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I was in high school when I first discovered Serious Sam and at the time, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of the games sooner. The classic versions of The First Encounter and The Second Encounter run on the Serious Engine which is capable of maintaining tons of moving and enormous enemies which was impressive for its time and that is the highlight of the series. Developed by Croteam, Serious Sam: The First Encounter was released for PC in March, 2001, and The Second Encounter was released for PC in February, 2002. For this review, I played Serious Sam Classics: Revolution and the HD versions of both encounters. Revolution is a unified version of both games, powered by an updated version of the Serious Engine, and is completely free to those who own the classic games on Steam. It’s essentially an updated version of the classic games, designed to run on modern systems and supports up to four player split-screen co-op, among other things. Revolution is in early access and a new campaign is in the works but both the classic versions of the First and Second Encounters are fully intact and are combined into one campaign.
The HD versions of the First and Second Encounters were released for PC and Xbox 360 and I actually played them through the Serious Sam Fusion hub on Steam which is free if you own any of the HD games or Serious Sam 3. As of this review, the Fusion hub is still in beta and unfortunately, Serious Sam 2 is not included. According to the FAQ, it’s too old to port to the Fusion engine. But on the plus side, the developers are planning a Serious Sam 2 reboot. Again, this is all according to the FAQ. From what I’ve read, future games will be added to the hub and the best part is you don’t need to install each game individually. Just install Fusion and you’re ready to go. Fusion supports split-screen co-op, includes 64-bit executables, improved physics, better modding support, and a bunch of fixes. As the “HD” moniker implies, these are visually upgraded versions of the classic games. From what I’ve researched, the HD versions and classic games are almost identical. I noticed a few little differences when it comes to some enemies. For example, Witch-Harpies can carry Kamikazes in Revolution but not in the HD games. And apparently, the HD versions don’t include the same gravity effects resulting in changed and/or removed secret areas originally seen in the classic games. This review will also cover the Legend of the Beast DLC for The Second Encounter HD which includes three new campaign levels, new multiplayer maps, and a new survival mode map.
In both games you play as Sam “Serious” Stone and battle aliens under the command of an overlord known as Mental who wants to rule the universe. The intro cut scene in The First Encounter provides some backstory you can read. At one time, Earth was at war with Mental, and a technologically-advanced alien race known as the Sirians left many artifacts behind for humanity to discover. In the 22nd century, Mental and his army invade Earth to destroy humanity and as a last resort, the humans use an artifact known as the Time-Lock to send Sam back in time to defeat Mental and his army and change the course of history. Sam is transported back in time to Egypt and travels through the land, battling Mental’s army. The story in The Second Encounter picks up right where the previous game left off. Sam continues his journey in the Mayan age and battles through Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, and Medieval Europe. The Legend of the Beast is set in Egypt where Sam is on a quest to find the Ram-God of The Grand Obelisk. Apparently, this campaign takes place during The First Encounter. There’s not much voice acting but Sam will often shout one-liners, some of which are humorous, and there are a few pop culture references peppered throughout the campaigns. Most of the story is told through Netricsa which stands for “NEuroTRonically Implanted Combat Situation Analyzer”. Sam can access Netricsa at any time during gameplay and it will provide some backstory on events and basically tell you what you’re objectives are. The plot is never shoved in your face but it’s there if you want it. You just have to read.
