Serious Sam: The First Encounter HD Review (Xbox360)

Serious Sam in HD is exactly that, Serious Sam, but in HD. No frills, no luxuries, just cold hard shooting with Hi-Definition visuals and throwback flair. With a play style that harks back to the days of Doom and Quake, leave your cover system behind and get ready for some pain, because Serious Sam is a seriously hard slog.

Most of us have played a shooter in this vein before; a muscle-bound headcase wanders around with a goal in life, which usually involves lots of killing and tramping through blood to reach the end goal of saving the planet or girl, or both. Serious Sam, with wonderful irony doesnít take itself seriously at all, with an over exaggerated story and one liners that Hollywood would be proud of, this XBLA re-release is full of cheesy moments.

It's clear to see the carnage can be overwhelming.
The visual effects are truly fantastic considering the age of the artwork.

If thereís one thing you need to know about Serious Sam HD it is this, itís hard. Not in an ďI need to hide behind this wall and catch my breathĒ kind of hard, in an ďOh no, that wall I just tried to hide behind suddenly spawned five monsters with bombs for hands.Ē Thankfully Croteam, the developer behind Sam, have added in the luxury of a quick save button. Never in my life have I pressed the Y button so much in one game, every time I reached an open clear area I would tap it, just in case.

The action in Sam is wonderfully retro, but that is unfortunately both a good thing and a bad thing. Itís great because it reminds you of bygone days, when there wasnít much else to play but the newest shooter out, but the game struggles to move on past the HD visuals. The biggest issue here is that shooting games have moved on, no more do we see enemies spawn right next to us and proceed to blow us up and we never need to run for armour or health packs either. Weíve been spoiled by regenerating health.

Serious Sam is rather bland now, while the enemies are still fun to fight Ė who doesnít love a body builder with a saw blade for a head Ė the game only lets out its charm in the aesthetics. Everything just feels a little too archaic to stand out nowadays, what used to be groundbreaking is now seen to be old and stagnant. Itís great to see Samís world in luscious HD but playing through it is tiresome. Thereís only so many times that you can be gunned down from an enemy that wasnít there two seconds ago, to then be blown up by a grenade from three miles away.

The enemies are truly menacing and brutal.
Despite the lush visuals, the environments are relaitvely bland after all this time.

Luckily you do have an arsenal to combat these monsters, starting out with just your pistol and combat knife Sam feels weak, but as the game progresses you begin to feel like the saviour of the galaxy by wielding rocket launchers and plasma guns. The weapons just go to show how frantic the game is, all but the double barrel shotgun fire quite rapidly and practically all of the guns never need reloading. Itís safe to say that the game "knows" just how horrible it is being to you, so why not save some time from reloading and get shooting.

In between these mammoth sections of running and gunning, you can sit back and enjoy the view. Although the graphics are based off of the old artwork, the enhancements in the engine really allow for the game to shine. Water effects are stunning and the play between light and shadows is remarkable for such a game. I only wish the same could be said for the sound, which seems to continuously repeat catchphrases and sound effects, all of this whilst playing over rather dull and lifeless music.

Although Serious Sam is a good shooter, one has to wonder why thereís an XBLA version, from the initial control system itís clear to see that this remake should have perhaps stayed on PC. Using a trigger button to jump feels silly, almost alien to the average player and itís unclear as to whether they can be changed to suit your preference. One thing that Serious Sam does gain from this outing on the ďnext genĒ hardware is the inclusion of leaderboards and co-op play. Unfortunately I didnít have a chance to play the latter option due to a lack of games found on the server or friends who owned the game, but the leaderboards did provide some enjoyment. Watching the general public and of course your friends progress through the game and seeing if youíre beating them reminds you of the classic days of High Scores and competitive banter.

Other than these new additions Serious Sam hasnít changed much. Newcomers to the game will likely be turned off by its structure; I think this is definitely a game for people who remember it first time around. There is nothing new for older players who have experienced it all before though, and thus the price of 1200 points seems a little steep for a trip down memory lane.

The lighting effects and shadows show how good it looks compared to other download titles.
Sometimes running is your only option, while shooting like a maniac.

Itís sad to say that the world didnít really need this re-release of Serious Sam, while itís certainly entertaining in short bursts, longer play sessions will be bogged down with frustrations over the constant dying and reloading and the lack of any real change of scenery, being as the whole game is set in Egypt and we never really see any other locales.

Serious Sam is another unfortunate casualty in this constant cycle of re-releases; it should have stayed in the past with all of the fond memories. Thatís not to say that it isnít enjoyable at times, but I think the world of videogames has moved on too far for this to be considered a great shooter on XBLA. Itís a shame really, although I do thank Croteam for that Y button, it saved my life.

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