There is something peculiar about power fantasy in first person shooters, playing as muscular macho men wielding ridiculously big guns, spewing out one liners as they relentlessly gun down hapless monsters and men alike. Sure the industry standard may have changed over the years. Nowadays as an artistic medium, developers are keen on telling stories of three dimensional characters, conveying their emotions in such a way that the players relate to them emotionally and mentally. But that doesn’t mean the golden days of these over the top stereotypic walking death machines are over. In the past years we have seen the rebirth of classic badasses like Lo Wang, Doomguy, Duke Nukem (Wait…scratch that) and several new entries to the list such as Bombshell, Hellgore and even Dusk guy. Two weeks ago, another such badass was announced to make his return to kick ass and take names; Sam ‘Serious’ Stone, the undisputed hero of the Series Sam line of video games. Haven’t heard of Serious Sam? Such heresy!!! *Sigh* Well I guess I could take out my ever so beloved nostalgia goggles and teach you guys a few things. Dear fps fans, you’re going to love this one….
A Serious History
Serious Sam or Serious Sam- The First Encounter is a first person shooter developed by Croteam and published by Gathering of Developers. It was released on March 21st, 2001 and is the first game in the long running series. But one can’t talk about Serious Sam without talking about the developers Croteam and their origin. A group of 4 Croatian developers began their own studio called Croteam back in 1992. The studio would expand in the following years. But before hitting it big with Serious Sam, Croteam would start their humble beginning developing sports games for the Amiga. In 1996, Croteam began working on a 2.5 graphics engine called S-Cape3D. They intended to make a first person shooter similar to Doom, but with a strong focus on atmosphere. The first person project called Flesh would allow players extensive gibbing and removal of individual enemy limbs. The title would soon change its name to In The Flesh and the weapon models featured in it would go on to become the basis for Serious Sam alpha. In The Flesh soon dropped out of existence and the S-Cape3D engine was modified and renamed to be the Serious Engine. Soon after, Croteam began to tease their new game simply titled ‘Serious Sam‘, a game named after its protagonist in the veins of Duke Nukem 3D.
In 1999, an earlier version of Serious Sam was revealed by Croteam in a feature trailer. On may 30th, 2000, the first demo of Serious Sam was released to the public. The demo went unnoticed by many of the so called premium video game journalist sites. An interview the CEO of Croteam Roman Ribaric did with the website Old Man Murray caught the attention of publisher Gathering of Developers. A lot of the contents of the early build was cut to separate the game into multiple parts. Serious Sam- The First Encounter was released to the world on March 21st 2001. The game was received with positive critical acclaim from all over. The game was praised for its impressive graphics, fun shooting, big open levels and In the United States, Serious Sam: The First Encounter sold 83,000 copies by October 2001. TFE went on to receive several awards from various media outlets including GOTY from Gamespot.
A Serious Encounter
To be honest, I don’t precisely remember when I first played Serious Sam. That’s a first for me. I usually have photographic memory when it comes to games. But somehow SS evades my memories. Anyhow, I guess it was during 2005 that I first got to play SS. The weekly trip to the nearby internet cafe would prove fruitful in the sense that I met Sam Stone there. Most of you will probably know by now that I’m a sucker for fast paced fps. The last fps I had played was Painkiller and I absolutely loved the wave based shooting it represented. Serious Sam shoved wave after wave of enemies down your face for extermination. But it was bigger and grander in every regard. Frankly speaking, it impressed the hell out of me.
In TFE, you play as Sam ‘Serious’ Stone in a a futuristic Earth where a mysterious alien being called Chaad Sheen has unleashed all sorts of chaos. Humanity is in the brink of extinction and all that stands between humanity and destruction is Sam himself. Using an alien time travel technology, Sam decides to travel back in time to defeat Mental (Chaad Sheen) and change the course of history. If this doesn’t sound badass to you, I don’t know what will. Doom, Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior, all these have one thing in common; a lone hero who spits in the face of evil against all odds and sending them back to where they come from, one bullet at a time. Sam is truly a legend. With extreme bravery, he fights countless enemies and survives. He wears nothing but a pair of white T-shirt and blue jeans with the infamous red sneakers and sports a black shade, courtesy of Duke Nukem. As man whose love for his weapons is only matched by his hatred for puzzles, he fits the stereotypical action hero trope perfectly, and he’s loved for it. He’s the kind of man who, after blowing up a scream-charging suicidal kamikaze to pieces says “AAAAAAAAHHHHH Yourself!” Just like Duke Nukem, he has his set of iconic one liners, my favorite among them being; “Give a man a bullet, he’ll want a gun. Give a man a gun, he’ll be giving away the bullets!”. Is it cheesy? Yes. But does it sound cool? Hell yes!
