Review: Serious Sam Classic: The First Encounter

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In a world absolutely rife with remakes and reboots, what place do the originals serve? Most remakes exist for a clear reason, either to capitalize once more upon the successes of the first, or to correct mistakes that weren’t addressed in other releases. The HD versions of The First and Second Encounters are definitely the former, bringing the classic early 2000s excess of kleer-smashing and cannon-bowling to a new generation of boomer shooter fans. But how much does it improve on the original formula, really? I wasn’t really expecting to ever return to the Classic versions of early Serious Sam, but I see now there’s still some unique appeal that has aged just as well as the gameplay.

I won’t belabor the plot of Serious Sam again, because that’s really not why anyone’s here for these games. You’re in ancient Egypt, it’s full of wild-ass alien monsters, and you’ve got the guns and the guts to evacuate their guts onto the sand. The hallmark of Serious Sam is the proliferation of huge arena battles with (at the time) unthinkable numbers of enemies, and you’ll definitely get that here. I noted in my HD review that this one is a little more even-handed with its action than you might remember, with plenty of moody hallway hunts and exploration between the arena brawls. In the end, you’re getting an extremely solid throwback shooter with plenty of action and good pacing to keep you on your toes.

The stand-out here is the “moody” part, especially when compared to the HD remake. While the action and mechanics are all identical between the two versions, I couldn’t help but note the atmosphere of the Classic version being more cohesive and effective. Despite the textures and lighting of the remake being more detailed, everything seems to gel together better in the original. Maybe it’s my own fondness for boomer shooters showing, or perhaps nostalgia from playing the original decades ago, but I got a more immersive feel from the older lighting and crisper textures than from the more realistic HD take. Regardless of which you might prefer, I do think there’s a more consistent look and feel to the Classic version over the HD, and that has to count for something.

That being said, I don’t think more cohesive atmosphere is enough to call this a superior version. The sound design in the HD remake is much improved, and the high-quality guns, enemies, and visual effects like blood spatters make a huge difference in punching up the combat. The UI of Classic is also pretty rough, with most of the graphical assets blown up and stretched out like a bad 2000s meme. Then again, you do get the original versions of some of the more creative arenas, which had to be removed from the HD version, so there’s even a little content here that you won’t get in the more modern treatment. I guess what I’m getting at here is, there’s no clear “best” version between Classic and HD. I would certainly recommend HD over this one just for the visual quality and overall touch-ups, but you absolutely can’t go wrong playing this version, either. It’s the one that launched a decades-long series of blood, gibs, and quips, after all.

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