of it, and between here and there are more enemies than coins in Super Mario games. Actually, to give you a rough estimate, there are nearly 7000 enemies total in the whole game, the final level containing almost a third of the game’s total body count. So yes, it keeps getting bigger and bigger until the very end, but also tries to keep things interesting by switching from the most open desert sections to the most claustrophobic tomb levels. Regardless of environment, a lot of thought went into enemy placement, making it stand out from typical gauntlet games.
Strafe, Shoot, Strafe
Of course, if the shooting wasn’t done right, then this game would have been bound to fail. In case you didn’t know, Serious Sam 3 stands out by doing what a rare few FPS do these days: health, armor, more than two weapons and infinite sprint. It’s not being archaic, nor does it take every single aspect of classic shooters for purposes of nostalgia. No, Serious Sam 3 builds upon the formula using modern technology to the fullest. It’s what you’d expect a DooM game to be were it made today.
It shares many aspects with bullet hell shooters. Emphasis is put on dodging both enemies and their projectiles and each bad guy requires a specific approach. While the game will resort to overwhelming you, there are always means to overcome a challenge unfazed. The game obviously doesn’t expect you to achieve that, but it at least believes you should be able to survive. There are very few instant-kill attacks, if there even are any, meaning death will only happen after repeated mistakes on your part. Your main form of discerning the existence of a threat is its sound. Whether it’s the machinery of a walker, the groaning of a cloned soldier, or the beep you hear when enemies are teleported to the battlefield, the game will rarely, if ever, use cheap tactics. It’s rather open to show you your impending doom.
It’s hard though, even on normal difficulty. I assume higher difficulties are impossible for most human beings, but normal was enough to leave me fatigued after two or three hours of play. It demands your full attention and leaves very few moments for you to catch your breath.
But that’s alright, because even if you die, it’s still fun. Mostly because redoing a section means you’ll get to shoot more stuff and the gunplay is so satisfying. The previous Serious Sam games had a really weak feel to the weapons, despite being imaginative and having a certain cool flair to them. Serious Sam 3 goes a bit in the other direction and offers highly generic weapons for most part. A sledgehammer, a pistol, a military shotgun, an assault rifle, C4… It was at this point that I got quite worried, but then I found a secret canon and all was well. Then I found the devastator and everything was even better.
However, despite the unoriginality, each weapon, save for perhaps the pistol, is extremely useful and just feels right. The characteristics of each gun are such that you’ll be changing them multiple times mid-combat just so you could survive. The double-barreled shotgun is extremely useful at close range, but the reload time will cause you to get swarmed if you aren’t careful, not to mention that it’s sub-par at longer ranges. The devastator is highly useful at long range and against sturdy targets, but damages you due to explosive rounds if used at close range. The rocket launcher is slow, but deals a lot of damage. And in addition to their individual performance, you’ll soon find that each weapon is much more effective against certain enemies or enemy combos (like when kleers and walkers attack together), not to mention that the effectiveness depends on the actual environment. It might sound complicated, but as the game progresses, you slowly get an idea of what’s a good idea and what isn’t at any given moment. But what’s most important of all is that shooting is highly satisfying. When you manage to survive legions of aliens and then yell out loud “Who’s next?!” in such a way that your roommates give you awkward looks, you know you’ve done it right. Heck, I’m tempted to update the Top 10 Shotguns article just to include Serious Sam 3′s double-barreled shotgun.
Sam can also execute melee finishers which will instantly kill an enemy. While it is slightly overpowered when dealing with lone wolves, resorting to this while fending off a larger number of enemies can be fatal. And while we’re at the subject of melee, the sledgehammer is probably the most well-executed melee weapon in any FPS save for Condemned. I cannot count how many times I wrote off half of my current health just so I could have the satisfaction of pounding kleers and gnaars with it. It was worth it every single time.
Least I forget, in addition to its 10 hour single player mode, the game also contains multiplayer. While I only had the opportunity to test Deathmatch, the game contains various standard modes like Capture the Flag and non-standard modes like Last Man Standing. It’s also possibly the only PC FPS I know of that allows for local split-screen as well as online cooperative gameplay for up to sixteen players. It’s probably because of the sheer magnitude of game modes that having only four maps comes so surprising and, quite frankly, disappointing.
The game is quite pretty. It’s one of those games that you can’t exactly show in a screenshot, because it looks so much better in motion. Save for player animations when playing in third person and multiplayer, everything is animated so well. The game itself works on lower spec configurations, but even on stronger PCs, there have been reports of the game stuttering every now and then, mostly while saving. It’s only for a few seconds and the gameplay between these odd moments is otherwise quite fluid, but it’s still worth mentioning.
It embraces what made FPS fun and does away with needless limitations of both new and old titles of the genre
Where Croteam pleasantly surprise us is the options menu. It has an unbelievable amount of detail, which puts almost every other developer to shame. From the vital graphics options, to trivial things like setting enemies to bleed flowers, to the downright bizarre option of disabling free look, Serious Sam 3 is a PC title through and through, making maximum use of the platform and letting the player fully customize how they play their game. Needless to say, the game also comes with an editor.
Oh, and the soundtrack is just the kind of background music you need while committing alien genocide.
Yay or Nay?
I am going to skip my typical “gripes” section because aside from the multiplayer, I don’t have any. Serious Sam 3: BFE is a game about shooting and shooting is something it does well. I could complain about the story, maybe, for not inspiring me to drop my life as a reviewer and become a priest writing poems that would make Lord Byron jealous, but that would be missing the point. Serious Sam 3 does for shooting what God Hand did for punching. I think it is a mere few steps away from the majesty of God Hand (if you could even compare the two), but it’s a magnificent title nonetheless. It embraces what made FPS fun and does away with needless limitations of both new and old titles of the genre.
If you are even mildly interested in shooters, this game is an obligatory play. It is pure, mindless fun, executed almost flawlessly. It contains the most balanced single-player experience in recent memory. It is a well-oiled clockwork machine. It is a masterpiece of the genre, both graceful in composition as it is in execution. I cannot recommend it enough.
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