LTTP: Serious Sam 3 BFE

Cool ship. When it's not trying to kill you.

Cool ship. When it’s not trying to kill you.

Welcome to Late to the Party, the first in a new series of posts I’ll be writing on a totally random basis whenever I happen to feel like. As the name implies, this is me going back to older games I missed at the time and seeing if I enjoy them.

Note that these aren’t retrospectives in that I’ve not played these games before, that’s a different category I’ll use for nostalgia goggle games I loved back in the day. Also, spoilers obviously, though it shouldn’t need stating. Won’t be anything too major as I’m still playing it myself. Anyway, let’s get started!

First up is Serious Sam 3 because I love the franchise and kinda missed this game when it released originally. I wasn’t playing anything much on PC at the time, to be honest, mostly focusing on JP imports for PS3 (and Vita in 2012… hmm, maybe I should gush about my love of Persona 4 The Golden one of these days…).

I’ve always been a huge fan of Serious Sam and played First and Second Encounters to death back when they were still new and fresh. Co-op play, single player, finding all the secrets, Iron Man (permadeath) runs, the works. I love those games to bits, and the main reason for that is there’s no annoying cover mechanics. It’s sheer, hectic, frenetic insanity on all sides at all times. And I love that.

Then I grabbed a Sam bundle during a Steam sale last year around summer if I recall correctly; the entire Serious Sam collection including the HD versions of First and Second Encounter. And included, alongside the weird spin-offs I’ve so far not looked at, was Serious Sam 3.

I finally got around to trying it this last week. And yeah… this is still Serious Sam. Few issues and caveats, not least of which the piss poor performance for a game that released in 2011 being played on a GTX960, but overall? It’s great.

45fps. When I’m maintaining 60fps looking at Boston in Fallout 4, a game barely a year old AND terribly optimised (lolBethesda). Croteam, I love ya, but come on, guys…

45fps. When I’m maintaining 60fps looking at Boston in Fallout 4, a game barely a year old AND terribly optimised (lolBethesda). Croteam, I love ya, but come on, guys…

That said, let’s start by covering my minor beefs with the game. First, the aforementioned performance. I get 60fps most of the time unless it’s a big, open area, but I had to compromise a lot of settings to get it to remain even vaguely steady, and it still tanks in some of the bigger arenas (tanks = 20fps or lower). That’s simply not acceptable for a game this old running on a card I’ve had barely longer than a year.

My other beefs stem from it feeling a bit too much like a modern shooter in its main aesthetic and gun choices early on. The modern Cairo setting is pretty bland and reminiscent of some washed out CoD style shooter.

This improves over time as you start reaching the older areas of the city (like the museum and some of the mosques), but at the start I felt pretty put off by the blocky, destroyed buildings and drab colour palette, and it remains this way at least until mission 5 (where I’m currently at… and stuck, lol).

Gun-wise… well, for starters you kick off with a sledgehammer (unless you happen to know about the secret at the very start that nets you a basic pump-action shotgun). This isn’t actually a complaint, mind you. I love the sledgehammer. It’s actually a really fun weapon as it allows me to get up close and personal, plus it’s a one-hit kill on most things in the early maps, especially Gnaars.

Taking on Mental’s hordes with a sledgehammer. Yep, this is a Sam game, all right.

Taking on Mental’s hordes with a sledgehammer. Yep, this is a Sam game, all right.

But then I got the Colt and… eh, this feels like a pop gun. Honestly didn’t find it all that fun to use and while in real life a weapon like this would be damn powerful, here it acts like Generic Handgun #4232, albeit with infinite ammo. It feels like it takes longer to acquire your first (non-secret) shotgun as well, which just exacerbates matters.

To be fair, when I was zipping through on Tourist difficulty to get some screenshots for this post, the Colt was a lot more fun. But that’s because on Tourist you’re one-shotting regular mooks. My first play-through was on normal difficulty where it takes three shots to take them down (and forget using it on tougher enemies).

On the other hand, it’s typical Sam in that you’re meant to struggle until you know some of the secrets. Getting a double-barrel coach gun early on is a godsend, and finding the laser takes care of any tense situations you might find yourself in (naturally these are utterly essential to your survival chances on Serious difficulty, lol).

Admit it, you laughed.

Admit it, you laughed.

Finally on the nitpicky annoyances side of things, because that’s really all these are, is the ‘story’, such as it is, delivered through cut scenes at the start and end of each level with occasional phone calls mid-mission. There’s nothing wrong with them, per se, but I feel like the old method of simply giving the player a bit of text flavour from NETRICSA during/after loading for the current area and enemies was better.

Still, they’re skippable with a simple mouse click and they do allow for some things the older games didn’t do (helicopter in cut scene crashes, you work your way towards it, helicopter becomes a boss, as one example). There’s something to be said for both methods and, like I said, it’s a minor nitpick at most.

Not much else to say on the negative side of things, everything else is pretty much par for the course. And par for the course is frantic fun and mild nausea if I play too long. I’m old, leave me alone :p Let me give an example of why I love Serious Sam.

