Serious Sam 3 review: keeps on shooting

Sometimes you just want to shoot things. That's the basic premise behind the Serious Sam first person shooter series ever since the first game, Serious Sam: The First Encounter, showed up on our PC hard drives back in 2001. 10 years later, the game's development studio Croteam returns to their tried and true franchise with Serious Sam 3: BFE. While the game has made a few minor tweaks to the series' basic formula (some good, some bad), fans of the previous games should feel right at home.

The "BFE" in the game's title means "Before First Encounter". You guessed it; that means we are going back to a time before the story (and we use that term loosely) of the first game where the aliens under control of the overlord Mental begin attacking Earth in the 21st century. We are not giving away anything when we say that the end of Serious Sam 3 has the main character Sam "Serious" Stone being transported back in time to ancient Egypt where the plotline of Serious Sam: The First Encounter begins. The truth is while there is technically a plot to this game, complete with in-engine cut-scenes, you can jump past all of it and not miss a thing.

But before we reach the final of Serious Sam 3, the player has to battle aliens in modern day Egypt in the role of Sam. The game starts out in a devastated urban environment which has been nearly wiped out by Mental's attack. It's in this early part of the game that may frustrate some players a bit, Croteam decided to slowly give out weapons for the players to use in the single player campaign. In fact you don't have any weapons at all at the very start; you have to kill the first enemy, the one eyed cross between a lizard and an ape, with your bare hands (that's actually kind of fun, though). You then get a sledgehammer, a pistol, a single barreled shotgun and so on before you start getting some of the most devastating items; the double barreled shotgun, the assault rifle, and more, all the way up to our personal favorite, the pirate ship cannon that you can hold in your hands.

The problem is that the early part of Serious Sam 3 feels a bit restricted because the early weapons are so underpowered in comparison to the later weapons. It doesn't help that the game's setting is restricted to smashed up urban areas that feel somewhat confining. You want to check out the massive outdoor levels that Serious Sam fans expect. We would recommend that players who want a bit of a challenge to try out the Normal difficultly level. Anything else is a bit too easy and anything more is, well, flat out insane and made only for the most hardcore first person shooter players.

Thankfully, all is forgiven once you get through a quarter or so of the game's 12 campaign levels. You start to get more powerful weapons and more importantly the game opens up to show massive settings outside the urban areas. There are a few locations that are set in dimly lit corridors but those are brief. And if you were looking for things like RPG-style gameplay features, well you have the wrong first person shooter. Aside from pulling some levers or finding some keys to open doors, it's basically, "Go to point A to point B and shoot everything in between."

That's the thing that Serious Sam 3 does that no other first person shooters even attempt to do anymore. It gives you lots of different types of enemies and many of them appear on screen by the dozens. Oh, and they all want to kill you. Most of the enemies from the previous Serious Sam games are back; the charging Kleer skeletons, the massive running bulls, the bio-mechs and, yes, the headless kamikazes with bombs for hands. There are a few new monsters to deal with, including one that's a cross between a lizard and a monkey that can jump on walls.

It's that sense of over-the-top massive battles that ultimately makes Serious Sam 3 as fun to play as the previous games in the series have been in single player (again once you get through the first few sections). The fact that you are one person who battles through and over armies of aliens all by yourself makes this game stand out from any other shooter you can buy. Oh, and be prepared to stick with the single player campaign for a while. Some levels take as long as an hour to complete and the final, and truly, epic final encounter in the game could take even longer to finish up.

As much fun as Serious Sam 3 is in single player, it's even more fun when you get online and play the campaign in co-op with up to 15 other players. Having that many people firing rocket launches or firing mini-guns at hordes of enemies is so satisfying and fun that you cannot wait to go back online and find another gaggle of co-op players ready to do the same thing. It's as close to a true party game that you can get in a first person shooter title.

The good news is Croteam has also added a number of other multiplayer modes to the mix including support for up to four players via split-screen (and how many PC games do that nowadays?). The bad news is a lot of them are pretty bare bones. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF, Survival and more are all there but you get the feeling that Croteam threw them together in the final parts of Serious Sam 3's development as an afterthought to the huge single player/co-op campaign. On the bright side, the game comes with support for mods which means that third party developers should have a field day expanding and improving on these modes.

Speaking of mods, Croteam's in-house Serious Engine is now up to version 3.5 for those of you keeping score at home (it made the graphical remakes of the first two Serious Sam games with Serious Engine 3). Croteam's goal of lots of enemies on screen at once works well but there are some sacrifices such as some flat level texture designs. The game's AI can sometimes cause enemies to keep running into walls on occasion and there are some clipping problems with character models; sometimes they can been seen merging with the walls or beams in some locations.

Croteam knows that its formula for making games works and didn't tamper with it too much with Serious Sam 3. Some people might complain that Croteam needs to branch out a bit and offer more in the way of new features and ideas. But we are of the opinion that since no one is really making games like this, we can afford to be a bit charitable with Croteam's decision to basically say, "If it aint broke, don't fix it."

If you have played any previous game in the Serious Sam series, be assured that you will most likely enjoy yourself in the single player campaign of Serious Sam 3: BFE, whether you play by yourself or via a co-op server. It's all familiar territory for older fans but it a territory that you will want to explore once again. If, for some reason, you have never played any of the games in the series before, than Serious Sam 3 is the best way to start. There's no cover shooting. There's no sensation that you are in a rail shooter situation. It's just plain old fashioned fun blasting away at enemies. And for this kind of FPS, that's just what you get.

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