Why did I go and do that? Why did I buy Serious Sam HD off XBLA? Besides the obvious fact that 1200 MS Points is only pretend money anyway. One clue’s in this trailer:

I’m a sucker for Requiem For A Tower. If I was editing together a trailer for a full-on mental FPS then I’d definitely use Requiem For A Tower as the soundtrack.

So, the music helped. As did the prospect of simply shooting lots and lots and lots of things without the prospect of some rotten stealth or escort mission ruining the experience. And the fact that I hadn’t played it in the best part of a decade. Naturally, the second it hit XBLA I bought it.

Serious Sam was a breath of fresh air when it first appeared. I remember hearing about the demo very early on and being amazed by it, then frustrated that I didn’t have anywhere to publish my amazement because I was working on a site that had yet to launch. We were a few years into full-poly 3D engines, and while the environments were looking great they had a tendency to be sparsely populated, presumably because there weren’t enough polygons to go round. So while Quake remains one of my favourite games of all time, it could never match Doom for the sheer volume of stuff that it’d fling at you as a matter of course. And we sort of got used to facing up to a handful of enemies at once; the games themselves looked a lot nicer so it was an easy compromise to make.

Then out of the blue this demo showed up from an unknown Croatian developer and casually stamped on the status quo, showcasing enormous, bright environments and proper hordes to battle them in. As Gaz has on occasion pointed out, it’s like a cross between an FPS and Robotron; at times there are so many enemies heading straight towards you (without the slightest sense of self-preservation) that the only way to play it is to keep moving and circling and firing so that you can bunch them up a bit and hopefully blast them all before you run out of big guns and die.

It’s exhilarating. For a while, until it gets a bit much. And then it becomes one of the most quicksavey games of all time, because if you see an open area ahead, you know that as a matter of course you’re about to be charged on all sides by yet another angry horde of alien thingies. I was amused to note that for Serious Sam HD on the 360, Croteam thoughtfully set Y as the quicksave button. Clever thinking, that, seeing as you need it pretty much all the time.

The revamped visuals are decent, the screaming headless guys with bombs for hands are still one of the best enemies ever, though. They’ve done a decent job of adapting the controls to the 360 pad, with a generous helping of auto-aim to get you over the fact that you’re not playing with a mouse and keyboard as God intended. But the game’s something of a one-trick pony that often relies on what’s admittedly a very good trick to conceal its shortcomings. The level design really isn’t up to much, just a bunch of large rooms linked together without too much care or any particular flair, which goes a long way towards explaining why I never really went back to it after completing it the first time around. As a way of showcasing a 3D engine it was a triumph; as a game it wasn’t quite all that.

I’ve been having some fun with it the last couple of days, more so once I started remembering to hit the autosave often, and it’s great for the odd half hour or so. But I suspect that it won’t be long before it starts an inexorable descent down my Recently Played list. Seriously.


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