If you’re after first-person shooters, there are plenty to choose from these days.
DOOM is back and better than ever, and then there are titles like Far Cry 5 that layer RPG and open world elements on top of first-person shooter action to create more engrossing, deeper experiences. But if you’re just after some no-nonsense first-person shooter fun, there’s something appealing about the simplicity of the Serious Sam series.
Placing you in the shoes of Sam “Serious” Stone, there are no puzzles to worry about or unnecessary bouts of story exposition. You won’t find yourself challenged simply traversing the environment, either, or have to worry about developing your character. It’s just you, a shedload of guns, and more enemies than you’ve probably ever faced off against before.
Finally available on console, Serious Sam Collection bundles up the first three games in the Serious Sam series along with their expansions. That’s Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter and its Legend of the Beast expansion, and Serious Sam 3: BFE along with its Jewel of the Nile expansion. Well, so actually not quite the first three. Serious Sam 2 is mysteriously absent, perhaps because it’s the black sheep of the mainline games, while Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter and Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter are actually remakes of the respective games, keeping their core gameplay but giving them a considerable visual makeover.
In any case, all you need to know is that they are the best Serious Sam games that don’t have the number 4 in their titles.
There is a story that runs through the Serious Sam series, but it’s the type that is easily ignored. Feel free to pour your attention over enemy descriptions and other titbits of information via the in-game NETRICSA computer implanted into Sam if you really care about Mental’s efforts to take control of Earth with his hordes, but the focus here is on the gameplay. And while it may be simple, it’s fast, frantic and highly entertaining.
In each game you start out with start out with just a pistol, and will find yourself up against light resistance. But as your arsenal begins to grow, so do the enemy hordes you find yourself facing off against. Eventually levels feel like they’re throwing small armies at you, and with each enemy type requiring their own tactics to overcome, things can get very chaotic. But that’s where the real fun is found. Knee deep in enemies, fighting for your life is utterly exhilarating. And emerging victorious can often carry with it the same sense of success as defeating a boss in the likes of Dark Souls, especially if you’re playing on one of the harder difficulties.
Part of the charm of these games, and the Serious Sam series on the whole, is the juxtaposition of stunning real-world environments, outlandish enemies, and Sam’s comedic one liners. They’re serious games with a not-so serious hero, though one who’s also very likeable despite possessing as much depth as a toothbrush. In Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, players will find themselves battling across Egypt, backpedalling and circle-strafing in expansive maps to take down hordes of enemies that they’ll quickly become very familiar with. Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter then finds Sam exploring multiple scenic locations across numerous time periods, before Serious Sam 3: BFE takes him back to Egypt again, but prior to the events of the first game.
Essentially the first and second chapters of the same game, Serious Sam’s first and second encounters have the exact same mechanics and the same wide-open level design. Some changes are introduced in Serious Sam 3: BFE, however. The levels are tighter and more closed-in for one, at least the earlier ones anyway. More interestingly, it finally allows Sam to aim down sights and sprint. Though the fact that you can’t shoot while sprinting and that you move considerably slower while aiming down sights means you might use both features sparingly. Serious Sam 3: BFE also allows you to perform some amusing melee finishers on enemies.
While all of the Serious Sam games included in this collection are huge amounts of fun when played alone, they really come into their own when played in co-op. Both online and split-screen co-op are available, and players can make their way through the campaigns or take on the standalone Survival mode. Competitive multiplayer is included too, in case you want to get involved in some Deathmatch action and more. Needless to say, there are hours upon hours of single and multiplayer fun to be had, all for a budget price.
With the action being so one-note, however, there is a risk of some players becoming exhausted with it all. It’s particularly troublesome when moving from Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter to Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter, with the new scenery and few new weapons doing little to offset the fact that the gameplay remains pretty much identical. Some will just find the action all too repetitive as they move from one level to the next.
Still, for those who love old-fashioned, action-packed first-person shooters where taking cover is frowned upon in favour of outmanoeuvring your aggressors while unleashing a hail of bullets, Serious Sam Collection is a must-have. Packing in a massive amount of content, there’s so much strafing and shooting to be done here as you move through wonderfully scenic environments. And while the gameplay is never complicated, it’s stood the test of time. This year’s Serious Sam 4 may throw more enemies at you and have some modern elements that give it more depth, but these older titles still nearly provide just as much fun.