Review: Serious Sam 3: BFE

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I’ve tried. I really have, you have to understand that. I’ve built a whole new appreciation for the Serious Sam series as I’ve run them all back. When it’s good, like in the First and Second Encounters, it’s an absolute blast. And even when it’s middling, like in Serious Sam 2, it’s still entertaining enough to carve out a worthy place among other FPSes. But man, when it’s bad, it’s just the saddest thing. I had hoped that Legend of the Beast, that benighted DLC for TSE, would be the absolute nadir of the series. I’ve tried with Serious Sam 3, I really have. But nearly two hours in, fighting the same boring enemies in the same boring environments with no levity or novelty or end in sight, I just can’t do it anymore. This is barely a Serious Sam game, and the parts that really try to capture that magic are almost worse for how hard they fall on their face.

Have you ever wondered what Sam was up to before he hopped in the Timelock and warped back to ancient Egypt? Of course not, no one cares about the story here, but it does offer an excuse for more Serious action in a new setting. Prior to The First Encounter, the Earth is under siege from Mental’s forces, and Sam “Serious” Stone is on a mission to change the course of the war. A scientist in occupied Cairo has made a discovery that… look, it’s the Timelock, and Sam’s taking a roundabout, blood-soaked path to reach it. There are a few thousand of Mental’s baddies in the way, of course, and the only way through is with bombs, bullets, and snappy one-liners.

It’s not much of a sight-seeing tour, however, and that’s the first place where this fails to feel like a proper Serious Sam game. All the others had majestic setpieces to battle around, whether they be looming pyramids or flying fantasy castles. Serious Sam 3 feels like a victim of the times it was conceived in, a muddy brown shooter that drags you through endless ruined streets and alleyways. The only thing that reminds you you’re not playing a Call of Duty here are the charging Gnaars and Kleers mixed in with the all-too-human looking zombie soldiers. It feels like a huge step down from the opulent halls of Babylon or even the wild-ass planets of Serious Sam 2, to trudge through the same war-torn Middle Eastern city that every military shooter of the time was coughing up.

The action suffers in much the same way, sadly. Plenty of the old cast are here as mentioned, up to and including werebulls and scorpion warriors. But so much of the old Serious Sam formula is forgotten or transformed here, you can hardly go from the classics to this without severe whiplash. Hitscan enemies are far, far more prevalent now, cutting into a lot of the running and gunning that made Serious Sam so frenetic. Battles are not nearly as mixed or dynamic as before, usually pitting you against one or two enemy types in scaled-down quantities. Even by the time the game started throwing long murder corridors of foes at me, it only served to contrast how sad all the lead-up to the big battles was. Bosses show up every few levels, which is a nice touch, except that they’re either meatier versions of regular foes or gimmicks you have to run and hide from in frustrating sequences before getting the weapon you need to quickly bring them down.

Ugh, the weapons. Whoever thought that Serious Sam needed more grounded, realistic weapons should have been stuffed in a cannon. You start this game with a sledgehammer. No guns. A hammer. It’s nearly an entire level before you get a gun, which is a single pistol. And then it’s two more levels before you get a basic shotgun. By the time I tapped out, two hours in, I had just gotten the rocket launcher, the first Serious Sam-esque gun. It’s the same complaint I had with Legend of the Beast; compare this to any other Serious Sam game, and they’ve given you multiple shotguns, machine guns, and explosives within minutes of starting. I absolutely do not play these games to struggle with my arsenal, to stretch weak-ass pistol combat across entire levels. Maybe they wanted players to use the new melee execution system, but seeing the saddest, most janky animations play out over and over as I mindlessly mash the kill key isn’t my idea of a good time either.

Even the exploration suffers here, with your efforts to uncover hidden caches of goodies rewarded with a pile of +1 health pills or a helmet. I found no fun or interesting secrets whatsoever, and when I DID find something cool like a Serious Cannon hidden on a rooftop, I absolutely could not figure out how to get it. It doesn’t help that the dusty streets and rubble piles all look exactly the same, with precious few landmarks to navigate by. There are some puzzles here too, if you can call navigating around annoying auto-cannons to flip their switches a puzzle. The worst part was definitely an alien-infested museum, because this totally could have been an interesting, dynamic environment with multi-level battles and tons of secrets, and instead it’s a completely linear slog through identical halls where you occasionally push a button to rip the carapace off a badly-animated spider.

I’ve learned something important about the Serious Sam series from this game. Originally, when playing through the First and Second Encounters, I thought these games were intended to be a response to shooters of the time. I thought they were rebukes to deeper or more complex FPSes, focusing on wild action and zany secrets. But from 2 and especially 3, I can see how much they’re influenced by their contemporaries. Serious Sam 2 came at a time where bombastic, colorful shooters were in vogue, with lots of locations and vehicles and turret sequences, and that’s what we got. Serious Sam 3 hails from that dark period where FPSes were brown, gritty, and grounded, and it falls completely into that trap. Please, if you’ve read this far, go back and play The Second Encounter to see what this series is supposed to be. It’s been a lot of things, I’m sure it will be many more, but it never should have been Serious Sam 3.

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