Developer Croteam has ported its 2001 first-person shooter Serious Sam: The First Encounter to Xbox Live Arcade with Serious Sam HD. The game is a time capsule. A really, really shiny one. Covered in bloody body parts.
Plot-wise, Serious Sam follows Sam as he travels back in time to save humankind from the evil Mental baddies. Sam slogs through ancient Egypt picking up objects, pushing stones, opening doors and shooting enemies—lots and lots of enemies with lots and lots of different weapons. There's exploding and carnage and lovely views of ancient Egypt.
For its day, the game had solid graphics, but the main draw was and still is the number of enemies the Croteam's engine could throw onscreen at once. Keeping in mind that this is a high-definition upgrade, not a new Serious Sam, let's see how the title has aged and how the HD port looks.
It's...HD: In case the title did not give this away, this is Serious Sam in high definition. The new coat of paint makes everything a tad on the shiny, glittery side, but for those players looking for a spruced up version of Serious Sam, the game does not disappoint. And for those gamers who are only familiar with gaming since, oh, I dunno, 2006, this title should certainly pass mustard for a downloadable game.
Loads of enemies: There are moments in Serious Sam, which amazingly have not aged. Hordes upon hordes of enemies on screen; it's at once numbing and at the same time a testament to the game's engine. A few of the set pieces are truly dazzling and hold up nearly a decade later.
You Sound So Serious: The game's sound design is one Serious Sam HD's truly unsung heroes. With so many bad dudes out to get you, sometimes it's only screaming or the stomping of hoofs that tip you off as to where the enemies are coming from. It's rather compelling to play a game in which sound is so important. The sound can also get unnerving, but that might precisely be the point.
Too Much Bait: Many things in Serious Sam HD cannot be taken seriously. No, make that most things. But the fact that when items are laid out and when you take those items, it spawns enemies whose only goal is to decrease your health or weaponry, the point of those items seems null-and-void.
Dummy Enemies: A guy running at me with no head probably is not too smart. Okay, fine. But why is the default attack for pretty much every single enemy a rush-down? The first couple times it's exciting, sure, but as the game goes on and on, it starts to drag. And drag. And drag.
Back, Back, Strafe, Strafe, Shooting: That pretty much what you do all game. There are times when you swim and push blocks. And the final boss is another can of worms altogether, but generally, Serious Sam HD is about running backwards or to the side while shooting.
As a pure port, Serious Sam HD does the job. It's a nice looking port. But simply porting the game to HD, makes one wonder: Why not modernize some of the gameplay as well? Certainly, it would be another game, but a few tweaks here and there, and the game could really sing for today's audiences. A lot of the game feels like busy work — you must go over here and touch this and then all the way over there to touch that so that door over there will open. There isn't much motivation to do these actions other than stock gaming conventions. The graphical update is skin-deep — like a colorized version of an old black-and-white film. The argument against system, mechanic or gameplay tweaks, of course, is that Serious Sam HD would no longer be a pure port, which is a fair point.
That being said, Serious Sam HD is an intriguing game. It's a time capsule, showing how far first-person-shooters have come since 2001 and, at the same time, holding its own with some truly spectacular set pieces.
Serious Same HD was developed by Croteam and published by Devolver Digital for Xbox LIVE Arcade on January 13. Retails for 1200 Microsoft Points and $19.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through single-player campaign on the Xbox 360.
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