Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Jan 15, 2010

A high-definition remake of a nine-year-old computer title, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter makes its Xbox Live Arcade debut. With a return to the run-and-gun style that made Doom and Duke Nukem rule the first-person shooter scene in the early '90s, featuring relentlessly paced action and throngs of crazed enemies, will Serious Sam's old-school charm outshine its relatively pedestrian play mechanics?

The Pros
  • Frenetic action against swarms of aliens
  • Four-player co-op
  • Towering boss creatures
The Cons
  • Repetitive design hasn't aged well
  • Limited weapon selection
  • No split-screen or deathmatch option

A high-definition remake of a nine-year-old computer title, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter makes its Xbox Live Arcade debut. With a return to the run-and-gun style that made Doom and Duke Nukem rule the first-person shooter scene in the early '90s, featuring relentlessly paced action and throngs of crazed enemies, will Serious Sam's old-school charm outshine its relatively pedestrian play mechanics?

Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

A Relic From the Past

For those who haven't played the 2001 original or the HD version on PC, Serious Sam features a wisecracking protagonist whose gravelly voice falls somewhere in between a chain smoker's cough and comedian Lewis Black. There's really no story to speak of, other than the fact you’re transported to Ancient Egypt to stop an alien armada from taking over the world or something. Whatever. Between the palm trees and pyramids, you'll be blasting an insane number of aggressive creatures that range from galloping skeletons and headless bombers to half-man, half-scorpion hybrids and bipedal assault robots.

Cheerfully sticking to its early inspirations, the game simply involves gunning down anything that flies, pounces, sprints, and stomps. You won't have to search for your targets, as they will rush headlong toward you--some even screaming--to get your attention. There is no such thing as flanking, shooting from cover, crouching, or stealth gameplay, and to be honest, that's what makes the game so immediately satisfying. It's essentially target practice on hundreds of off-the-wall enemies, where the only thing you'll think about is surviving long enough to find the level's exit.

This is an advertisement - This story continues below



Shoot to Thrill?

The handful of weapons you'll wield are all effective, from the twin revolvers and shotgun to a submachine gun and two-handed cannon that literally fires massive cannonballs to bowl over your enemies. Yet, with all the outlandishness associated with the enemies, the majority of weapons you'll come across are surprisingly conventional and lack the zany appeal of, say, Duke Nukem 3D's arsenal. Also found throughout the stages are familiar ammo, health, and armor pick-ups to replenish what you've lost after a good, old-fashioned pounding. And you'll get pounded too, as you need to be constantly backpedaling, circle strafing, and dodging enemies who will assault you from all sides.

Yet while Serious Sam offers plenty of pulse-pounding action, its repetitive nature hasn’t aged well. The scenery throughout the game's 14 main levels is rather sparse and the lack of objectives means you won't easily forget about the calluses developing on your thumb and trigger finger. Some stages can feature 500 to 800 creatures and while you certainly don't have to kill them all to finish a level, you will be eliminating an overwhelming majority of them. Fortunately there's a quick save option, accessed by a simple tap of the "Y" button, which allows solo players to pick up exactly where they left off within a level. The aiming assist feature is also worth a mention, as you'll quickly find that you don't have to be as precise with your shots, which minimizes the frustration you will encounter while battling such large numbers.

Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

Play It Again, Sam

The most appealing part of Serious Sam HD is easily its four-player cooperative action (down from the PC game's 16). Laughs aplenty will be had while being surrounded by ridiculously huge forces in the game's many open courtyards. The frame rate is consistently steady, especially with so much being thrown at you, and the developers included a wide assortment of difficulty settings to make things as challenging as you want it to be. Drawbacks include the inability to save progress during a multiplayer campaign and the painful lack of a deathmatch option, which would have easily elevated this game into must-buy status for the majority of online players.

Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

Offering sharp visuals, oodles of action, and amusing co-op play throughout its approximately five-hour campaign, Serious Sam HD is worth serious consideration for those yearning for a mindless shooter to pass the time between more "advanced" titles. Nothing about Serious Sam HD is remotely innovative by today’s standards and some players will quickly tire of its repetitive design. But if you have a need to make things bleed, an urge to purge, or a zest for unrest, you'll find the game to be a satisfying romp that's worth its asking price, particularly if you plan on revisiting its harder difficulty settings with friends.