Review: Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem

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Review copy provided by publisher

I’ll tell you up front, I’m coming at this one from a weird angle. I am a Serious Sam enjoyer from the distant past, having spent plenty of time in the First and Second Encounters. I even knocked around in Serious Sam 2, the black sheep of the series, but that was the last one I played before Siberian Encounter. With that in mind, I can’t speak to the evolution of Sam between 3 and 4 (at least not yet), but I know a Serious Sam game when I see one and this has all the hallmarks. Ludicrously huge encounters, meaty guns, bizarre humor, and unexpected secrets are all here, along with some innovations I wasn’t expecting. This is easily the most fun I’ve had with a Serious game yet, which is remarkable seeing as how it hails from a totally different developer.

Again, I can’t fill you in on the details of the story, because the last time I left Sam, he was planet-hopping across cartoonish worlds in pursuit of Mental. Here, he’s rolled up to the frozen climes of Siberia to check out a disturbance reported in the Tunguska area. Obviously, it’s a shitload of monsters, and Sam’s here to kill them all and let the renderer sort them out. He’ll run across a few solid allies in his journey, and make a surprising discovery about one of his foes. There’s probably some other stuff going on, judging from the notes and audio logs scattered about, but if we can be real for a minute, I’m not running around in a Serious Sam game for the story.

I’m here to gib as many enemies as the game is willing to throw at me, and hot damn does it throw out some enemies. Ramping up very quickly from the serene coastal opening, Sam has literally thousands of foes to mow down across icy tundra, frozen farmlands, precarious cliffs, ramshackle villages, towering refineries, and ominous warehouses. Timelock Studio, the collection of modders responsible for bringing Siberian Mayhem to life, absolutely understand why people play Serious Sam games, and have an admirable talent for composing surprising and creative encounters. This game feels like a greatest hits album of frenetic fights, challenging you with hallways choked with charging Kleers, plazas strafed with fire and harpies, and wide-open plains with more enemies than you can even imagine.

Sam’s arsenal is up to the task of taking on this army, of course, with a collection of solid stand-bys like shotguns, launchers, and a beam cannon that makes enemies explode. There’s also an assortment of gadgets like on-demand healing, speed boosts, black holes, air strikes, and a portable combat hoverboard that come in very handy during the larger fights. Notably, there’s a skill point system here (apparently carried over from 4) that offers some absurdly powerful abilities like dual-wielding any two weapons and melee-executing even the largest foes. They’re so dramatic, in fact, that it seems odd they’re not just included in Sam’s standard repertoire. On the bright side, getting to dual wielding is easy enough through the freebie skill points you earn through normal progression, and once you’re toting around a minigun in one hand and a beam cannon in the other, you’ll wonder how you ever got on without them.

The other notable feature of Siberian Mayhem (which may also have been in 4, I can’t say) is side objectives that help fill out the vast open spaces most levels have plenty of. Most of the game’s missions have a side objective that’s activated simply by approaching the area, and it usually rewards an extra skill point on top of the extra ammo and possible early weapons you’ll get along the way. These can get very involved, with one being a full-on quest into a secret bunker with one hell of a payoff. I really like this inclusion, because Serious Sam games have always valued and rewarded exploration, and having entire side missions to play through with their own setpieces is a really big bonus.

It’s hard not to love the sheer volume and variety of action offered here, especially when you get to some of the more creative encounters and vehicle sections. The game is also broken up occasionally by cutscenes, most focusing on Sam himself but also introducing other characters like a rag-tag gang of stereotypical Russian crazies. I could knock the quality of the animations or voice acting in these bits, but again, story and drama are not what I’m plowing through a Serious Sam game for. I took around six hours to blow through the whole thing and do most of the side missions, which puts it somewhere between the good ol’ First and Second Encounters for length. And honestly, that’s about right for a Serious Sam game. You want these nice and punchy, so you can drink up the action and silliness before it wears out its welcome. Siberian Mayhem is just that, a fine figure of modern Serious Sam action, and one that I doubt will disappoint classic FPS fans.

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