Serious Sam- TFE isn’t loved just for its badass main character. The aspects that solidify BFE in the annals of first person shooters are obviously the gameplay. The game takes place in mostly large open areas in Egypt. These semi-linear levels are what separates Serious Sam from its contemporaries. It’s not often that you are railroaded down a specific path in BFE. The open areas are filled with weapon and item pickups and of course loads of secret areas. If you know what you are doing, then it’s not hard to find a rocket launcher in the first 3 minutes of gameplay. Truth be told, SS is my most favorite fps in terms of weapon selection. Taking your first weapon slot is your average melee weapon in the form of a combat knife. I seldom use it. Then you have your standard revolver that can be dual wielded. It’s not the most powerful gun, but it can get the job done. Then there is the pump action and double barreled shotgun (oh my love), a rapid firing Tommy gun, the ever so useful XM-214-A Minigun, the splash damage king XPMl21 Rocket Launcher, a grenade launcher, the pew-pew sounding laser rifle, and finally the awesome yet totally impractical looking SBC Canon (death personified). While most of these stand within the genre tropes, they are extremely fun to use and is so damn satisfying. Gunporn mmm…..Then you have your standard health and armor pickups that sustain your life in the literal sense of the word. You’ll be collecting them and losing them at a rapid rate throughout the game.
This generosity in items is balanced by the implementation of enemy spawns. The game uses the large environments as a means to dispatch wave after wave of a variety of enemies to murder you. The game sometimes throws so much enemies at you that I loose count. It is advised that you stay locked and loaded and circle strafing at all times for your sake. Trust me when I say that your mettle will be tested hard at this game. Especially at higher difficulties. The enemies in the game vary drastically in terms of speed and attack pattern. There is the beheaded human enemies of which the suicidal kamikaze are the most iconic. When you hear these guys charging, you sure as hell should maintain a safe distance and send them packing fast. The fast bull like Kleer Skeletons are of the toughest and most annoying enemies in the game. These guys can be encountered with a group of any size, from lone ones ambushing behind corners or triggered by traps to swarms in open areas. Then there are the large robotic Mechanoids that can spam you with rocket fire from afar. Minigun wearing Arachnoids use hitscan bullets and can drop your hp down to zero in the blink of an eye. The gigantic Lava Golems are best dispatched using the SBC Canon. There are lots of other enemies as well, but for the sake of keeping this article short, I’ve decided to skip them (no hard feelings harpies). The word Epic doesn’t even begin to describe the final boss fight with Ugh-Zan III. it. Combine that with the kickass music and you’ve got the stuff of legends. Serious Sam is a game that proves that shooters requires far more strategy than quick reflexes.
Other than the epic single player campaign, The First Encounter is known for its explosive 16 player co-op by which the campaign can be completed. Functions such as the amount of re-spawns, enemy health and extra co-op enemies can be modified before starting a game. There are also two competitive modes; death-match and score-match. These can also be played in offline mode’s split-screen mode. Chaotic, but an absolute blast. It’s pure fun man.
Serious Sam has enjoyed numerous sequels, prequels, spin-offs, VR titles and community projects. The Serious series consists of fourteen games as of now. Serious Sam was originally released for the PC running Windows, but because of its popularity, it has also been released to the Xbox, PlayStation 2, Gameboy Advance, and Xbox 360. Serious Sam: The First Encounter and its sequel The Second Encounter were packed into one package, named Serious Sam: Gold. The main series was followed by the less popular Serious Sam 2 and Serious Sam- BFE. A fourth canonical title called Serious Sam 4- Planet Badass was announced two weeks ago and is slated for release later this year.
Serious Sam- The First Encounter can be played in a multitude of ways. You can grab the originals from Steam or GOG, get the HD remasters or play them in Classics Revolution or Fusion, both of which are community made hubs. Whichever way you decide to play, TFE has excellent modern pc support and fill run flawlessly on all machines. HD and community versions features an active multiplayer community if you want to try that out.
It seems like I’ve rambled on for far too long. Serious Sam deserves it man. It’s a great fps. It’s fun, runs well, still holds up today and is the campaign is an absolute blast. It may not have reinvented the fps formula, but the large open levels, combined with the engaging gunplay makes for at least ten hours of quality fun. Let’s hope that Planet Badass lives up to the name of the series. With that said, I’ll be back next week with another forgotten gem in Retro Saturdays. Til then, enjoy the weekend and happy gaming.