The evil Mental and his minions waged battle against the Sirians long ago on Earth. In the 22nd century, Mental's forces return to our planet intent on wiping out the human race. Mankind rallies together in vain, but manage to get an item that can send one person back in time. The goal is to send their best hope to defeat Mental and change the course of history. Sam "Serious" Stone is that hope.
Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter is a re-release of the original game from 2001. Every object and texture has been visually invigorated for display in the Serious Engine 3. There are no new levels. There are no new enemies. This is not a re-imagining. Which leads to the question: is there enough of a reason to revisit the series? Certainly!
Much love was put into the Serious Engine 3 and it displays great potential for upcoming releases. High draw distances provide for outdoor levels on a massive scale. It allows unmatched frenetic action with what seems like hundreds of enemies on screen at once. Throw extreme firepower at them and watch chunks of innards fly every where. Wrapping up the game by battling Ugh-Zan III is one of the most memorable "big boss" battles you'll tackle, while simultaneously being a demonstration of what Serious Engine 3 can deliver.
Take some time and enjoy playing around with the Blood option, which gives you five choices. Choosing the standard red allows for exaggerated explosive enemies. However, try "Hippie" for a change to make flowers and pumpkins pop out instead of blood and gore. A hippie massacre will leave behind new flower beds instead of floors painted red. Selecting "Kids" switches it over to stars and lollipops. It really shows that Croteam's lightheartedness hasn't changed.
It's also easy to see the benefits of the new graphics engine by looking at screen shots. Characters have been given the overhaul they needed. Juvenile and Adult Arachnoids have great detail and a slight shine to their scales. Sirian Werebulls will kick up dust in the desert masking the approach of the myriads of other enemies chasing you. Kill a large creature (such as the aforementioned Werebull or Arachnoid) and watch them fall to the ground and disintegrate. This never gets old especially when the carcass slides off of a pillar and turns to ash as its falling. It's a great feeling to take one down and walk through their ashes.
Textures also look nice. The sky and the outside of buildings look great from a distance. Oasis, a level that happens about a third of the way into the game, shows promise and potential by displaying pristine water, lush vegetation, and green grass. The problem is that, as mentioned before, there is nothing new. It would have been nice to see some more architectural depth added to rectangular rooms and square pillars. They could also have created more than one type of light fixture to add at least a little variety.
Regardless of how it looks, nothing compares to the mile-a-minute action that Croteam cooked up earlier this decade. True, they rely on cheap scares such as having a Kleer Skeleton jump at you when you open a door. Every armor piece or large health in the middle of a room is sure to spawn a mass of enemies. That's the beauty of it, though. Players expect an all out adrenaline rush and Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter delivers like an injection to the heart. If you are approaching the point of crazed frustration, the moment you finally get past (insert any tough section here) provides a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
Forget stealth, forget regenerating shields, forget tactical leaning around corners. Go in with your guns blazing and pray that your trigger finger is faster than that Beheaded Kamikaze's sprint. As you run into a room and get assaulted by a mass of enemies, all thought is pushed out of your head as they make way for pure instinct. The only thing you might gasp is "I need a bigger gun!" while hoping you can make a fast enough switch. You'll blast through about 4,000 to 5,000 enemies in five to six hours.
Serious Sam HD also features achievements built-in to make it ready for the upcoming XBLA release. Most of them are pretty reasonable but you'll also find a few that will take a lot of effort. Load times are very quick on an average gaming rig. Depending on your PC, there are many options available to make it a smooth experience. Everything from simple resolution changes to the most advanced rendering options are available through the in-game menu.
The sound is sharp and certainly retains the exact feel of the original. Walking outdoors will frazzle you when you hear a random Scythian Witch-Harpy screech even when none are in sight. Weapon shots, armor pickups, and charging animals are all distinct to give audio cues about what's happening around the player. Old friends keyboard and mouse make a triumphant return and handle as expected.
Playing on the PC gives the ability to take part in up to sixteen player co-op. At the time of this review, it's a little hard to find multiplayer games. There are always a few available but they have higher-than-acceptable pings for such a fast paced game. Dedicated servers have already been announced as in the works. If it pans out then that should make finding a game with low enough latency much easier. Serious Sam HD would be a good addition to a LAN Party, even if only to give a "palate cleanser" between more serious games.
Once you are able to join a game, blasting through the campaign with other humans adds even more fun to the mix. Weapons, ammo and armor recharge quick enough to allow each person to get what they need. There are options to mess with such as player caps and difficulty settings to tailor the experience to the group's preference. Being able to save a buddy or use them as a meat shield creates a new facet to the online challenge.
The frantic action has returned. After all of this, the original question remains: is it worth your money to play Serious Sam in HD? With such a small price tag, it's hard not to recommend the game. If you have never stepped into the shoes of Sam Stone, there is no better time than now. Pick up a copy and prepare for non-stop action that will draw you back in for at least a second play through.
If you have played the original then you know already if you're going to love the game. It's worth every penny just to revisit the single player experience but the co-op adds extra value. Croteam has allowed this repackaging as more of a nod to fans and make no pretense about stuffing bonus content into the game. Knowing exactly what you'll get for a budget price makes this even sweeter. Call it what you want, but whatever you do choose to say should translate to "buy this now if you are a shooter fan."