Review: Serious Sam: The Random Encounter

When I was a young whippersnapper, Serious Sam meant a flurry of indomitable enemies, plenty of gunpower, and Sam’s bad attitude to keep things moving along. These days, or at least in the case of Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, part of the Serious Sam Indie Series, it means RPG mechanics, sprites, and old-school grinding.

Initially, I wasn’t quite sure how to handle such a strange combination. But then I realized that The Random Encounter took an occasionally dull FPS favorite of mine and successfully remade it into a turn-based role-playing game. Everything changed in that moment. The Random Encounter is a quick and dirty diversion that, for the meager price of five dollars, offers a new perspective on familiar characters and gameplay that should help tide you over until Serious Sam 3: BFE hits store shelves in late November.

Sam and his crew traverse a gorgeously retro overworld rife with simple puzzles, loot, and plenty of items. There are also, as the title so snidely implies, plenty of random encounters. In fact, a good portion of the game is comprised of said encounters. They simplify the best elements of turn-based battles and offer a sense of urgency that I never quite feel from similar games in the genre. Once you make contact with a monster, you’re tossed into a deliciously retro scuffle that pits Sam and his party against a rush of several different enemies. With what weapons and ammunition you’ve found lying around the surrounding environments, you’ll choose suitable arms, then take aim to obliterate the competition. Just like in a normal RPG, the delay between actions means that you’ll instead rely on considerable usage of strategy.

Enemy attacks may be avoided by simply maneuvering Sam and his cohorts up and down along the playing field during battle, so it’s prudent to keep a watch out while planning your next move. Bullets whiz by through the potholes created by the spaces between party members. When you’re on the defensive, keeping from harm is much like staying alive in a game such as Ikaruga or Deathsmiles.

Unfortunately, three people in a party make the process much more difficult than you might suppose, especially when it comes to gauging the trajectory of bullets fired by several enemies at a time. This results in many more losses than should be necessary given the array of destructive weapons that you have at your disposal. The sheer number of enemies within some encounters makes surviving to see another day nearly impossible at many points as well, which is more than a little frustrating considering that the game takes only about an hour to complete. Still, the chaos does evoke some of the same feelings that the original Serious Sam games did, that question of “when will it all end?” I can certainly get behind that.

Aside from the aforementioned pitfalls, combat and the game in general are both quite streamlined. There are no stats with which to concern yourself, and the few difficult-to-navigate areas can quickly be cleared. The Random Encounter ends almost as fast as it begins, but your five bucks get you a punchy, colorful, and vivid throwback to the heyday of the RPG, mashed up with all the violent insanity of Serious Sam. Fans who need their next fix would do well to check out the previous indie offering Double D in addition to this quickie, simply to serve as a great palate cleanser before jumping right back into the hotbed of ravenous monsters that is the Serious Sam universe. The Random Encounter is short, sweet, and certainly a breath of fresh air for what is quickly becoming a stagnant genre.

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