Preview

Serious Sam 3: BFE Preview (Xbox360)

I’m stood on the roof of a tall building. In the distance a helicopter spins wildly amid a sea of cracked, whitewashed skyscrapers, its tail rotors billowing smoke. It vanishes behind the urban skyline, and I am alone. My initial thoughts are “Am I playing Battlefield 3?”

My surroundings certainly have a similar vibe, the colour scheme and the extensive cityscape wreathed with destruction could quite possibly have been taken from the Alpha Code of DICE’s upcoming shooter. That is until I turn the first corner, whereupon a squat, one-eyed Gnaar clambers onto the rooftop and charges at me. I casually tear its eye out, splattering the harsh white surrounding with viscous red blood.

Sam’s sledgehammer is a contender for gaming’s splatteryest weapon

My fears are allayed. This is indeed Serious Sam 3. And yet it’s an oddly reserved start for a Serious Sam game. Normally I’d have killed at least thirty enemies by now. As I am soon to learn, this isn’t because Croteam are attempting some misguided new direction for the third game. They know what you want, and they’re going to let you have it. But not yet. Not yet.

They do give me a sledgehammer though. On the screen in front of me, Sam shares my enthusiasm. “Give me some skulls and one of these, and it’s a party,” he growls. I pick my way down to street level, stepping out into an alleyway. Fifty feet ahead another Gnaar gallops around a corner and thunders toward me. I raise the sledgehammer over my head.

“Come on,” I mouth silently. “Come on.”

I wait until my screen is full of Gnaar, then I click the left mouse button, bringing the sledgehammer crashing down onto the Gnaar’s huge brow. There’s a “thshtick” noise as the Gnaar is pummelled flat, spraying its scarlet life juices in all directions. I let out a nervous giggle.

I work my way through the alley and down a road, introducing a few more Gnaar and a lone Beheaded Rocketeer. Then the air shimmers, and a huge alien spacecraft appears over a building at the end of the road. There is a blinding light and a deafening blast, and suddenly there’s a gaping hole in the building, and tonnes of rubble is hurtling in my direction. I dodge the blocks of concrete as the building collapses in a pile of dust.

It’s around this point that things start to kick off.

Suddenly there’s a multitude of aliens all just dying to meet my hammery friend. Well, I wouldn’t want to be rude…

It’s a pretty good sign that I’m already cackling gleefully as I batter my way through my first true horde of adversaries, and the game hasn’t even given me a gun yet. That, and I’m only halfway through the first level, and there are two more that await my attention in this preview code.

Yet it’s only when I reach that second level, that I realise my earlier words about things kicking off were naïve. The second level is more familiar territory for Sam, a wild Egyptian desert, pock-marked with sandblasted villages, the Great Pyramids looming in the background. I cycle through my inventory. Guns, lots of guns. This can only mean one thing.

Now things REALLY kick off.

In an open square of desert littered with palm trees, the game throws everything at me. Soldiers, Beheaded Rocketeers, Kleer Skeletons, Arachnoids, Biomechanoids, even a huge flying squidcopter thing that drains my lifeblood quicker than an obese vampire. And above the sounds of the ensuing battle, the shrill wail of scores of Beheaded Kamikaze reverberates through my skull. Over my shoulder, my fiancée is watching.

“Get to cover!” she screams.

“There is no cover, it’s Serious Sam!” I scream back.

Pfft, you call this a challenge?

Yet her words make me realise something, and as I yank the head off a pouncing Kleer Skeleton there descends certain clarity amid the sheer madness of it all. It’s an understanding of what the FPS has been missing during its five-or-so years cowering behind a conveniently placed waist-high wall. It’s the joy of movement, the thrill of dodging a Biomechanoid’s pulse laser while blowing away several Beheaded Rocketeers with a single shotgun blast. It’s the knowledge of the skill needed to circle-strafe a cluster of attacking Kleer Skeletons, and timing your shot so that a Beheaded Kamikaze takes out five of his rocketeer brethren. It’s the unfamiliar pleasure of being forced backwards in a shooter. Ultimately, it’s the delight of a game allowing you to play it, rather than wrenching the control from your hands and playing itself for you.

After many, many inevitable deaths and gleeful reloads, the cacophony of the battle finally fades, and there is a brief moment of respite. I force myself to calm down. After all, it’s only preview code, and it needs a fair amount of polishing yet. Many of the melee attacks are only half finished, with Sam only needing to lay his hands on an Arachnoid to kill it. Furthermore, the levels I’m witnessing seem to be incomplete, suddenly cutting to black mid-action.

Also, the code is quite unstable, and requires a truly monstrous PC to run on the “Ultra” settings. Croteam have put a great big disclaimer at the start of the game which basically says “THIS WILL ALL BE FIXED IN THE FINAL VERSION,” and I’m confident they speak the truth. Nevertheless, the release date is the 16th of October, and that isn’t very far away.

In addition, there are a couple of things I hope to see changed (as opposed to fixed) in the final version. Both the pistol and the machine gun lack punch, the latter in particular feeling weedy and unsatisfying. Oh, and while I’ve seen an awful lot that’s good in Serious Sam 3, so far I’ve not seen much that’s new. Hopefully Croteam are simply holding back all the new stuff for the final version, but that’s going to be the difference between Serious Sam 3 being a fun but forgettable throwback of the shooters of old and a truly memorable sequel.

I’m yet to mention the third and final level of the preview. It’s similar to the second, set in an oasis scattered with Ancient Egyptian ruins half covered by sand-dunes. There’s a downed helicopter in the centre of the oasis, and Sam’s double-barrelled shotgun is hidden amongst the wreckage. Yet the moment I pick it up, about seven werebulls spawn and stampede toward me.

Now THAT’s a challenge

I have to pretty much strafe through a hole in spacetime in order to avoid them, and each time I defeat one another spawns before his dead brother’s corpse had skidded to a halt in the sand. By the time the last werebull collapses into the dust I feel drained, spent, and utterly thrilled.

There’s still work to do, and not a lot of time to do it in, but as you can probably tell from my shameless gushing, I had an awful lot of fun with these three brief levels, and unless something goes horribly wrong in the meantime, I’ll be having an awful lot more by the time October rolls around.

Most Anticipated Feature: The sheer number of enemies the Serious Engine 3 can render on screen is pretty astonishing, and makes for some genuinely intense firefights.

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Comments

By fishster (SI Newbie) on Aug 31, 2011
fishster
Looks like fun.
By bluered (SI Newbie) on Sep 01, 2011
bluered
Can't wait.
By louy (SI Newbie) on Sep 02, 2011
louy
This one looks interesting.
By Krishu (SI Newbie) on Sep 02, 2011
Krishu
awesome