When I flipped on the news today, I was presented with several depressing stories, all of which were frightening and none of which were in my power to resolve. Our President is widely acknowledged to be a moron (especially in Canada), there may or may not be terrorists trying to blow up my bathroom, and the entire political game got owned by those crotchety old GOPs. Wish I had me a BFG.
According to whiny politicians like Joe Lieberman. games are the source of all evil because they apparently poison children's minds with violence and bloodlust. But at least you get to kick ass, and nothing is better for the old noggin' than a little victory here and there (especially when everything in the news claims you either are a victim of this or that, or are about to be).
Such alleviation of stress through ownage is generally called 'cathartic.' It can now also be called Serious Sam.
Serious Sam for the Xbox, published by Gotham Games and developed by Croteam, is just what the doctor ordered if you suffer from complications related to being alive in an insane world. Nothing is complicated in Serious Sam, leastwise the plot. You are Sam and you kill EVERYTHING.
There are simple puzzles here and there which require you to push this switch to get that key to open some door, but most are just pretext for sending tons of monsters at you as soon as any switch is touched or any key is grabbed. From Fiendian Reptiloid Demons to Cucurbito the Pumpkin to Serian Werebulls, Sam has to kill tons of bad-ass enemies at every turn.
While the enemies are basically fodder before your arsenal of rockets, grenades, lasers and flames, many of the baddies can dish out serious damage. Some fire green blobs of heat-seeking pain, while others go for the more personal, evisceration-via-huge-spikey-pain approach. And chances are, you'll be fighting about a dozen of each at a time.
Sam's weaponry should be extremely familiar to first-person shooter fans (especially Doom II, from which much inspiration was clearly taken). You have shotguns, handguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, chainsaws, flamethrowers, plasma blasters, and the Serious bomb (which kills everything on-screen). Unlike Doom II, which went for a certain anxiety factor via low ammunition availability, Serious Sam treats you to tons of bullets and tons of monsters to put 'em through.
The action is like something out of an old-school arcade game (Smash TV comes to mind). You enter an arena, which is typically wide open (although occasionally you'll battle in temples and alleyways), and then the enemies come. First they scream, though, which is helpful since you'll know what scourge you're dealing with and which gat to blast 'em with before you even see them.
The only problem here is that it gets a little redundant. You'll basically jump and circle strafe until everything around you is reduced to chunky red polygons. You always bust out the chainsaw when assaulted by melee monsters, and always go for something like the shotgun or rocket launcher to put the biggest holes in the biggest baddies. This is where a plot might have helped. While there are some humorous cut-scenes, killing the same enemies the same way over and over gets boring.
Fortunately, Serious Sam has some seriously cool multiplayer options. The Cooperative Play option is, in my opinion, the best way to play Serious Sam. It's the perfect dorm room anti-drug solution. Sitting around with some geeked-out friends, mindlessly mutilating legions of monsters over some chips and some Mountain Dew is a lot better than getting high and passing out to Judge Judy or Gundam Wing.
The Deathmatch Option has always been included in FPS games, but it has never seemed so inexorable or unnecessary. Why fight one or two other dudes when you can fight a hundred at once? Anything under a four-player deathmatch is pretty lame in the first place, and oddly, Serious Sam is not supported by Xbox Live! D'oh!
Still, the single-player and co-op is fun. The level design is decent with cool art and details on walls and impressive structures. There are also some really cool environmental obstacles like rotating rooms and bouncing floors to add a new element of insanity to already manic massacres.
Graphically, Serious Sam is a less than perfect port of the PC version. For example, if you stand still and turn in a circle, the environment won't turn smoothly, but instead will get blocky and jagged as the Xbox struggles to compensate for the constantly changing appearance of the environment. Also, some of the animations are less than satisfying. The hit detection could be more sophisticated, the chunks could be more chunky and less blocky, and the deaths by chainsaw could be waaaaay more gruesome. I mean, it's a chainsaw, it doesn't blow things up, it rips them apart. Can I get an amputation here?
Serious Sam's audio, however, is great. I actually turned down David Bowie to better hear what was going on in the game, and I never turn down David Bowie. The explosions are robust, the monster screams distinct, and the music changes to suit the intensity of the situation. No symphony of destruction is complete without good gun noises, but some of the noises could have been much more violent.
Overall, Serious Sam is a good offering for the Xbox. The high intensity gameplay and over-the-top presentation are signs of a game that was fun to make, and so is fun to play. Serious Sam is long enough for some serious sessions of sordid slaughter, and if you don't take plot too seriously and don't mind some repetition with your ultra-violence, then it's worth your money. Seriously.