When life's frustrations and disappointments are getting you down, it's a good idea to have a scapegoat handy. A punching bag or one of those lame little stress balls usually do the trick.
Some days, though, require like a thousand scapegoats, all running at you screaming, and a mini-gun. Such serious moments require equally serious measures, and Global Star Software attempts to offer a solution in the form of Serious Sam: Next Encounter for the PS2. Unfortunately, the game that helped redefine utterly brainless first-person fragging is woefully lost underneath more problems than a weekend in Iraq.
Part of the problem is that Next Encounter wasn't developed by Croteam, the wunderkinds behind the original game and the solid Xbox port of a few years back. Instead, Climax Entertainment is responsible, and while they've been around for a while and have put out some decent games, this sure ain't one of "em.
Wielding an arsenal of doomsday devices and merciless machine-guns, Sam wades into battle over and over against throngs of headless, suicidal zombies, walking alien robo-stalkers and little green mouths with useless arms. New to the first-person carnival of carnage are some utterly inane platform sequences, a couple chaotic killing sprees involving a rocket-mounted jeep, and an online deathmatch option.
The platform sequences are a joke. Serious Sam is supposed to run around and kill things. If he could jump around and kill things, that'd be fine too, but the irritating moving platforms are, sadly, indestructible. Nothing should be allowed to move in a Sam game if it can't die. Platforming in a first-person shooter? The developers clearly were sniffing glue when they decided this was what Serious Sam needed to compete.
The driving levels are chaotic, but not exactly fun. Yes, you can run things down, but nothing ever tries to escape. If the enemies turned and bolted at the sight of your monstrous war-machine and then you ran them down, well, that would be something. But the fact that the enemies just stand there and die makes it all seem pointless. If the enemies don't value their lives, then why do I care about taking them?
There is one new gameplay dynamic that could have delivered Serious Sam: Next Encounter from its status as bargain bin refuse. If Sam kills enough baddies in a relatively short amount of time he'll go on a "Killing Spree', moving and firing much faster than normal. It sounds like a good idea, but isn't implemented well. The Killing Sprees can't be extended by continuing to kill enemies, which would have added an incentive to keep the fragging streak going as long as possible.
Perhaps due to the limited hardware of the PS2 and the developers' inability to get anything better out of it, there simply aren't as many enemies in this Sam as its much better predecessors. They do keep coming, but the odds at any given moment never seem as dire as they have in the past. As a result, it's hard enough to link the kills together for one Killing Spree, much less two.
What should have been the game's centerpiece winds up as merely another mediocre stone left unturned. If the developers had allowed the Killing Sprees to go on indefinitely and had thrown in enough enemies so that, theoretically, you could put together one long Killing Spree through the entire game, then Next Encounter might be worth talking about.
Instead, it's Serious Sam Lite hamstrung by terrible graphics. Next Encounter practically looks like a PSX game. The terrain and enemies are so incredibly, extravagantly, bizarrely unimpressive that I feel myself forced, goaded even, into utilizing all exotic manner of hyperbole and meaningless diction to make writing about them even vaguely rewarding. Textures are bland, edges are jagged and the effects are unpolished. The framerate isn't bad - I'll give "em that - but the graphics are still awful.
The game sounds like the original, but all I remember of the original are the screaming, headless zombie men. Wait'screaming AND headless? Oh Serious Sam, you confusing little devil, you!
The only thing Serious Sam: Next Encounter has going for it is its multiplayer options. You can play one on one split-screen deathmatches, cooperatively (though your friend will hate you for choosing to play this instead of really any other FPS), or online deathmatches with up to seven other players. However, the arenas really need some work. The level design is fine for killing mindless enemies in single-player, but human players need more cover and traps and secrets. Without anything to do other than go for the big guns and circle-strafe, the multi-play fizzles.
There is a time and place for games like Serious Sam: Next Encounter " not soon and not here. If you want a console version of Serious Sam, go look into the Xbox version or just find a cheap copy of the PC original. Next Encounter is a serious waste of time.