Flying in the face of the ever-increasing sophistication of first-person shooters, a little developer called Croteam decided to make an FPS the way they used
to be made. The original Serious Sam was a colorful, chaotic romp through a world filled with numerous inventive enemies. Sam's Second Encounter offered loads of new content but few actual improvements in terms of gameplay or graphics. Today Croteam finally released the first "official" sequel to the original, the imaginatively named Serious Sam II.
Like its predecessors, Serious Sam II is all about shooting the crap out of everything you see. The action is fast and intense from start to finish. You'll have tons of beasts to blast and a wide variety of vibrant levels to run through. There are a few puzzles here and there but they're mostly solved through a little exploration or common sense. Exploration shouldn't be too much of a challenge either; the levels here are almost all very linear and you'll know you're going the right way if their happen to be hundreds of enemies swarming towards you.
I have to admit, there actually is a little bit of story for Serious Sam II, but it really doesn't matter that much. Mental's back, there's some sort of thing about a medallion and all manner of bigheaded moppets. The action in the game provides its own context and the game becomes more about your survival than about the collection of the scattered pieces of a medallion. Honestly, when a team of football-playing orcs are chasing you down, you really don't care why they're doing it. As long you keep blasting away, you'll eventually finish out the few plot points that are scattered through each chapter.
The highly informative Netricsa system makes a return here, this time with spoken dialogue -- something to do, Nettie explains, with "having a bigger game budget." Her comments about Sam's dalliances and Mental's capabilities are genuinely funny but she's more useful in orienting Sam towards his next objective. While that might sound sophisticated, it rarely means more than simply telling Sam to find a key or jump in the giant monkey's mouth.
Sam's arsenal is quite a bit more inventive this time around but you'll still find yourself relying on old standbys like the double-barreled shotgun, the chaingun and the rocket gun. Between the three of them, you should have pretty much every situation covered. More specialized weapons certainly find application during the game -- the enemy-seeking parrot bomb is great for chasing down highly mobile enemies and the levels are often large enough to accommodate the sniper rifle, for instance -- but those situations are fairly rare. Your ammo supply might become a problem on the higher difficulty settings but there are so many pick-ups scattered throughout the game that you won't run out of ammunition even if you try to squander it.
You really might as well just tape the fire button down because there's never a second in the game that you're not shooting like crazy at every thing around you. The wide variety of enemy types keeps things from getting monotonous. From the hilarious zombie stockbrokers to the deadly patchwork, wind-up rhinos to the giant robotic spiders, you'll find a wide range of enemies, each with their own attack styles. Some individual enemies have deadly attacks but the enemies in Sam II are dangerous because of their numbers, not because of their intelligence. Some flying enemies even get stuck in tricky parts of the environment.
The pace of the action keeps you from appreciating the visual look of most enemies, particularly the smaller ones. Some of the orc footballers or wind-up rhinos can get a little too close for comfort but, generally speaking, you'll be too busy killing stuff to care about how it looks. It's a little easier to appreciate the larger enemies (and there are plenty of these) but, even there, you'll notice that the models are getting by on personality rather than poly-counts.
If the creatures don't look quite as good as some in other recent shooters, the game makes up for it by regularly putting dozens of them on screen at one time. At nearly every turn, you'll find yourself confronted with large groups of different types of enemies. This isn't exactly Far Cry Instincts but the visuals are vibrant and fun and suffice for this type of arcade shooter. Outside of the enemies, the rest of the game looks quite good. The vegetation is excellent overall, with plenty of trees, grass, flowers and other greenery dotting the landscape. Nice textures are found on nearly every surface and the lighting, while not eye-popping, is still good enough to lend a little atmosphere to the game. As with the enemies, the levels here are remarkably varied. Over the course of the game players will run through massive bases in the snow, fairy tale cities, giant-scale backyards, Asian carnivals and a host of other inventive areas.
There's a rudimentary attempt at a physics engine but it falls short of what gamers have come to expect in the days of Havok-driven ragdolls. Enemies fly back from your blasts or tumble to the ground in a very unspectacular fashion. You'll find a few opportunities to interact with the game world but this merely involves picking up dead bunnies or basketballs and pointlessly flinging them around. Stacking boxes is the one area where physics intersects with actual gameplay but even here you'll find that the boxes don't have any sense of substance at all; they just seem like weightless pieces of geometry.
Vehicles have also been added to Sam's arsenal this time around but the various hover cars and spinning spike pods are little more than an extra layer of armor that Sam wears in certain levels. The rolling ball of death that's introduced very early in the game is actually the only vehicle that doesn't feel like just another gun but it's gone before you have a chance to really appreciate the fun of rolling through crowds of enemies.
The sounds in Sam are pretty stock. Weapon sounds, explosions and dialogue aren't terribly impressive by themselves but they serve the action well enough. Though we'd like to hear a little more out of the game here, the visuals and feel of the game are what really sells the experience.
Serious Sam II offers four player co-op play over Xbox Live and System Link. There's no better way to enjoy mindless fun than with a couple of friends so this addition really adds some value to the title. Unfortunately there is no versus mode or split screen options available so it's either co-op or bust. As much as we like the idea of running through the campaign with three of our friends these other features are sorely missed.
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