Serious Sam: The Second Encounter improves upon its predecessor in almost every way imaginable.
Over the past few decades, there have been hundreds of first person shooters. But while most of them have been trying to move towards realism and authenticity that have resulted in formulaic stagnation, in 2001, Croatian developer Croteam did quite the opposite by going back to the genre’s roots. Serious Sam: The First Encounter was their attempt to do a very traditional shooter. Not only did the game feel like a classic game similar to Doom or Quake, but it also featured some fresh additions that resulted in a title unlike anything else. Thankfully, a year after the first Serious Sam’s release, a direct sequel that improved upon its predecessor in almost every way imaginable came out.
Fans of The First Encounter probably remember Sam “Serious” Stone traveling through time to save our world from a group of alien invaders. Right after defeating the last boss, Sam is transported into a giant starship. But as the hero tries to figure out how the spaceship works, there’s an accident that destroys the galactic vehicle, forcing Sam to make an unexpected stop on Earth. From there on, the main objective is to retrieve the Holy Grail and throughout the game, you’ll visit various dissimilar places, including Mesoamerica, ancient Babylon and Eastern Europe.
The inclusion of a wide variety of exotic locales (such as lush forests, temples reminiscent of ancient Latin American civilizations and so on) allows some inviting changes in level design. The most noticeable one is the fact that the levels are much bigger. But apart from vast environments, the expertly designed levels introduce some inventive mechanics. For example, a level is a giant tube that keeps rotating. In other levels, the floor is a trampoline that catapults you and all your enemies upward. Then there’s a similar one in which the walls are elastic instead of the floor. There are also corridors where your perception is changed and the only way to make it to the other side of the room is by walking straight. If you fail to do this, the thousands of sharp sticks on the wall will impale you.
What’s great about these levels is that the game mixes them with the hectic action so characteristic of the series. As soon as you make it to a new environment, you’ll be welcomed by hundreds of fierce foes. The fondly remembered enemies of the first game are all here in addition to half a dozen new ones, including a monster armed with two powerful rocket launchers, some gargantuan bosses, rotating cannons, a fiend that shoots fire projectiles and my personal favorite, Cucurbito the Pumpkin, an angry constructor worker who has a pumpkin instead of a head and is armed with a chainsaw.
As a way of letting you deal with all these enemies, the arsenal of weapons from the first Serious Sam has been expanded. Among the new weapons you can find a flamethrower, a sniper rifle and a chainsaw. But with these weapons alone the game would still be really difficult. Fortunately, some new bonus items have made their way into this sequel. These are: Serious Damage that allows you to make more damage, Serious Speed that lets you run faster and the Serious Bomb that causes a massive explosion, killing everything in range.
When all these elements combine (the enemies, weapons, bonus items and varied level design,) Serious Sam: The Second Encounter acquires this strategic quality to it. Strategic in the sense that each environment is teeming with foes that have their own strengths and weakness and you need to find the most effective way of defeating them with the set of tools the game provides. This strategic approach suits The Second Encounter quite well and adds depth to what could have been a really shallow and mindless experience.
Additionally, the title retains the self-aware humor so proper of its prequel. This is a game that’s not afraid to laugh at itself. For example, secrets include tombs where the developers hide, a museum that keeps replicas of the bosses of the first game and there’s even a movie set with a small scale representation of the final battle of The First Encounter. Sam utters some shameless one-liners that make reference to other popular games such as Tomb Raider and are reminiscent of Duke Nukem and there are also secret telephone booths scattered across the environments that Sam uses to make prank calls or long distance calls with humorous results.
Regarding the multiplayer portion of the game, there aren’t that many changes, which is actually good because The First Encounter offered pretty much everything you’d want out of a shooter of this kind. The game can be played cooperatively and there are some competitive modes as well. Sadly, there aren’t that many players in the multiplayer modes, so if you’d like to play with or against others make sure you have a couple of friends with copies of the game.
In conclusion, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is the best sequel that a fan of the original could hope for. It’s not perfect though: there are some minor bugs, the huge environments dilute the experience at times, the breakneck action can be too overwhelming and the hand-holding approach can become annoying. But like the original Doom, The Second Encounter has moments that offer a great sense of triumph and reward. And satisfying moments like those are more than worth the price of admission.