Most people don’t have a certain definition for what they call “a bad day”. Serious Sam, however, does, and it isn’t a very nice definition. Not to imply that Sam isn’t an able write. No, I’m talking about how the events of Serious Sam 3: BFE all take place in the course of just one day, and trust me, you wouldn’t want to be in Sam’s shoes during that particular day. Or would you? After all, the game is insanely fun. If you thought the original games, and their HD remakes were a blast to play, then think again, because Sam 3 is even better, and even crazier.
Maybe you’ve never played any of the Serious Sam games. If you haven’t, then think of it this way: what if you took Doom, gave it an intriguing backstory, a colorful art style, colossal boss battles, ugly yet deadly enemies, and more explosive ordnance than you could shake a stick at? Then you’d have the Serious Sam series. BFE, its newest installment, mostly follows that same formula, with a few significant, and substantial improvements that make it more than just a retread over past ground.
There’s a bigger focus on hand-to-hand engagements. Sam’s puny military knife, and his nearly useless chainsaw have both been replaced with the fearsome sledgehammer, which has three attacks – a downwards swing, a sideways swing, and a 360-degree rotating attack that’ll kill anything standing anywhere near you. There’s also the brand new melee takedowns, which are a blast to use. With the push of a button, Sam will grab the closest enemy and execute a first-person fatality move. These things are pretty awesome: they allow you to save ammo and take your enemies down in style, but they’re not too overpowered either. Make no mistake: if you don’t know how to use this properly, it’s you who’s going to get slaughtered. The only problem is that they’re not that well animated, and sometimes, the same type of attack is used for different enemies.
However, all these don’t just push Serious Sam away from his true calling: big weapons. Not at all. In fact, Sam’s arsenal in BFE is probably the greatest he’s ever had on his hands. Useless weapons like the grenade launcher are gone, and situational appliances like the flamethrower have also been expunged. Most, if not all of the weapons have been extensively redesigned and rebalanced, though I found it really odd that the year is 2104, but he’s just using Desert Eagles and M4 carbines. Sam even gets some new toys to play with, like the Devastator, a bulky shotgun that fires explosive shells (buying the Deluxe Edition gives it a sniper scope which makes it even more versatile and useful); and C4 explosive charges that come in handy for both offense and defense. There’s also the brand new Sirian Mutilator, or “The Arrow”: a golden bracelet that fires a blue laser beam capable of slicing your enemy into bits. You can even catch multiple enemies in one beam, and pulverize them all in one hit. However, it also tends to be rather situational, and one of its more impressive and useful attacks is restricted to co-op play.
But the most disappointing thing by far? Two of Sam’s most beloved and fun-to-use weapons: the Lasergun, and the Sniper Rifle are secret-only. That’s right – you won’t get them in the main path. You’ll have to go out of your way to look for them. Not cool, Croteam. Not cool. I understand that these were relatively late additions to the game, but surely they could have found some sort of place for them within the actual game.
However, the gameplay itself is completely intact. In fact, it’s better than ever. This time, there really is no place to hide. That wall you’re hiding behind? All it takes is one Sirian Werebull charge to bring it down, leaving you dangerously exposed. No Werebulls in this wave, you say? No problem – one salvo of missiles from the towering Scrapjack, and that wall is gone. But hey, maybe you’ve found one of the rare indestructible walls in the game. Don’t get too excited – the brand new Witch-Brides can use their telepathic abilities to lift you right off the ground, into the line of fire of all those enemies you were too busy hiding from.
Yes, Serious Sam 3 is an unforgiving game. Just like the good old days, death is a familiar occurrence, not some sort of bizarre event that happens every full moon. You’ve got quicksaving to keep your progress intact, though, so don’t worry. And there’s also a handy autosave system just in case you get too immersed into the carnage. The game’s length is also pretty great: 12 levels, just like The First Encounter. The levels themselves are really, really long. Some of them can take half an hour, nearly one hour, one hour, or, in the case of the final level, nearly two hours. In total, you’ll get a good 12 hours (if not more) out of your first run through the campaign; not counting multiplayer, coop or any subsequent playthroughs for achievements, higher leaderboard stats or on higher difficulty levels.
