Serious Sam: Next Encounter
...and why games should be less realistic
There was something almost ritualistic as I scoured my attic for the Playstation 2, blew the dust out of the disk-drive and fired it up. Seeing the green and blue lights flicker back to life brought joy and nostalgia into my ever-growing smile. Next to its predecessor it looked like a worn out and tired older brother. There I was, ladies and gentlemen, finally breathing life into my battered old heap of outdated electronics that we know and love as the PS2. What did I perform this ritual for? You may ask. Well, boredom of "realistic" shooters has, at last, overwhelmed me; so I went crawling back to Serious Sam: Next Encounter.
When attempting to play a game like Serious Sam you have to forget everything people have told you about what makes a good game. This is no Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2; in fact if it weren't for the way that both games involve guns they couldn't be any more different. You want a "compelling" story where one or more of the playable characters is bound to die, do you? What you're getting isn't a story, it's an excuse. An excuse to send the player through as many time periods as possible as they hunt down a mysterious alien artefact. Hell... you don't even have to play as the main protagonist; if you want you can play as a spaceman. You want graphics so fine you can see each individual hair on the enemies backs, do you? This game is a port of a game made in 2002 for the PC and even for the time the graphics were laughably simple. You want a wonderful music score composed by the like of Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy, do you? Uh... piss off...
In essence, Serious Sam: Next Encounter is a hybrid of a FPS and an Arcade game. You shoot at things that look at you the wrong way but you gain points as you do so and can even stack up combos for extra bonuses. You have probably realised then, that Serious Sam: Next Encounter is charmingly ironic in the way that it is, by no stretch of the imagination, serious. The game revolves around creating as much carnage as possible and does everything it can to inflate the mayhem. This is shown quite artfully in the very first level. The game places you in an arena, with a minigun and waves of approaching enemies. It gives you a friendly push into a level and declares "just have fun!".
The philosophy of "just have fun" is one that has, until very recently, been dwindling. Unlike yesteryear when games like Serious Sam and the very similar Duke Nukem were doing the rounds, we now drown in a sea of "realistic" and "compelling" shooters as the gaming industry tries to desperately copy Hollywood. Just look at the droves of such games that sell so well: Call of Duty, Gears of War, Halo, Battlefield etc. etc... I could probably go on for hours. All the listed games have you shooting similar looking soldiers in similar looking places. While Serious Sam has you fighting hordes of mini-chariot riders and Tripods from War of the Worlds in ancient Rome. Which would you say sounds like a more fun experience?
Things have been looking better more recently, games like ModRacing and Little Big Planet target an audience that yearns for an exciting game, one that doesn't weigh you down by moral choices or impending doom. The rising Indie-game community is helping immensely by releasing a torrent of games that you can easily waste a few hours on without questioning your actions. N has been immensely popular but does it have a story? Are the graphics good? Is there any character development? No, no and most definitely no. I am one of many who play games to relax and have fun, which is why Serious Sam: Next Encounter is so perfect.
The guns in the game steer clear of titles filled with a mish-mash of numbers and letters. You get guns like "The Shotgun", "The Uzis", "The Flamethrower" and, my personal favourite, "The Rocket Launcher". Everything in Serious Sam is simple, and therefore accessible. I know that the shotgun is good at short range and that's all I need to know. Factors like rate of fire, accuracy, mobility and all these other categories that recent games have weighed themselves down with don't matter when playing Serious Sam. All that matters is having fun.
As if this game wan't retro enough to make you dizzy, the inclusion of a health bar may make you faint with nostalgic joy. More so when you realise that this isn't a hybrid health bar that incorporates itself with the ever-so-common "regenerate limbs when in cover" system. You refill the bar by picking up health packs and can even add another bar in the form of a shield. Some may accuse this game of giving you rather too much health and giving you too many health packs. But challenge was never something that Serious Sam was going for. I played the game on hard difficulty (admittedly there is one harder level "Serious") with a friend and between us we died around 6 times in 3 hours. That was by using only the rocket launcher and pistols as well. And what happens when you die? Well you wait 5 seconds and you stand back up again! Why would it do this? Because starting from checkpoints and redoing parts is boring.
The previously mentioned variety of enemies is something that never fails to impress with this game. You can expect to encounter giant, green mutants that spit poison at you, men with rockets strapped to their backs who act like suicide bombers and even gigantic robot scorpions with chain guns for pincers. The enemies go down pretty quickly due to moderate health and the fact that the auto-aim may as well be renamed the aimbot. The chaos of the game lies in the fact that there are just so many enemies trying to kill you at any given moment. At regular intervals Serious Sam places you in a courtyard and sends waves of about 50 enemies at a time at you. The effect is invigorating and crazy, especially when you start killing 6 enemies at once with one sniper rifle bullet. What adds to this experience are the constant one liners that manage to be cheesy yet still funny. Lines like "a jumping puzzle? Why would I ever be doing a jumping puzzle?".
It's probably already been decided in you head as to whether Serious Sam: Next Encounter is a game for you. If you want a breath of fresh air from the sea of "intense" shooters that plague the market and you want that air at a bargain price then this is definitely the game for you.
It's great for playing with friends, for relaxing and most of all, for having fun.
This article is just me trying out something new, if you liked/ didn't like it be sure to leave a comment stating why as that would be really helpful. Thanks for reading.
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