Developer: Croteam / Publisher: Devolver Digital / Played on: PC / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Rating Pending
You know how Dragon Ball Z has a nearly absurd level of escalation? Goku will punch someone through a mountain in episode twenty then eighty episodes later he sneezes and accidentally wipes out an entire solar system. That’s what Serious Sam 3: BFE feels like, only you don’t have to wait through 15 minutes of talking for the action to explode. It’s all energy beams, shotguns, and explosions while Vegeta follows you around wailing an electric guitar and Bulma pours whiskey in your face. This game fucking rules.
Every bit the arcade shooter as Doom and Quake, Serious Sam 3: BFE is all about nonstop action featuring levels with enemies numbering in the thousands. It may be easy to interpret this gameplay as “tape down the left mouse button and run backward until everything dies,” but the actual play is much more complicated and rewarding than that. Every situation is different, and the game’s inventive enemy roster forces you to respond with the right weapons and tactics to minimize the damage you take. Measured attrition is the name of the game here, seeing as you don’t recover health by hiding behind a rock. The game’s implied machismo makes the message loud and clear–if you want regenerating health and auto aim, go play a bitch game for bitch players because you won’t find it here.
This rigorous dedication to classic sensibilities makes Serious Sam 3: BFE one of the tightest and most satisfying twitch shooters ever made. Some modern concessions like a melee attack, iron sights on some weapons, and manual reloads are all meaningful to the game aside from merely keeping with the times. For instance, pulling up the iron sights on the rifle will give you pixel-perfect aim at unlimited range, but it also obscures your peripheral vision, which is necessary to see pesky enemies that are intent on circling around to your flank. Such tradeoffs may not mean much on the default difficulty, but kick it up to Hard or higher, and suddenly every action becomes a tactical decision between risk and reward, all happening at lightning speed.
Being back in the arcade-action saddle again feels amazing–and surprisingly lengthy. I frowned a tad when I saw the game would only have twelve levels, but it turns out each of those levels takes about an hour to finish. Factor in deaths and my completion time was around thirteen hours, with almost none of that occupied by annoying cutscenes, rail-shooting sequences, or scripted events. It’s all meaty gameplay, and that’s awesome. I’m slightly disappointed at the game’s tone, however. Past Serious Sam games never took themselves very seriously. While BFE is certainly still about shooting a bunch of aliens and delivering corny one-liners, I didn’t get the sense that the developers packed as many weird and goofy secrets into the game. I have fond memories of finding a room filled with big-headed gibberish-spewing developers or blowing up the Sun in previous games. BFE never made me laugh, which is a bummer.
As a showcase for Serious Engine 3.5, Serious Sam 3: BFE looks amazing and makes me wonder what sort of math they’re teaching in Croatian schools. Rather than beat you over the head with graphical bells and whistles like Serious Sam: The First Encounter, BFE is more measured in its representation. Fantastic environments, incredible lighting, and solid framerates with hundreds of on-screen enemies do all the talking. However, just like The First Encounter, the game’s Egyptian shtick wears old about halfway through the campaign. It’s possible that Croteam developed this game as a self-aware throwback, but after playing the intentionally diverse Second Encounter and Serious Sam II, I wonder why the level design did such a hard swing back the other way. Ultimately, it feels like the engine has a lot of unflexed muscle, so I hope to see it again in the future.
While BFE controls similarly to other fast-paced FPS games like Quake, the real secret to the game is the responsiveness of its engine. Other modern shooters feel so bogged down by post-process effects and predictive animation that controller input feels like a loose suggestion to the on-screen action rather than direct control. Serious Sam is exactly the opposite. Every action feels razor sharp, like driving a flashy sports car with a rocket engine on the back. Also the car has machine guns and a rocket launcher and… I should just stop with the analogies.
In a similar vein to the campaign’s dedication to classic FPS, the multiplayer includes nearly every mode invented since the days of Doom. While mainstays like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag work fantastically with BFE’s solid framework, the banner mode is the 16-player campaign co-op. Being part of a 16-player melee with hundreds of enemies feels like being in an intense mosh pit that also has rocket launchers. There are even some nifty features like direction and distance indicators to all your co-op partners so you don’t get lost in the expansive levels. Overall, the multiplayer experience isn’t profound, but the crapload of modes are as fun as they’ve always been.
You get an awesome experience at an absurd value with Serious Sam 3: BFE. Not only is the campaign incredibly substantial, but it offers an experience not seen since Painkiller. While it suffers from Goddamn Enough Egypt Already syndrome like The First Encounter, that fatigue is immediately forgotten as fifty demon skeleton guys crest a hill and you plunge balls deep into the thick of the action.