Despite its shortcomings, Serious Sam 3: BFE earns bonus points for embracing a philosophy of over-the-top fun, just like its predecessors.
- Puts over-the-top fun ahead of everything else
- Environments are huge, well laid out
- Contextual melee executions are a nice touch
- Wave-based Survival mode is a perfect addition for this series
- Did I mention how much fun it is?
- Repetitive environments foster repetitive gameplay
- Lack of directional markers make it easy to get lost
- Gets off to a slow start
Serious Sam 3: BFE Review:
When you think about it, Croteam is really taking a big step forward with the release of Serious Sam 3: BFE. The two previous releases in the series arrived in 2001 and 2005, respectively and the the first game's two parts got HD remakes in 2009 and 2010, but BFE is really the first time that Sam Stone steps into the proper current-gen gaming world. It's definitely a step in the right direction.
Preparing For Battle
The series returns just as you remember it, throwing Sam into a gauntlet of extremely open environments -- think of them as battle arenas -- filled with all manner of grotesque beasties that want nothing more than an opportunity to rip the one-liner-spewing soldier apart. The new technology makes a big difference here: the world around you is larger, and prettier, and the enemies are just straight up uglier, but in the best way possible.
There's a story at work here, a prequel chronicling the events leading up to the first game, Serious Sam: The First Encounter. The evil alien leader Mental invades Earth during the 22nd century and Sam travels to Egypt to stop the extra-terrestrial shenanigans. This isn't a story you'll necessarily invest in, but cutscenes scattered throughout deliver some solid laughs while breaking up the intense pace of the gameplay.
One Million Enemies
If you've never played a Serious Sam game, it works pretty much like this: you push forward until heavy metal music wells up and you see/hear enemies approaching in the distance. LOTS of enemies. You fire wildly at your attackers while backing away from them, hopefully wiping them all out before they're close enough to attack.
There's a bit of nuance to this, of course. Exploring these large spaces often yields a range of secrets and pickups, in the form of weapons, ammo, armor and health. There are boss fights as well, and appropriately epic ones in relation to the scale of the game's more typical combat encounters. Sometimes you'll even find yourself confined by more corridor shooter-oriented rules, but the focus always returns to these giant "one vs. many" battlefields, something the Sam series has always excelled at.
Under The Hood
The enhanced power of the Serious Engine 3.5 is evident throughout the game. It doesn't look great, but it's certainly a giant step beyond what previous Sam games -- even the HD remakes -- delivered. There's also a lot of destruction going on, especially once you start collecting some of the game's more powerful weapons, which helps with the visual appeal.
The improved tech also means you're seeing more enemies on screen, and larger ones. Your tactics are fundamentally the same as they've always been in the Sam series, but the intensity definitely kicks up a notch over previous outings. There are few gaming moments more exhilarating, or terrifying, than seeing a full-on army of Beheaded Kamikaze lunatics screaming across the desert sands in your direction.
Running Low On Ammo
There are a few notable shortfalls, however. The biggest problem is the game's setting as a whole. Croteam did a great job of putting together a set of massive, maze-like environments to do battle in, but the spectrum of locations you'll visit as the story unfolds, for the most part, ranges between "urban brown" and "desert brown."
This makes the game feel overly repetitive at times, especially when a particularly punishing series of enemy waves push you back through the large tracts of land you previously covered. This typically happens at least once per level, if not more. The same-y look of the world and maze-like layouts also make it easy to get turned around; BFE lacks any kind of minimap or checkpoint arrows, so you'll need to look for (and hope for) environmental cues to point you in the right direction.
You see much more variety in the creatures you encounter, a welcome mix of returning favorites, new twists on old friends and entirely new creations all together. A new contextual melee attack allows Sam to automatically kill off just about any non-giant enemy he gets close to.
Not only is each execution unique to the creature being offed, you'll also sometimes end up with a trophy of the kill in your hand that can either be dropped on the spot or tossed like a grenade. It's not a great tactic when there's a mob closing in, since Sam is still susceptible to damage as the execution plays out, but it is undeniably satisfying to tear out the eye of a Gnaar and then chuck it like a grenade.
Death Is A Natural Part Of Life
The challenge level in BFE is rather high, even at the default Normal setting. You can save at any time with a quick press of the F6 button on your keyboard (and quick-load by pressing F9), and it's a feature you'll want to take full advantage of. Higher difficulties put a cap on the number of quicksaves you can use, but you can abuse it endlessly on Normal. This is fortunate, considering how frequently most will find themselves dying.
It's no help that the game doesn't really hold your hand in the early going. Sam fans will know what to do immediately, but newcomers may find themselves battling with a learning curve as they struggle to adapt to BFE's old-school FPS charm. The initial pacing is off-putting too, since you'll play a fair amount before you even see your first gun and a fair amount more before other, more powerful firearms start to join the party.
Online play definitely kicks things up a few notches, with support for up to 16 players in several different flavors of campaign mode (infinite respawns, three lives per player or three lives per team) and a new wave-based Survival mode. If you think one Sam taking on an army of Mental's forces is epic, imagine 16 Sams doing the same. The Versus multiplayer mode isn't nearly as exciting, but the variety of match types at least offer a nice diversion.
Despite its shortcomings, Serious Sam 3: BFE earns bonus points for embracing a philosophy of over-the-top fun, just like its predecessors. The gameplay is overwhelmingly simple in just about every sense and the presentation is a little rough around the edges at times, but you'll be having too much of a hoot blasting apart Mental's beasties to care.