As much as we strive to review every game in a vacuum, analyzing it purely on its own merits, I can’t help but mention that Serious Sam 3: BFE is a refreshing divergence after weeks of modern military shooters and settings. For instance, one of the least satisfying weapons is the kitted out assault rifle with holographic site, something that would be a staple in those other shooters. Serious Sam 3 is a mostly perfect return to old-school form. It is a game framed around quite simply making mobs of enemies into giblets with a massive arsenal of weaponry.
The one area Serious Sam 3 really shines is that the game is crazy fun while still requiring a degree of skill. For those unaware of the series, the focus is on defeating waves of enemies with weapons capable of delivering instant gib-filled destruction. There is no regenerating health, no cover mechanic and you can carry an arsenal sufficient to re-arm a battleship . All of the enemies fight with specific and predictable patterns, so the core of the gameplay revolves around avoiding their attacks, identifying the greatest threats and responding with the best weapon for the particular opponent.
The game starts off simple enough, with smaller groups of only one type of enemy, but then really cranks up in difficulty as the various baddies get thrown at you together in larger and larger numbers. Success often hinges on knowing which weapons and ammo to save for certain enemies, but this can sometimes lead to frustration in later levels where you’ll die for simply having been a little too liberal with a key weapon earlier in the encounter. That end level screen is always satisfying to see though as you get the feeling you just tackled some insurmountable obstacle because the game just hit you with a wave of leaping undead skeletons, giant charging werebulls, a mini-boss with rocket launchers for hands and a freaking alien-infected helicopter at you all at once. Serious Sam 3‘s difficulty will ultimately determine you own personal enjoyment. You’ll need to find the fun in the challenge inherent in the game tossing varied groups at you if what will stave off feelings of monotony at gunning down just another mob of bad guys.
A surprising result of this difficulty and gameplay is how physically and mentally taxing the game is. Be prepared for some possibly sore fingers and frazzled brains cells. I suspect this is rooted in both how often you are moving in Serious Sam 3; you almost never will, nor can, stop if you hope to survive. It’s a testament to how much you stand around and just observe in other games. You are also required to process so much stimuli simultaneously from the hordes of enemies on screen, projectiles coming your way and the audio cues of those you can’t see currently, that it’s no wonder you’ll be wanting a break after an hour or two of play.
Graphically, Serious Sam 3: BFE compromises with a heavy dose of quantity to outweigh quality. What it may lack in individual texture fidelity or pixels, it more than makes up for in how many enemies and projectiles can be smoothly displayed on screen. Even my aging Core 2 Duo and 8800 GTS tackled it with only the occasional slowdown, usually during a save or when a large number of enemies were spawning at once. That’s not to say that it will always be chaos. You’ll have some downtime to explore the maps and hunt down the all the secrets scattered across the world.
One of Serious Sam 3: BFE‘s weaker elements is the story. The game is clearly attempting to sell this experience with the inclusions of cutscenes and radio chatter. BFE actually stands for Before First Encounter referring to the original title Serious Sam: The First Encounter; this latest version details the events leading up to Sam using the Time-Lock to head back to ancient Egypt, the setting of the first game. The issue is that it’s noticeably trying too hard to be B-movie levels of campy, and it comes across as the uncanny valley of schlock. It’s not so bad as to be funny in unintended ways nor does it pull off good purposeful camp with a sly wink and a nod. However, Sam’s occasional one-liners are often chuckle inducing.
The game’s multiplayer offerings are similarly half-hearted. Rather than really playing on the existing strengths of the gameplay, the competitive and cooperative modes don’t quite capture the same feeling. The problem is that what makes the single-player so fun is taking out the massive waves of enemies and somehow coming out on top, but both of the modes dilute that. Competitive multiplayer pits you in mostly standard deathmatch scenarios, and while on the surface cooperative multiplayer sounds like an amazing amount of fun, the additional players destroy any tension because the enemy numbers never really get a chance to accumulate, and there is only so much raising the difficulty can do to combat this problem.
In the end, these weaker elements don’t impact my overall enjoyment with the game that much. You can come around a blind corner, see a wide open area and a dizzying stockpile of power-ups, and you just know that a ridiculous fight is going to break out. Then top it off, just before the first enemy shows up, the rock/metal soundtrack kicks in.
Bottom line: A few weaker sections do little to tarnish the fun of this old-school rooted shooter.
Recommendation: If you were disappointed by Duke Nukem Forever then Serious Sam 3: BFE is probably closer to your expectations of an old-school shooter with a sparse number of more modern-aligned changes.[rating=4]
Justin Clouse wishes the minigun had more than 500 rounds.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.