The Serious Sam games are fast-paced action-packed shooters. There are multiple difficulty modes, one of which needs to be unlocked. In Fusion, you can select the Custom difficulty mode to tailor the difficulty to your liking. You can decide if you want to play with infinite ammo, enable or disable health, armor, and power-ups, and increase the enemy strength. In Fusion and Revolution you’re scored in each level which does add some replay value. You can walk, run, jump, swim, crouch, and interact with things in the environments. You can also perform rocket jumps which can be helpful in certain situations. The games play out in levels which are broken up by loading points and as mentioned before, in Revolution, both campaigns are combined into one so as soon as you finish The First Encounter, you immediately start The Second Encounter. As you progress through the campaigns, Netricsa will offer new hints and strategies but the gameplay remains consistent throughout both games. Shoot to kill. Enemies will be thrown at you from every direction and the hordes and stampedes get bigger and more challenging as you progress. Decimating waves upon waves of enemies is the focal point of Serious Sam. It never lets up, it’s relentless. The Second Encounter adds power-ups into the mix which provide temporary benefits and they can be found throughout the environments or are dropped by specific NPCs like the Secret Santa. Serious Damage doubles the amount of damage you inflict, Serious Speed will increase your movement speed, and Invulnerability makes you invulnerable to all attacks. Invisibility is a power-up that only appears in multiplayer and as expected, it turns you invisible. Whenever you acquire a new weapon or kill a new enemy, they are added to Netricsa where you can read all kinds of information about them and that’s one of the things I really like about these games. Information. There’s tons of information to digest if you want to get immersed into the games but it will never distract you from the gameplay. You can blast through the games without reading a single word if you want.
Battling Mental’s army will require a lot of firepower and luckily, Sam will get his hands on a good variety of weapons and he can hold all of them. You start each game with a knife and revolver. If you acquire a second revolver you can dual wield them and they do have infinite ammo. Eventually you’ll acquire a pump action shotgun and then a double barrel shotgun. You’ll also get your hands on a rocket launcher, Thompson submachine gun, and a grenade launcher. Grenades will bounce off the ground and walls and if you charge up your shot, the grenade will launch farther. Uncharged shots won’t travel far but are great for dealing with clusters of enemies at medium range. Rockets and grenades that explode at close-range can result in splash damage so you need to be careful. I think the XL2 Lasergun is my favorite weapon just because of it’s sci-fi nature and I think it looks pretty cool. It has four barrels and fires powerful lasers, great for eliminating many threats quickly. You’ll also acquire a Minigun and Cannon. The minigun is a great weapon for crowd control and the Cannon is easily the most powerful weapon in the arsenal. It fires massive cannonballs that can be charged up and plow through multiple lower-tier enemies, killing them all instantly. Charged cannonballs launch farther and are more powerful. This weapon is best used for mowing down a shit-ton of enemies, especially if you’re getting overrun. The Second Encounter includes even more weapons – the Chainsaw, Sniper Rifle, Flamethrower, and Serious Bomb. The Chainsaw is great for most enemies that rush you and utilize melee attacks. The Sniper Rifle is capable of eliminating weaker enemies in just one shot and it’s best used for dealing with long range threats. The Flamethrower can be used to set enemies on fire and is perfect for dealing with multiple enemies at close range. The Serious Bomb is probably the rarest weapon in the game but when used, it can kill every enemy in the area instantly upon exploding. It’s best used when you’re completely overwhelmed. In Revolution, I found ammo for the Minelayer and Plasmathrower weapons. I never found the weapons in the campaign but after doing a little research, I learned they are secret weapons that only appear in specific levels and were only available in Deathmatch in the original games. However, I did get a chance to use them in the Survival mode. You can use the Minelayer to place mines on the ground that will explode when enemies get near them. The Plasmathrower can fire deadly plasma shots that explode on impact and it also has a secondary fire mode that allows it to fire multiple projectiles. It’s a great weapon to use against tougher enemy types. Revolution also adds in the Ghostbuster weapon which, from what I’ve read, was a scrapped weapon from The First Encounter. In Revolution, it’s added in as another secret weapon that can be found in a specific level. I never found it but did use it in the Survival mode. It fires a continuous beam of electricity that can kill enemies quickly but it doesn’t have much range.
Ammo, health, and armor are scattered throughout the environments and these things are not in short supply. These items will often spawn in during or after a battle. However, that doesn’t mean the games are easy. Serious Sam can be quite challenging. On the surface, the gameplay may appear mind-numbing but if you don’t use your brain a little, you can easily die. You basically move from area to area and shoot anything that moves. But using the appropriate weapon for the situation is one of the most important aspects of the gameplay. If you decide to rely on only one weapon all the time, you may find it very difficult to progress. Some weapons are better against specific enemies. Every weapon is useful, including the knife. You may want to use the rocket launcher to take down the tougher enemy types and then switch to your revolvers to deal with the weaker or distant enemies and save ammo. You should always be moving in Serious Sam. Standing still for too long will often result in you taking damage or death so you should always be running, strafing, and firing. And the environments are huge so there’s always plenty of room to maneuver.
