Serious Sam 3: BFE (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: November 22, 2011
Price: $39.99 (PC)
Croteam’s latest game blatantly ignores a decade of shooter evolution, preferring instead to blaze the same trail as games like Painkiller, Quake, and Unreal Tournament. You will shoot everything, and before you have time to ask questions, you will shoot more things.
Don’t worry about perks or weapon attachments or cover systems. As the game’s incredibly self-aware marketing videos suggest, there’s no room for such wimpy handicaps in a proper Serious Sam title. And make no mistake, this is a proper Serious Sam title. Enemies often outnumber you by the dozens, conjuring a “you against the world” tone that has long been a cornerstone of the series. Do we have your attention yet? There’s more to discover in the pages following our review.
You are Sam “Serious” Stone. Imagine a pile of nails, semen, and pornographic magazines brought to life through sorcery and you’ll have an accurate mental picture of the gruff hero. He wears blue jeans and sunglasses and a tight tee, but at least he’s civil enough to tuck it in properly. So eat it, Nathan Drake.
Sam is joined by a colorful cast of comrades who say things like “It’s my birthday. I should be doing blow off a stripper’s ass.” They’re not important, though, and most of your murdering will be done alone.
A skeleton of a story exists, but it’s serviceable at best and forgettable at worst. Aliens are here and they’re killing everybody. Salvation seemingly lies within an excavated artifact. That’s all I need to say. If you’re for a deep and thoughtful narrative, turn now and run. What you should really be here for is the chaotic and satisfying gameplay, the department in which Serious Sam 3 truly delivers.
GETTING UP TO SPEED
For the uninitiated, Serious Sam games famously throw hundreds of enemies at you simultaneously. With an impressive arsenal of lead-spewing and explosive-chucking weapons you’ll cut them down.
In fact, the Serious Sam 3: BFE strategy guide details three simple steps: Hold down the trigger, run backwards, and repeat. A more appropriate cheat sheet has never existed. The game stumbles for the first levels, though, and it seems for a moment that the mighty Sam has conceded to the advancements of contemporary shooters.
Enemy encounters are slow and manageable, and the weapon selection is weak and uninteresting. And the demolished, war torn streets you occupy look like they were pulled straight from Battle Duty: Modern Company 6. For a game that exists solely to flip the bird to the blockbusters of today, it’s odd that Sam begins his journey in their footsteps. Trudge onward, though, and you’ll eventually find yourself neck deep in clomping skeletons and headless, exploding kamikazes.
Excluding the beginning, the campaign is beautifully paced. As soon as you grow too confident in your abilities and too comfortable with the current crop of enemies, a giant spider-like enemy (or eight) will appear and blast your face with acid. The arsenal continuously expands as well. I dare you not to grin when your shotgun is replaced with a double-barreled variant. Or when you pick up the minigun or the energy leash – which, while fun, is admittedly a bargain bin version of its cousin in Bulletstorm. There are also tons of brutal melee attacks that make close-quarters combat a bit more – dare I say it – visceral than it has been in previous installments.
KILL YOU UNTIL YOU DIE
Despite what the over-the-top madness might lead you to believe, Serious Sam games never felt exceptionally difficult. You’re outnumbered, sure, but with a few hundred hit points and pick-ups aplenty, you could always make it through. This time around, things have changed. Foes will swarm you mercilessly, picking you apart while others fire rockets at you from a few stories up. It’s tough. Like, swear, stand up, and walk around for a while tough. Strangely, if you want the true Serious Sam experience, you’ll have to turn the difficulty down a notch or two. By the way, it’s impossible not to feel worthless when you do this.
The otherwise enjoyable campaign is punctuated with decidedly non-Sam sections. For instance, early in the game, you’ll delve deep underground with little more than a flashlight and a pistol. The enemies in this section leap stealthily from column to column, attempting to elicit nervousness or fear or some sort of emotion other than pure bloodlust. It doesn’t really work, and the contrived attempt at horror feels like an unnecessary speed bump. These moments crop up from time to time, but ignoring the game because of these faults would be like turning down a scrumptious, cheesy burger because you tasted pickles in a few bites.
I'LL GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
The entire campaign can be played with sixteen allies, injecting another dose of madness into an already crowded battlefield. I’m of the mind that co-op play improves nearly every gaming experience, and Serious Sam 3 is no exception. The sound of several miniguns spinning up simultaneously is a sadistic sort of melody that you just have to hear. There’s also a survival mode, which is probably the most Serious Sammy part of the game.
The arenas – of which there are only two, sadly – are littered with ammo and weaponry. Enemies of all sorts spawn indefinitely and you must move your reticle over them and click until they go away. It’s far and away the most entertaining part of the whole package, and if the game ends up having decent legs, this mode will be the reason why.
There’s also a competitive multiplayer option that could not be more misguided. Serious Sam 3 shines when you’re frantically clicking hundreds of foes to death, feeling an oncoming finger cramp but ignoring it because you’re super extreme. One-on-one conflicts? Not so great. If that’s what you’re here for, I’d recommend checking out some of today’s more well-known shooters.
GET SOME... CULTURE
Serious Sam 3 is an incredible game, a relic from a time when having a sore hand meant you did well. But before you buy it, you need to know what exactly you’re looking for. The campaign is short but a blast to replay, especially with fifteen friends. Adversarial multiplayer is way off the mark. Survival mode, the best part of the game, only has two maps. However, one year from now when you decide to boot up Serious Sam 3 with a few friends, survival mode is the reason you’ll be doing it.
If your first console was an Xbox 360, it’s possible that your shooter diet consists entirely of mega-popular shooters like Call of Duty and Halo. For you folks, I could not recommend this game more. It’s not a better game than Battlefield 3, and it doesn’t have the features of Modern Warfare 3, but it is one of gaming’s greatest history lessons – one that I urge you to experience. Just make sure you prepare by lifting some weights with a tiny, finger-sized dumbbell.
Wow. That really should have been a pre-order bonus.