“In a land filled with linear, story driven shooters, one man will stand against the forces of “modern combatism.” He alone will wage war, fighting for the God-given freedom to shoot dudes in the face with a canon and a rocket launcher. His name is Sam “Serious” Stone. ” I wish that scrolled across the screen at the beginning of Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter. It’s not, but it pretty much sums up Serious Sam 3’s philosophy. In it, you play as the titular Sam, defending Earth from the alien forces of Mental in the year 2104. BFE actually has quite a bit more plot than previous games in the series, but not so much that it gets in the way of the “shooting dudes in the face” part. Because that’s the important part. And trust me, by the time you’re done with Serious Sam 3, you will have shot A LOT of dudes in the face.
Before we get into the meat of this review, let’s start with quick bit of history. Serious Sam: The First Encounter was released in 2001. It made a real effort to fill the gap left by Duke Nukem and Quake. It was lauded for that effort and a second installment, The Second Encounter, was released a year later. Serious Sam 2 (not to be confused with The Second Encounter) was released in 2005 but didn’t meet quite the same praise as the first 2 games. Now in 2011, Serious Sam 3: Before First Encounter, the prequel to Serious Sam: The First Encounter (shocking, I know), returns to champion old-school shooters while trying to add a couple of new gameplay elements. Can this third installment hold its own against the legions of modern shooters?
Absolutely. As long as you’re not expecting a modern shooter.
If you’ve played other Serious Sam games then you’ll know what to expect. Unlike other shooters that crusaded themselves as old school (I’m looking at you Duke Nukem Forever), Serious Sam 3 keeps away from most of the trappings of modern shooters. There is no limit to the number of guns you can carry, no recharging health (unless you’re playing on the easiest Tourist difficulty), and there’s no cover. The only way to stay alive is to keep moving, which usually means running backwards while shooting. If you’re standing still, you’re doing it wrong, because there are literally thousands of enemies running at you (sometimes within one level).
There are some new additions to the series including melee, sprinting, and down-the-barrel aiming. Melee is an instant kill on most of the smaller enemies but it has to be timed just right, especially on charging enemies. Sprinting in BFE is actually an amalgamation of old-school running and modern sprinting systems. When you sprint, Sam lowers his gun so that you can’t shoot, but there is no limit to how long you can sprint. None. Aiming down the barrel is actually only available on two of the weapons, the pistol and assault rifle. Oddly enough, aiming this way doesn’t make you that much more accurate and it slows you down considerably. In some ways in feels like this type of aiming was only included to say, “Shoot from the hip like a real man!”
For the most part, BFE is a romping and ridiculous good time. You’re always facing lots of enemies compared to other games, but it takes about half the game before it really hits its stride. The first half of the game mostly takes place in a more linear urban Egypt with lots of buildings and streets, but the game slowly opens up into more open arena-style levels. Thankfully, the latter half of the game takes a good bit longer to wade through because of the sheer number of enemies that you face. There are times though that you’ll HAVE to take a break because of how intense the game can get. There were a few times I thought my eyes might start bleeding because I didn’t want to close them. That’s how intense the game gets at its peak. True story.
That said, there are a few parts even in the second half that are a little sluggish. There are a couple of underground sections that are very dark which makes the game a little creepy, but also makes it feel not as crazy considering you can’t see very far in front of you. You also move slower in the dark for some reason, and that makes the underground sections seem even more sluggish. Sluggishness is the antithesis of Serious Sam. Thankfully, these sections are few and far between.
In addition to the single player, which if you play on Normal will take around 10-12 hours, there is also co-op, a survival mode, and multiplayer. Co-op is the real star of the multiplayer show. It allows you to play any of the game’s 12 levels with a maximum of 16 players. 16! It’s pure and utter chaos at that point. I would definitely recommend going for a slightly more manageable number of players to make the chaos a little more controlled. It is a real treat, though, to experience the game with so many other players. It makes the game move even faster than before; levels that took an hour now take twenty minutes. Like I said: chaos.
Survival mode is exactly what it sounds like, you fight an endless number of enemies and try to kill as many of them as you can before you die. Because you’re going to die. Unlike recent horde modes, Survival Mode in BFE doesn’t have waves. The enemies just keep coming until you die. You can play it solo, in split screen with up to 4 players or with up to 8 players online. There only two maps which is pretty sparse, so the survival mode feels a little tacked on. Hopefully more maps will be added in the future.
The multiplayer also feels a little tacked on, as there are only 3 maps. That’s right, 3. Technically the game lists there being 4, but 2 of them are the same map with different weapon placements. There is a hybrid co-op/versus mode though. In it, you play the campaign cooperatively but every time you get 10,000 points, you get to kill one of your teammates. I would love to tell you it’s awesome, but I can’t because there’s a slight problem with Serious Sam’s multiplayer. Not many people are playing. November doesn’t seem like it was the best time BFE could have been released considering how many games have come out recently. Hopefully things will pick up and the community will become more active because it seems like there is a lot of potential for fun.
BFE has some really tight graphics. They’re not mind blowing from a technical or artistic sense, but the number of options that you have is pretty incredible. So many games today are limiting the number of options that you have. BFE actually has a very easy way to customize your graphical detail without having to mess with too much stuff. But, it also gives you an insane amount of control, even down to the number of dead bodies that the game renders. The game is optimized extremely well too. I don’t have the most high-end computer, far from it, but I was able to play the game on medium-high settings with a solid FPS of around 50 even when there were hundreds of enemies on screen.
Serious Sam is all about fun. ALL about fun. You’re not going to find a compelling plot here or overly complex combat. It’s all about the shooting of aliens and it does that really well. To the game’s credit, it’s surprisingly more complex than previous games in the series because of things like melee, sprinting and aiming down the barrel, but it’s still not what I would call “deep.” But if you’re looking for “deep,” then you’re not looking for a Serious Sam game.
2011 has been a momentous year if only because it saw the release of two games featuring some of gaming’s biggest old school icons: Duke Nukem and Serious Sam. But where Duke Nukem Forever failed, Serious Sam has picked up the torch, just like he did in 2001. Serious Sam 3: BFE does one thing: lets you kill HUGE numbers of aliens at a nearly unrelenting pace. But it does that one thing well. If that sounds like a good time to you, then I recommend BFE without reservation. For everyone else, this is great throwback to the way shooters used to be that is definitely worth a look.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.