There’s also a number of new mechanics that intend to modernize the underlying game formula, such as aiming, reloading, and sprinting. The sheer volume of fanboy tears that were shed when these features were first revealed does not, contrary to popular belief, ultimately exceed their usefulness. I say this because these things fit perfectly in Serious Sam, and they only make the game play a whole lot better. Sprinting allows you to get out of a tight spot, reloading forces you to think about what weapon you’re going to use and how much ammo you still have, and aiming is a balanced-out deal that doesn’t harm the overall gameplay. Leave your prejudices at the door – hating on “ironsights” got old two years ago.
Another department where BFE performs better than nearly every single game out there is porting. Actually, there is no porting. BFE was developed, from the ground up, for the PC. Lead platform, timed exclusive. Very well optimized – I managed to nearly max the game out on my 2-year old rig. File size is also remarkably small – you won’t need to clear out your hard-drive for Sam 3. Since it’s a Steamworks game, Steam functionality is very well done. There’s a dedicated server tool, right out of the box, and you’ve got the excellent Serious Editor toolset for your mod tool needs.
As fun as the gameplay is, the graphics, and the art style can be a bit drab and mundane at times. While the HD remakes looked absolutely gorgeous and rivaled Crysis in terms of graphical beauty, BFE instead looks pretty ugly, and this is a real shame, considering that they’re using one of the most powerful engines currently out there. Don’t get me wrong – when maxed out, it can look good in terms of graphical horsepower, but it’s just not a very pretty game.
The story is a lot more well-done this time around as well: there’s actual characters! Your objectives and tasks aren’t transmitted through dull tactical reports from NETRICSA – you receive them through radio calls, from your commanding officer, Quinn. And the ending also features a pretty monumental plot twist that left me in a state of genuine shock. Mostly, the tone and atmosphere is a lot more… serious, ironically. It fits, since this is, ultimately, a tale of mankind’s demise, and as such, this should be a bit more sombre in tone. But I’m still pretty disappointed that all of the hilarious easter eggs and weird jokes are gone.
The soundtrack is very well-done as well. Monsters and weapons alike sound meaty, strong and threatening, voice acting is pretty great, and the music is some of the best I’ve heard all year, although there’s a number of “WAR” fight tracks that are meant to be a throwback to the classic battle songs in The Second Encounter. Instead, they end up sounding painfully mundane. They just end up sounding dull, ugly and plain bad.
The strange thing is they had three separate artists doing these “WAR” fight tracks: Damjan Mravunac (composed BFE’s main soundtrack, has been composing Serious Sam music since 2001, and used to do some really great battle music in The First Encounter before Croatian rock band Undercode took over for The Second Encounter), Undercode (that did The Second Encounter’s most notable fight tracks back in 2002, but nearly 10 years later, they just sound awful) and Synthetic Scar (some other Croatian band that don’t manage to offer a more satisfying sound), and none of them manage to give us the incredible rock anthems Serious Sam fans fell in love with back in 2002.
And there’s also some really awesome online offerings. There’s a roughly equal focus on multiplayer and coop, but the multiplayer (as in the versus modes) isn’t quite as fun as it used to be, although this may be due to the rather lackluster level design present in these versus maps. Coop, however, is absolutely incredible. You have support for up to 16 players (that’s 4 times the amount of people you’d get in your average Left 4 Dead game), and the netcode is very well done (200 ping feels like 100). There’s also a really fun Survival mode that pits you against a never-ending stream of, just in case you don’t want to replay the campaign all over again. And just in case versus, coop and survival gameplay all leave you wanting more, there’s an excellent Beast Hunt mode that combines deathmatch with coop, resulting in an incredibly fun and perilous experience.
As a whole, Serious Sam 3: BFE is one of the finest first-person shooters I have ever played. It’s one of the most fun games I’ve played in the past decade, and I personally believe it’s a must-buy for anyone who wants to play a pure-action, maniacal shooter that isn’t afraid to kick your ass.