Demo Driver 8: Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter (#94)
If you know what Serious Sam is, this delivers exactly what it says on the tin. Whether or not this is a good thing is going to depend a lot upon whether or not you like what the tin says it is.
Serious Sam is a series I was never particularly interested in because, as has been stated many times, first-person shooters are not really my bag. That being said, it’s a series that has long been about distilling shooters down to their most basic objectives. Here you are, and in front of you there is a room. You will shoot people in that room. No fancy tricks, just a whole lot of guns and a whole lot of shooting.
There’s nothing wrong with that sort of bare-bones approach. There was nothing wrong with it back in 2001, when the original game was released; there was nothing wrong with it in 2009, when the HD remake was released; there’s nothing wrong with it now. But it’s a bit like rebuilding a Model T – functional, but something that has kind of been made obsolete by time and technology.
The demo, unfortunately, falls victim to the age-old mistake of demos in that it doesn’t bother to introduce you to the story or anything before flinging you into a level. As near as I can tell, I am in some kind of Egyptian structure, but for all the limited information I have about this situation I could be in a very poorly managed section of Detroit. It would explain all of the things shooting at me. Monsters show up, respawn, and have various attacks designed to sap my health and kill me. In response, I have a pistol with apparently unlimited ammo and the ability to shoot them first.
So there’s the game. Walk around, shoot at things before they chip your health away. No mazes, no complex puzzles, nothing other than running and dodging projectiles in first-person view whilst trying desperately to keep your health up, since it’s non-regenerative in this game as you probably expected. Exactly what it says it is on the tin. Nice and straightforward.
Too straightforward, perhaps?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s a certain sort of player who’s going to really like this particular style. The more languid enemy projectiles definitely aids its attitude of dodging and avoiding damage rather than weathering hits and taking breathers, which is an admittedly weird mechanic for more modern games. There’s also a very strong emphasis on pattern recognition and picking your targets; like any other old-school shooter, shooting the wrong target means you’re taking more hits and you’re a lot closer to dropping.
But then, that’s also the tedious sort of gameplay that kind of gets into the realm of trial and error ad infinitum. Walk into an area, shoot the guard on your left, miss the charging muscle-bound thing, reload. Shoot the charger, then the guard, walk forward, get pegged by a bomb. Reload, shoot the charger, shoot the guard, dodge the bomb, shoot the bomb-tosser. Save. Next area, get killed, reload…
We’re not talking about the pixel-perfect pattern recognition you’d need in the worse category of bullet hell shooters or the like, but you’re still dealing with a game that’s going to involve a whole lot of dropping and retrying over and over. Some people are going to like that, some people aren’t. That would be the mountain of salt to much on as you consider the game as a whole, because that’s what it’s about.
There’s not a whole lot to recommend it other than that, either. The story (which I picked up on in a sideways fashion by reading supplementary materials, since the game sure as hell wasn’t sharing it) is pretty generic, and the little voice-acting I encountered in the game consisted of action-movie cliches of the highest order. The graphics have been upgraded, so that’s a good thing, but they still have a strange sense of the character models not quite matching the rest of the game’s aesthetic. Like a group of stock assets thrown together in a hurry… which might not be too far from the truth.
It’s really not a bad game. It does the sort of action content that it wants with a reasonable degree of competence. The problem is that that’s aiming pretty low. I can respect the idea that there were people back in 2001 looking for a particularly throwback-ish FPS after the genre started making some pretty serious changes around that time, but it’s not 2001 any longer. The genre has moved on, largely for good reason, and the game was selling itself based on nostalgia then. Now, it’s nostalgia for nostalgia. That’s reductive.
I’ve said before that there are points where being decent just isn’t enough, especially when there are a lot of games that do the same thing well. Frankly, even beyond the fact that I’m not a very big fan of first-person shooters, this one kind of lets itself down. It’s got action, but so do a lot of others, and it offers nothing more than being a derivation of Duke Nukem back when it seemed like a given that we were never getting another game in that particular franchise.
Whether or not we would be better off if that had remained the truth is left as an exercise for the reader.
All that being said, if you really just want to play Serious Sam with better graphics than you could back in 2001, this will scratch precisely the itch you’ve got. For everyone else, it’s a $15 coated in metaphorical dust which is, in turn, coated in metaphorical dust. Compound dust. Forming some kind of dust singularity, I suppose, compressing all dust down to an infinitely dusty point.
In short, it’s just not worth it. Unless you’ve got a copy of the game sitting around and just can’t wait to see it in HD, in which case why are you reading this? That’s what this delivers. Just go buy it.