Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Game Review: Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter

A welcome less-'Serious' & over the top shooter in the age of gritty realism: 

In "The First Encounter" Sam "Serious" Stone had to battle his way through vast hordes of enemies in order to prevent alien races taking over the universe. As this is a direct continuation the story follows the same path however so does the gameplay.

In a large way "The Second Encounter" is exactly like the first in the series  just with a new environment and a couple of extra weapons and enemies so going into the game thinking there will be a whole lot more will leave you disappointed. I however was expecting exactly what I got and it definitely was not a bad thing.

The game starts with Sam crash landing in South America, conveniently close to the object he is now trying to obtain. The player is stripped of all weaponry collected in the first game which makes sense seeing as there will be players who start with this game and it is the beginning of a new part of the story. What didn't make sense to me was how the game reintroduced about half the arsenal within the first couple of stages along with three new weapons. 
Although the armoury felt more complete with a chainsaw, flame-thrower and sniper rifle to use, the pacing that the game used for their distribution felt rushed.

As ever Serious Sam does not hold back and throws everything it can at you right from the off however within the opening minutes you'll be facing enemies which weren't introduced until much later in the first game. This may be the reasoning behind including so many weapons in the very early stages of the game but it may be a little overwhelming to new comers. With those two points out the way, alongside the old enemies are an array of new ones including chainsaw pumpkin men, alien soldiers and winged demons. This new cast of cretins adds a small but welcome variety to the enemy ranks waiting to get blown to pieces.

There are three scenarios throughout the game, South America, Persia and Medieval. Each have a unique look and different level layouts which is a lovely contrast to playing through a mostly yellow coloured campaign in the shape of Egypt from the first game.

An annoying feature is that you loose all collected weaponry at the beginning of each scenario, not just the first one. And each time you are quickly re-introduced to the lovely collection you had to leave behind. Again, it makes little sense to me.

In terms of core gameplay it is largely the same as the first game but with different level structures. Puzzles are still no more complex than "find button, push button, kill an army equivalent to the population of the Earth and continue" but the game uses them well. The boss encounters are a lot more exciting than simply fighting another horde of enemies as this time three main bosses are included, one for the end of each scenario. Although they largely follow the same structure in terms of how to kill them, it felt good to have a finale style battle.

In terms of multiplayer, "The Second Encounter" includes a co-op mode and a death-match mode, which return from the first game, as well as a new survival mode. I managed to play all three this time around, if only for a short while however I did gain an opinion on all three.

The co-operative mode is the one people have hyped up for me. It allows for up to 16 players to battle side by side through the games campaign missions with unlimited re-spawns and what I visualised as full on carnage. Sadly, I was disappointed. I paired up with around 5 others and played through a level midway through the game however with the fire power of 6 people it was ridiculously easy, let alone 16. I can see how people may find a thrill to having that many people play at one time against a mass onslaught however winning isn't fun if it's too easy and there is practically no way to lose.

There is a version of the co-op campaign which limits the team to three lives per level which means players actually have to be careful. This provides a much more tense and fun experience in my opinion.

The death match mode was fun from what I played however I got booted from every game for playing the game as it's meant to be played; get kills, don't die. That aside, the arenas were nicely designed and the "Quake" style of play worked well.
There are a number of other game modes however death match was the only one with players.

The last mode, survival, was the most fun I had outside the solo campaign. It is very similar to Horde mode from the Gears series or the Firefight mode from the Halo series however instead of multiple waves there is one never ending one with timed enemy spawns. It was great fun to play, shooting everything in sight until you simply couldn't hold them back any more. After you die, your time of death is logged and counts as your score. This provides a contrast to the L4D survival in which a team time is awarded.

Overall I enjoyed the multiplayer aspects of the game but I personally feel a greater sense of achievement if I beat something really difficult on my own and when there is a way to lose.
I can imagine playing all of the different modes would be fantastic if playing with people you know as it always adds a greater element of fun than playing with or against random people.

Although it has flaws, "Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter" was ab enjoyable experience. I'd have to recommend it over "The First Encounter" as it's practically the same game with simply more stuff added. The new enemies, weapons, power-ups and some truly wonderful secrets compliment the new campaigns to provide an intense, full on old school fps.
For those who played the originals, you already know what the games are like, however if you didn't get a chance to play it back in the day (like myself), give this remake a go. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Developer: Croteam
Publisher: Devolver Digital & CDV Software Entertainment 
Platforms: Steam (reviewed) & Xbox 360 Arcade
Genre: FPS
Release Date: 28 April 2010
Price: £6.99 / 1200 MS Points

-Tom Seed


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