Review: Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

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To call Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter a remake would be giving it too much credit. Disappointingly, it’s the same exact game that was released eight years ago, only re-skinned using Croteam’s Serious Engine 3 to make it prettier and more modern.

And it certainly does that well. By no means can it stack up with graphical FPS powerhouses like Crysis, Modern Warfare 2 and the like, but overall Serious Sam HD’s enhanced level geometry, higher-res textures and snazzier lighting effects do make it much more palatable than its 2001 counterpart. The updated weapon and creature models in particular sport impressive new detail — like before you can head for the pause menu encyclopedia to ogle at the model renders too – and there is plenty of beautiful scenery to take in while you run and gun through the deserts, oases, sewers, temples and pyramids of ancient Egypt as time-traveling alien ass-kicker Sam “Serious” Stone.

But as nice as the graphical refresh is, there are some flaws that leave me questioning the effort that went into this production – was there true intent to remake the game for the fans or was the game whipped up just to drum up sales while demonstrating the potential of the Serious Engine 3 tech?

For starters, all of the audio files sound as if they were recycled from the original game, so there’s a real disconnect between what you are seeing and hearing – the graphics look modern, but the music, sound effects and Sam’s one-liners sound muddled and old in comparison. It was a distraction for me, and good audio is supposed to blend in with the rest of the experience, not distract you from it.

The game also seems to lack proper optimization. For a game that looks nice but isn’t exactly cutting edge, I would have expected it to run smoother than it does, and from reading around on the message boards it sounds like I’m not the only player experiencing inconsistent performance. My PC is no mammoth gaming rig, I fully admit, but even still it should have enough juice to run the game smoothly without having to lower the graphics settings down all the way.

Putting the HD enhancements aside, the core game plays no differently than the initial release. I can’t seem to find my old copy of the original to directly compare (though I have downloaded the original game’s Karnak demo to get an idea), but as far as I can tell the level layouts and monster spawns are pretty much the same. And to an extent I’m fine with that, because still to this day the Serious Sam brand of mindless run-and-gun FPSing remains loads of fun. Fending off waves of skeletons, werebulls, headless suicide bombers, harpies, bio-mechs and other extraterrestrial critters, all relentlessly charging at you with a kamikaze mentality, never gets old, and even though the overall game design is incredibly basic there is a surprising level of sophistication to its simplicity.

But really, would it have been too much to ask to maybe get some sort of additional content so there’s at least something new for returning players to see? Like a new weapon or two, or maybe even a few bonus levels built just for this release? Something? Anything!?

One feature that is somewhat new is 16-player co-op – if memory serves, the original was limited to four players – and teaming up with up to 15 other Serious Sams to play through the campaign is pure chaotic fun, even if most players run off in their own direction and do little to cooperate as a team. However, the online performance is all over the place. In fact, I squeezed in a few more co-op levels for one last testing before finishing up this review and experienced just that. In the first level things were smooth, then towards the end of the next level terrible lag kept freezing my game completely for 15-20 seconds at a time, and then in progress through a third level I was booted offline entirely. And that’s how my online experience has been in previous attempts as well.

I know I’ve complained a lot about it here, but Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter really is a great game, and I have no problem recommending it to anyone new to the Serious Sam universe. My only concern is the value proposition it has to offer for returning players. Basically, it comes down to this simple question – are updated graphics and 16-player co-op enough to make this game worth paying for all over again? Personally, as someone who owns the original game (I can’t find it, but it’s buried around here somewhere, dagnabbit!) I probably wouldn’t spend $20 to buy what is essentially the same game all over again. But hey, if those two elements are enough for you, by all means give the game a shot.

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Pros:
+ Nice graphical upgrade
+ Same great Serious Sam gameplay
+ 16-player co-op is a blast

Cons:
– Audio recycled from original game, and you can definitely tell
– Inconsistent engine and online performance
– Not enough new content to demand a re-purchase

Game Info:
Platform: PC via Steam
Publisher: CDV / Devolver Digital
Developer: Croteam
Release Date: 11/24/09
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-16
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!