Let me tell you what you can do with your green eggs...
When was the last time you looked at your shirt tag and saw "Made in Croatia"? Can you name a beer brewed there? A car? Have you ever in your life heard of anything significant produced in this small European country that is apparently a great secret vacation spot? In fact, the only time we hear about Croatia is in the little blurbs in the news surrounding the constant wars in the area.
Well, that may change if the developers at Croteam have anything to say about it. Out of the small war torn country comes an impressive new FPS engine: the "Serious" engine. And what better way to introduce a new game engine than to develop a solid game and sell it super-cheap?
Enter Serious Sam, a new FPS that offers more enemies than two rival anthills. The setting is pre-Ancient Egypt, before the Pharaohs and Gods that fill our history books were around. Apparently, there once existed a civilization more technologically advanced than NASA. This civilization held powers great enough to take over the world in a plan even more diabolical than this!
On an archaeological dig, someone unearthed a relic from these times allowing a single person passage through time. The problem is that it's a one-way ticket to an overpopulated, high-tech ancient world filled with monsters. Of course, you play Sam "Serious" Stone, the lucky ticket holder with the task of hopping back in time to destroy an entire civilization. At least they gave you a knife and a handgun.
Serious Sam plays a lot like Doom, but with more enemies. Way more. Like, the most EVER. And they just keep coming and coming, like roaches to a donut. You just blast away like a madman...and it's lots of fun.
Part of the fun is that the enemy types are just bizarre. At one point, a headless mutant with bombs in place of his hands comes screaming over the edge of a bluff. You blow him away...only to then hear about 30 more screams as a wave of his brethren come billowing forth. The sheer mania of thousands of enemies swarming your way is a gas, and they never really let the foot off the pedal.
Battling hordes of enemies has its ups and downs. It definitely keeps you on your toes and the adrenaline rush is great, but after half a dozen levels it gets kind of old and repetitive. However, if you need to practice for a Quake III tournament, Serious Sam is a great way to warm up the trigger finger.
The graphics in Serious Sam are an interesting amalgam. The pseudo-Egyptian hieroglyphics are vibrant and nicely detailed, while a lot of the widely open areas are bland, with little coloration. But as a whole, the environments, light sourcing, fog, mist and shadows are more than adequate. And whatever they did to avoid distortion at close range worked, because when viewing textures up close they only get a slightly grainy - no pixelation or blur. It's some of the best around. The enemies are also well-rendered, with plenty of detail and effects.
However, framerates seem to drop a little and the game gets a bit choppy when levels are loading or there is too much action onscreen, even on a solid machine. All you vertigo-prone gamers, beware.
The sound is rich and immersive, especially with an Environmental Audio compatible sound card and a set of surround-sound speakers. This really helps when you're being hunted by hoards of minions from both the front and back.
There are tons of secrets to find, most hidden behind sections of wall, again simliar to Doom. If you pay enough attention, you'll start to see that certain items in the game act as triggers for other events. Pick up the health pack and you are instantly surrounded...again. Nothing's free!
Multiplayer is an option, but I have yet to find a smooth game. Cable and DSL users will find it much more stable, but modem users shouldn't bother (unless you set up a server and let others join you). The cool thing is that like Quake II, a cooperative mode is offered allowing a team of players to play through the single-player missions. This is a great idea if you have a twin-view video card and two monitors (all four of you).
I have already found a bunch of mods to Serious Sam, including some crazy deathmatch levels and games, so it goes to show that the developers made it easy for people to work with the engine. Hopefully we'll start seeing more mods stemming from devoted fans of this new workhorse.
Included on the disk is a "technology test," which is really just a showcase of what our new Croatian friends can do. If you have a high-end machine, there are some impressive textures, shading, lighting tricks and models to explore and drool over.
Frankly, Serious Sam is a serious bargain; with a MSRP of around $20, you definitely get your money's worth. The hectic gameplay and nifty little engine coupled with the low price and the prospect of mods on the way make this a no-brainer.