Review: Serious Sam: The Next Encounter HD

Serious Sam: The First Encounter first strode onto the scene in 2001 and laughed in the face of the progressive thematic elements that its brethren were exploring at the time. While retro shooters such as Doom and Duke Nukem paved the way forward and other first-person shooters were busy tackling more mature themes, this adrenaline-laden thrill ride threw caution to the wind and in the process trash-talked its way into the hearts of gamers everywhere. In a somewhat ironic twist, Sam did things a lot less seriously than the competition.

The flippant, frenetic fun that Serious Sam fought to preserve within the genre has all but dissipated as of late, but developer Croteam has taken steps to ensure that current-gen gamers who may have missed their rendezvous with Mr. Stone in 2001 have a fresh chance at redemption. The cult favorite run-and-gun extravaganza of old has been graced with a smart, snappy redux of its former self: Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter. You’ll find the reworked title (itself a significant upgrade to the recent PC re-release) nestled among the confines of Xbox Live. While it isn’t imperative that you put your hard-earned $15 (1200 Microsoft Points) toward this blast from the past, the release ironically serves as a breath of fresh air that you’d be daft to ignore without at least taking a look… especially if you’ve enjoyed campy games in the past.

For its console debut, The First Encounter pulls out all the stops. While it’s true that an Xbox port was eked out in the early 2000s, that title stripped players of the authentic experience by cutting levels short and by phoning in a lousy save system. This HD presentation is a bona fide representation of the very same game that so many enjoyed on the PC nearly a decade ago.

So, what can newcomers expect? Try an in-your-face romp through the deserts of Ancient Egypt, where you may as well have a juicy steak tied round your neck while floundering amidst a sea of starving Rottweilers. Everything you meet wants to kill you. Under the control of a malevolent alien known only as Mental, a cavalcade of enemies thirst for your blood. One way or another, they’ll get it. If you’re not quick to shoot them before they can shoot you, you’ll find yourself respawning much more frequently than should suit your tastes. The sheer number of foes that appear in any one level is mind-boggling. As you cut your way through hordes of skeleton beasts, headless suicide bombers and even robot scorpions, you’ll need your wits about you at all times.

Of course, there are plenty of weapons at Sam’s disposal. As he makes quips that wouldn’t be entirely unsuited to Mr. Nukem’s arsenal of one-liners, Sam will use Magnums, shotguns and even rocket launchers to blaze a trail through the afore-mentioned hordes. The action represents standard FPS fare, but the opportunity to mow down advancing waves of enemies never ceases to thrill. There are plenty to slice through, as well. Monsters spawn from all sides — in front of you, behind you, and exactly where you wouldn’t expect them. Be prepared to spray and pray. Over and over and over…

You’ll be fragging in style too, as this is the slickest Serious Sam yet. The crisp HD overhaul looks leagues better than the original PC release, though of course it’s not up to snuff when compared to the visual treats with which we’ve been spoiled in this present generation. Pounding techno and dramatic beats accompany your adrenaline-laden race through Egypt and still sound good doing it, but it’s Sam’s gruff one-liners that steal the show. Finally, the old save system remains intact here. The simple press of a button is enough to save your progress, something we can all be grateful for since you never can tell just when it’s prudent to bookmark your progress. At any time, death could lurk just around the next corner.

Though Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter is an exemplary title for those looking to satisfy their craving for golden age shooters, the pace is not suited for everyone (especially newcomers). It’s a hardcore offering in an unbelievably simple package. The recreation here is so faithful that it’s difficult not to recommend the game to everyone in spite of that hardcore bent, especially given the achievements and multi-player support. If you’ve never partied with Sam before, now is the best time to start. If you’re the sort who plays both PC and Xbox 360 games alike, deny the urge to use mouse-and-keyboard controls and go with this version instead. It trumps Steam’s offering by far.

So what are you waiting for? Get serious and dive into this fantastic port. First-person shooting doesn’t get much better than this!

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