Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter is a remake of the original title of the same name, that brings the game over to the graphically superior Serious Engine 3 while leaving nearly everything else intact. For those unfamiliar with the game, it is a fast-paced FPS arena shooter where you will be facing off against a ludicrous amount of enemies at once. It is certainly not the type of game you’d come to for story but for pure adrenaline fueled action where it is rare where you are not holding down the fire button. That’s not to say there isn’t a story, it’s just that it is mostly told through text logs and is not at all good enough to justify stalling your next rampage.
Your first weapon will be a revolver but after killing a few enemies, you’ll gain a shotgun and your arsenal continuously grows to include much more outlandish weapons. Laser guns, chain-guns and even a portable cannon are a few of the weapons you’ll have access to, as to even the odd against the unrelenting horde of foes. With such firepower at your disposal, it is impressive that even your lowly revolver remains useful all throughout. You will rarely be at a loss for ammo for your weapons but your revolver has great accuracy at long range and while it is one of the few weapons that requires reloading, it is the only one with infinite ammunition.
There is a melee weapon in the form of a knife though purposely getting into close range combat with an enemy using it instead of say, a double-barreled shotgun, will only be done for bragging rights more so than efficiency. This is not a game to take lightly, it will be a challenge for even veterans of the genre and the fact that it constantly reminds you there is a dedicated quick saving button on the controller says it all. Yes, there is controller support if that is the way you want to play and while perfectly playable, will make an already difficult game that much more challenging. Heck, even opening a door can kill you if you open it and it closes on you as you are halfway through so be sure to take that quick save suggestion constantly.
In coop mode, you have far more control over the game such as adding extra enemies to balance the fact there are more players or to control how many times one can respawn ranging from 0 to an infinite number of times. There are about a dozen character models to choose from in coop, to avoid how weird it would be to see the total number 16 players running amok as Sam. The only character in the game is Sam, even the main villain never shows up. He is fully voice acted and does not care in the slightest about what is going on, instead opting to occasionally be witty. His attitude reminds me a lot of Duke Nukem and with such a silly game it fits in perfectly.
The entirety of your adventure takes place in ancient Egypt, shooting your way through pyramids, wide open deserts, and long abandoned cities. For the most part, there is nothing to stop you from traveling to the next area other than an army of foes out for your blood, though on some occasions you will have to collect a certain number of items or hit a few switches. These happen mostly as you near the end of the game and do not harm nor improve the game, it’s just that their sudden introductions feel bizarre. Trekking through the levels you can just go from point A to point B but you will be missing out on some cleverly hidden secrets if you pay no mind to the environments.
Seeing a health pack, a new weapon or armor just out in the open and making a dash right for them will at times play right into the dev’s love for surprising the player. Once a giant boulder falls onto your head you’ll learn to trust Serious Sam about as much as you’d trust someone saying he totally has candy in his van. It has a playful charm with its players that really adds a lot to the experience. This is a game where you’ll be fighting shirtless men with bombs for hands, frogs, bulls and giant magma monsters because it is a video game and they can. It doesn’t have to be violent either since there exists a feature where you can turn off gibs or even have enemies explode into a cloud of candy for a laugh or to play with your son/daughter.
There is a lot of variety to the enemies and if you have played Quake or Doom you will recognize a lot of their inspirations and attack patterns. Nearly all attacks can be avoided be it a melee charge or projectiles you can either dodge or shoot out of the air. The only enemy with hit-scan attacks is the accursed chain-gun wielding, mechanical scorpion known as an Arachnoid. Despite that, it is not the most fearsome foe. That title belongs to the arguably weakest enemy, whose battle cry of “AAAAHHH!” will inspire fear into the hearts of men, the suicide bombing Kamikaze who leaves nothing but destruction in its wake.
Every enemy has certain weapons that are more effective on it, leading to a dance of interchanging them on a whim while gracefully avoiding attacks. Boss fights also make an appearance from time to time and something I found refreshing in this day and age is that they do not have giant glowing weak points. You simply shoot at the hulking behemoths until either they or you die in a chaotic exchange of firepower. Well at least until the very last boss fight which in my opinion was simply terrible. Either way, just because a skyscraper-sized enemy has just appeared doesn’t mean the game won’t also throw regular enemies at you making the fighting that much more intense.
Serious Sam nailed the feel of its combat, making a seemingly unfair situation into something you can easily get out of unscathed as long as you don’t drop your guard. It is fortunate too considering that is what you will be doing a large portion of your time. What it sets out to do, it pulls it off very well but since that is all you’ll be doing, repetition can easily start to creep in. This is further aggravated by the feeling that some situations just go on for far too long. To even further amplify this feeling is the fact that enemies just spawn in, instantly surrounding you in an area that was previously empty or at times flat out spawning right in front or behind of you.
The game is around 6 hours solo or 4 ½ in coop. While I personally gladly played the entire game in one go (which is a rarity) I can imagine most people playing through in short bursts, it all depends on how long combat alone can hold your attention, be it in coop or by yourself. There is also a Death-match mode that is unfortunately completely dead online. When all is said and done, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter is not a revolutionary title or will it blow your mind in any way. What it is can be summarized into a single word, that word being fun. I honestly felt the same way back when I played the original version from 2001. After all those years, the fact remains that its gameplay and charm haven’t deteriorated a bit. The sheer glee of fighting seemingly impossible odds with an over the top arsenal of weapons is timeless and one well worth experiencing.