You will often see enemies spawn in, usually in the distance. Sometimes they come hurdling over walls, they make come breaking through walls, and sometimes they spawn on ledges or somewhere above you. The two most infamous enemies in the series have to be the Beheaded Kamikazes and Kleer Skeletons. Two enemy types I both love and hate. You’ll immediately be on the lookout for the Kamikazes when you hear them screaming as they run straight for you and they will explode if they make contact, making them extremely dangerous. And they usually appear in numbers. If multiple manage to get close to each other, you can blow one up and set off a chain reaction. Kamikazes can actually be used to your advantage. You can blow them up to cause damage to other enemies near them. I think the Kleer Skeletons look cool but they prove to be one of the more annoying enemy types. You know they’re coming for you when you hear their dreaded footsteps and they will often come in stampedes. They run straight for you and then leap at you causing damage if they make contact. They’ll slash at you when close enough and throw twin chainballs when at a distance. Weaker enemies include Beheaded types that fire projectiles and throw bombs, Marsh-Hoppers which resemble frogs and usually attack in swarms, electro-fish will fire bolts of electricity and are only encountered in water, and Gnaar’s which come in male and female forms, rush you, and perform melee attacks but they can be easily dispatched with almost any weapon. Sometimes you’ll encounter Gnaar heads which fly around and will try and bite you. Every now and then, you’ll be attacked by Witch-Harpies which always appear in the sky and fire some kind of projectile. They will fly towards you and when they get close, they’ll use melee attacks. They always appear in numbers and can be easily killed.
Some of the more dangerous enemy types include the Juvenile and Adult Arachnoids which are my least favorites. They can attack you with their tail if you get too close but they’re equipped with chainguns and will shoot at you from a distance and if you’re at close to medium range, they don’t seem to miss, making them annoying. It’s best to find something to use as cover and pop out to attack them or use heavy firepower to take them out quickly. However, when you’re in a wide open space and they spawn all around you, trying to avoid their attacks can prove to be extremely difficult and they can drain your health pretty fast if you don’t deal with them. Sirian Werebulls charge at you like bulls and will ram into you, causing you to go flying. They’re actually pretty easy to kill but are most dangerous when they appear in numbers. The Bio-Mechanoids are probably my favorite enemy types. They’re bipedal cyborgs and come in two forms, Minor and Major. The Minors are blue and will fire lasers. The Majors are red and bigger than the Minors and are equipped with two rocket launchers. The Majors can prove to be a significant threat and I usually make them priority targets when they appear. Another dangerous enemy is the Aludran Reptiloid which usually spawns at a distance and launches homing energy balls that can be a bitch to avoid. They can also punch you if you get too close. Then there’s the Lava Golems which throw chunks of lava and the larger ones can spawn smaller ones.
The Second Encounter adds several new enemies to the roster including Zorg Mercenaries and Commanders which fire lasers. The Zumb’ul will fire rockets at you and then there’s Cucurbito the Pumpkin which is a humanoid enemy wielding a chainsaw and has a pumpkin for a head. The Reptoloid Demon is probably the most dangerous new enemy type introduced in The Second Encounter. Much like the Aludran Reptiloids, it, too, will spawn at a distance or on a ledge and it fires fast-moving lava balls. Later in The Second Encounter, you’ll be attacked by Static and Rotating Cannons. Sometimes enemies in The Second Encounter will be carrying items which they will drop when killed and Sirian Werebulls can come equipped with cannons on their backs, making them more dangerous than usual. If you’re expecting the enemy AI to be good, you’ll be disappointed. However, in these games it doesn’t matter. Enemies either rush you or fire projectiles. They’ll come at you in a straight line, they’ll get in each other’s way, and do whatever it takes to kill you, even if that means attacking each other in the process. But these games aren’t about dealing with intelligent threats, they’re about dealing with mobs. Mobs consisting of different enemy types and learning to deal with the different types when all of them are attacking you at once is the challenge.
