Serious Sam is one of those rare experiences that only happen once every few years. Created by Croatian developer Croteam, the title successfully mixes elements of both Doom and Duke Nukem in an interesting and enthralling way. I’ve always found very surprising that many people call Serious Sam a mindless first-person shooter. I personally believe that the game involves an extremely strategic approach as the player needs to carefully plan his or her next move, trying not to trigger any deadly traps and quickly switching to more convenient weapons in order to make progress.
The game constantly encourages players to use different weapons from the varied arsenal as each type of enemy is weak to a specific type. The enemies themselves are expertly designed and ooze a lot of charm and personality. Additionally, each level is masterfully designed and surprisingly enough, they can hold hundreds (if not thousands) of enemies. Although you may die often (and believe me, you will,) it rarely feels like the game is at fault as the player is given the necessary tools to complete each level successfully. That doesn’t mean that Serious Sam is a cakewalk. On the contrary, this fast-paced shooter can be overly frustrating as incessant waves of enemies keep constantly coming towards you in large swarms and I definitely threw the controller more times that I would like to admit. But even so, finishing a level is eminently satisfying and the player will feel like he or she has achieved something and that is complemented by the lack of interruptions. Nothing disrupts the breakneck action, here there’s no emotional storytelling, lenient gameplay, obtuse puzzles, convoluted plot elements or even genre redefining components. This is a basic and raw first-person shooter that goes back to basics and one which intends to be both fun and funny. And it definitely succeeds.
Serious Sam draws inspiration from classic titles, but also adds new components that feel refreshingly unique even after years since its release. Sound integration is simply sublime and this nice touch encourages players to rely on their hearing to be able to clearly identify approaching enemies. The graphics engine may seem rudimentary and archaic nowadays, but when this game was released back in 2001, it was one of the best, mainly because it could run on almost any PC.
Moreover, the main gameplay is extremely involving and compelling and by the end of each level I felt exhausted, not for doing the same actions over and over again (shooting, jumping or dodging,) but because finishing a level requires a lot of effort on the player’s part. It’s worth pointing out that those people who don’t like action games should stay as far away from Serious Sam as they can. Its frantic pace, juvenile humor and huge level design may be way too overwhelming for those who prefer slower games. In addition, the relentless action rarely stagnates, the boss battles are gigantic and superb multiplayer options combine almost flawlessly, creating a consistent package that is easy to recommend to anybody who is willing to play a classic first-person shooter.
Serious Sam: The First Encounter is one of my personal favorite games not only because it captures the essence of classic shooters, but also because it provides a kind of visceral action that can’t be found anywhere else. Furthermore, this arcade-style shooter is still satisfying to this very day and the intense, yet elegant level design is incomparable and has aged extremely well. Unfortunately, some other aspects of the game don’t hold up as well as expected and even though this is an amazing title I wouldn’t call it revolutionary or groundbreaking as it doesn’t reinvent the first-person shooter genre. Instead it feels like the natural evolution of classic shooters. Nevertheless, mildly frustrating combat and outdated visuals shouldn’t prevent players from enjoying the game.
In the end, Serious Sam: The First Encounter is a well-executed action title with elements that tie seamlessly together and one that is eminently satisfying to play and hard to replicate. Oh and if you happen to have a theory about how the beheaded kamikazes are able to scream without a head, I would really appreciate it.