Serious Sam 3: BFE full review

Then: run, run, run (backwards, ideally), shoot, shoot, shoot!

Now: Watch, wait, follow, shoot, listen to ham-fisted monologue attempting to conceal lazy jingoism, shoot a bit more.

First-person shooters have changed, and not necessarily for the better. For everyone that tries to do something bold with the form - BioShock's politically-agitated underwater dystopia, STALKER's stark survival wonderland - there are a good half dozen that couple hyper-scripted Arnie heroics with grey-faced seriousness. Serious Sam comes without artifice or pretence: it wants to return to a bygone era of action gaming (Doom's era, specifically), and it knows we play shooting games not to find out what happens or muse upon the nature of war, but to shoot things. A lot of things. More things than you could possibly count, in fact. It. Just. Gets. On. With. It.

Despite having a three in the title, Serious Sam 3: BFE is both a prequel to and remake of the first game from 2001. That means wide-open, massive levels stuffed to the artfully pixel-shaded gills with alien monsters, and weapons of increasingly ludicrous power in order to deal with these impossible hordes. It's not a game that offers much in variety in terms of locales, interactions or challenges, but that's not the point. The point is the variety that is shooting things with the rocket launcher or the minigun, the Devastator or the cannon. The point is just how many gigantic death-bulls, giant scorpion-men and house-sized fatties you can take down with one C4 charge, or whether it really is possible to survive being charged at by 100 horned skeletons at once.

Serious Sam hasn't grown up over the last ten years, nor does it really need to. As shooters become ever-more serious and navel-gazing, this is the openly, knowingly stupid antidote. It's there to make you smile/gasp/laugh/scream at the implausibility of the carnage it throws at you, and it's there to use modern technology to make that carnage look as spectacular as possible. It's an amazing looking game on  a high-end graphics card, even if the scene tends to remain the same but with escalating body counts. The setting is Egypt, which means pyramids and deserts and occasionally semi-spooky underground bits and not a lot else, but it makes the very best of this. Especially in the bit where you get to blow up the Sphinx. There is grandeur, and there is the destruction of grandeur.

Serious Sam 3: BFE

The titular character, a swaggering special forces man in just a t-shirt and jeans, is an action hero parody, but mercifully stops short of Duke Nukem Forever levels of crude self- and sex-obsession. He thinks he's amazing, he has no time for chit-chat from his in-ear advisor and he really, really, really likes to shoot monsters. Nuanced he ain't, but he has a few decent one-liners up his sleeve and he plays along with the absurdist nature of the game he's starring in.

The major failing in Serious Sam 3 is that it takes far too long to get to the essential gag it's built around, so you'll need to suffer through a couple of hours of plodding, faux-Call of Duty combat in corridors and decrepit Middle Eastern towns before it really turns on the silly. So, suffer through this unfortunate opening stretch, because once Sam lets itself loose in its massive maps, it just keeps on building: never let yourself think it's gone as far as it can, because it will go further.  Especially in the co-op mode, where it somehow manages to ramp up the on-screen monster count even further.

You could, however, argue that the game as a whole is redundant, as last year's HD remake of the first game pretty much pulled the same trick. Maybe it is, but the Serious Sam games are predicated on the belief that the same joke, with the right embellishments, need never stop being funny. With the new engine enabling dramatic destruction of the environments and warzone levels of smoke, explosions and blood, the joke certainly does hold up third time around.


Serious Sam 3: BFE: Specs

  • OS: Windows XP 32-bit (with service pack 2 or 3) Processor: Dual-core from Intel or AMD at 2.0 GHz Memory: 1GB Graphics: nVidia GeForce 7800/7900/8600 series, ATI/AMD Radeon HD2600/3600 or 1800/X1900 series DirectX®: 9.0c Hard Drive: 4GB free hard drive space Sound: DirectX9.0c Compatible Sound Card