In addition to knowing what weapons to use and when, it’s also helpful to know the capabilities of each enemy type. I found it best to deal with the tougher enemy types first since you can easily dodge the attacks from weaker enemies. You’ll also want to listen for enemies. Most of the time, enemies will be spawning in from multiple locations and it’s easy to not realize a new enemy type spawned if you’re focusing on a single horde. But listening for enemies can be a big help. You may be concentrating your fire on a Reptiloid and then suddenly hear a Werebull approaching. Always be aware of your surroundings and always be alert. Spawning enemies are usually triggered when you reach a certain area or acquire an item. With that said, most good items are not free in these games. By that I mean, if you see Super Health, Super Armor, or other helpful items just lying around in plain sight and not in a secret area, there’s a good chance enemies will spawn when you acquire them. Bosses are littered throughout both games and only one appears in Legend of the Beast. In The First Encounter, all bosses except the final one more or less appear as massive versions of standard enemy types and The Second Encounter includes more traditional boss battles. The more traditional bosses are very dangerous and some require you to do something specific before you can shoot to kill.
The First Encounter and Legend of the Beast are both set in Egypt so you’ll be traversing through a lot of desert areas and tombs. There are a few levels with lush foliage and there’s a nice Oasis environment in The First Encounter, but most of the time, you’re traversing through desert-like areas. In The First Encounter, the earlier levels contain small rooms and corridors but you’ll quickly find yourself navigating from one huge open area to another. The areas in The Legend of the Beast are a bit more detailed and throughout all three campaigns, you’ll always be traversing through very large and wide-open areas. And this is because you’ll have to contend with waves of enemies so you need the room to maneuver. Sometimes, to reach your destination, you have to run and shoot your way through an insane gauntlet of enemies. You’ll often be trapped in rooms or areas with enemies and must defeat them to proceed. The Second Encounter certainly includes more varied environments like dungeons, snowy villages, jungles, caves, and more. The Second Encounter also has a bit more detail in its environments and less empty space compared the environments in The First Encounter. The levels in each campaign are pretty linear and funnel you in a specific direction. You will have to acquire items to progress but it’s not like the levels are maze-like so it would be hard to get lost. If you approach a door you can’t open, you can have Netricsa analyze it to tell you exactly what you need to do. Secret areas can be found throughout the levels and there’s plenty of them. Some secrets may not even seem like secrets. They may just be areas way out in the distance away from your objective. They usually contain goodies like health, armor, ammo, and sometimes weapons. Some secrets are actually traps so you always need to be alert. The environments in The Second Encounter are more what I’ll call “over the top”. You’ll bounce around in rooms, use jump pads, and navigate on ice. You will have to watch out for environmental hazards in each campaign. These include things like rolling boulders, crushers, spikes, fireballs raining down from the skies, and some other dangers that can result in your demise.
Fusion and Revolution both include a survival mode. In the Fusion, the objective is to simply survive as long as you can. You choose a map and then off you go. You’re provided specific weapons and the enemies arrive in waves. Ammo and health will spawn throughout the map and if you can survive long enough, you will be rewarded with either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal. Some maps contain stationary guns and cannons that can be activated for assistance but make no mistake, the Survival mode can be very challenging. The Survival mode in Revolution is basically the same concept. You choose your map, you’re provided specific weapons, and the whole idea is to survive as long as you can and set record times on each map. The enemies just keep coming. While there aren’t as many default Survival maps here as there are in Fusion, I did find them and the Survival mode in general to be more enjoyable. Plus, Revolution has a Christmas themed map and I love Christmas-themed anything. The maps in Revolution are more diverse and some of them don’t even resemble locations seen in the campaigns. There’s a map that provides you a ton of Serious Speed power-ups so you can move around at high speeds. New enemy types and what I’ll call a new boss-type are added in as well. Fusion and Revolution can be modded and you can always download fan-made Survival maps for all of these games but I am hoping more default maps are added to Revolution in the future because what’s on offer here is already very impressive.
Obviously, the HD versions look better than the classic games. Although, I did notice some blurry textures here and there. Character models were redesigned, textures are sharp and crisp, and animations have been redone. You may be thinking or wondering if the HD versions lose the charm of the originals because of the upgraded visuals. I don’t know. But I hear that a lot when it comes to HD remasters and I usually prefer the visuals in the HD versions. Still, there is a nostalgic feel when it comes to the classics and I still think the classic visuals hold up pretty well. But I also think the HD games look fine and certainly maintain the Serious Sam look and feel. I do think some of the animations, specifically the death animations in the HD games appear a bit stiff but the upgraded gore effects are fantastic. Enemies will show visible blood on their bodies as they take damage, they’re bodies will explode or split, body parts will fly around the environments, and blood will splatter all over the place. I should mention the draw distance which was pretty incredible given the time these games originally released. In both Revolution and Fusion, you may witness some pop-in but it can be hard to notice when you’re getting attacked from every direction and trying not to die. The games are filled with plenty of color and you’re given a good amount of options in both Fusion and Revolution when it comes to deciding how you want everything to look. In fact, in Revolution, you can decide on different HUD themes, including the theme from the Serious Sam Xbox game. The sound effects are solid and it sounds like they were enhanced or amplified in the HD games. Some weapons fire sounds a bit weak but the sniper rifle sounds absolutely beastly. When it comes to the music, the soundtrack is pretty good, consisting of all kinds of different tunes. The action is accompanied by orchestral scores, some of which sound intense and dramatic, and there’s even some metal in thrown in there, and it all helps to get you pumped up and into the action. The music is also a way to know if enemies are nearby since the intense songs kick in whenever enemies are in the vicinity. On the technical side, both games ran super smooth and I encountered no frame rate dips. I did notice a few issues in the HD games like enemies disappearing or ending up in walls but nothing major. During my time with Revolution, the game crashed on me a few times. At the top of the HUD in Revolution are the words “Early Access Beta”. Now this can be removed with a command but I found a thread in the Steam Community with instructions on how to remove it through the use of a blank texture file. If that text really bothers you and you want to remove it, either option should suffice.
I love the Serious Sam games and had an absolute blast with these. I love the atmosphere, I love the cartoon-y style, I love the violence, I love the bright and sunny locations, and I love visual overhaul in the HD versions. But if you prefer the original look and feel, Revolution is the way to go. If you still have the original games, I believe you can get them running on modern systems. Check PCGamingWiki to see how. However, owning the Steam versions of the classics will grant you access to Revolution which contains a ton of updates. But whether it’s the HD versions or Revolution, they are all extremely customizable and support mods. Best of all the gameplay is fun and stands the test of time. I even enjoyed The Legend of the Beast DLC despite how short it is. There’s really not much to say about it except that it’s more of the same. I did play through Revolution once with Jeremy in split-screen and I had a good time but he wasn’t the biggest fan. I guess these games aren’t for everybody. You really have to enjoy battling hordes of enemies because that’s what defines Serious Sam. These games also offer a good amount of replay value thanks to the mod support, multiplayer, survival modes, and multiple difficulty modes. The scoring system is also a nice touch and encourages you to replay levels for high scores.
I would absolutely recommend both The First Encounter and The Second Encounter to fans of first-person shooters and action games. The Serious Sam games are easily some of the most action-packed first-person shooters you’ll ever play. I honestly can’t choose between HD and Revolution so I would recommend both. Revolution is shaping up to be the ultimate experience if you prefer playing the games on Serious Engine 1 and I’m very eager to see what the new campaign will have to offer once finished. The HD versions contain the same gameplay but look prettier and if you’re just in it for the vanilla experience, there’s no real reason not to play the HD games. If you’re a hardcore fan of the series, you may notice the physics and gravity differences but I, personally, don’t see it as a monumental difference. I think the best part about all these games is that they support mods which is probably what’s going to keep these games alive for years to come. If you enjoy going up against hordes of enemies, definitely check out Serious Sam.