These guys would’ve survived if only they’d put their Plot Armour™ on.

These guys would’ve survived if only they’d put their Plot Armour™ on.

Upon reaching the end of mission called ‘Broken Wings’ you have a big ol’ boss to take out. In a massive arena. With destructive columns all around the edges. And a bunch of mooks if you didn’t manage to clear them out in time (I didn’t on my first go through, oops). Here’s how that boss fight went:

“Hey, I’ve done this entire area without taking a single knock, how awesome is that? Oh, I could do with a drink…”

*pauses game*

*gets drink*

*returns*

“Right, let’s get back to—DAMN! Trapped in a corner with a Kleer in close proximity…! And there goes ¾ of my health in seconds flat. Goddammit.”

At which point I was tossed into a cut scene before I’d killed the last few mooks, and… surprise, surprise, BOSS. Great, it’s a Bio-Mechanoid. One of the big red arseholes. The ones that can stomp you flat if you get too close and which ejaculates long-range rockets like there’s no tomorrow.

I need to learn NOT to say ‘I’m doing really well!’, it always ends badly.

I need to learn NOT to say ‘I’m doing really well!’, it always ends badly.

I have 24 health left. And there are ranged enemies in the central structure. And Kleers running around the place. So I have to dodge bullets at range, rushing skeletal horses with a penchant for goring at close range, all while evading the splash damage, direct damage, and stompy feet of doom of the Bio-Mechanoid itself. On 24 health.

That’s pretty much two hits = dead from the Kleers, a few glancing hits from the machinegun guys, or a glancing splash damage hit from the Doom Walker. I think running like a maniac is a good plan. So that’s what I do. For approximately twenty retries.

Did I mention that it restarts me in the open, in the middle, right in line of sight of the Bio-Mechanoid? Next to the gunners? And with several Kleers nearby (I didn’t kill them in time before the boss appeared)? Because it does. Which means some ten of those deaths were a result of simply being gunned down and gored while trying to reach the relatively safer cloisters surrounding the arena.

The Kleers are the biggest issue here, those bastards hound you (uh… horse you?) continuously and are fast enough to keep up even if you sprint. They therefore need to be viciously murderised at the first opportunity.

Trouble is, they move like blazes and standing still long enough to shoot them means a) they’re liable to barrel straight into you (resulting in death), or b) result in you dying anyway because the Bio-Mechanoid’s missiles hit you, or a lucky shot from one of the machine gunners perforates your pelvis.

This was on Tourist difficulty while getting screenshots. Easier? More like ‘was reading webpages on second monitor, not paying attention to game’ easier.

This was on Tourist difficulty while getting screenshots. Easier? More like ‘was reading webpages on second monitor, not paying attention to game’ easier.

So yeah… that fight took a while. Managed it eventually, though! And you know what? It was a fricken’ blast! Sure, it was rage-inducing when I finally got the boss’s health down to nearly nothing only to be skewered by a Kleer. Or I panicked and got stuck on a pillar, only to be blasted into pieces by a missile.

(Note: it’s possible to cheese it by staying inside the structure and jinking in and out to avoid missiles, but that requires that the gunners be dead, and is a boring way to play a Sam game.)

But despite that, it was a rush I’ve not had in a good long while. Especially upon finally beating it; that’s a feeling I don’t get all that often any more. Games like Fallout 4 are more about perks and carefully aiming and using stealth to get sneak attacks. I’ve not had this level of pulse-pounding awesome in that entire damn game, and SS3 manages it regularly.

There’s no cover mechanics, you move as fast as a hummingbird hopped on amphetamines, enemies can kill you quickly and will swarm you by the dozens. It’s just a grand old time of adrenaline-fuelled perfection.

The music really helps matters along, too. The way it remains fairly ambient until an enemy appears, at which point it immediately ramps up into something to make the blood pump, then fades back to ambient the moment things quieten down is genius (lots of games do this now, of course, but Sam stays near the top of the pile for me).

If you’ve played the game, you know this corridor. No, it’s not a cutscene at the end.

If you’ve played the game, you know this corridor. No, it’s not a cutscene at the end.

All in all, while I still prefer the originals, Serious Sam 3 holds up great as a new entry into the series. Now I’ve discovered a bunch of secrets and can obtain powerful weapons early on, the issue with the pistol is less of an annoyance and the above anecdote could potentially be turned around to be viewable from the enemy side: “HOW THE HELL DO WE KILL THIS CANNON-WIELDING, MINIGUN-TOTING MANIAC!?”

And that, for me, is half the fun of Sam. The arena shootiness that doesn’t rely on cover mechanics or regenerating health, the secrets you can find to make life easier (or survivable on higher difficulties), and the overall feeling of simply being able to throw yourself at every challenge with nothing more than quick fingers and a really big gun.

So while this is technically not a review… I can certainly recommend playing Serious Sam 3 if you haven’t yet and what I’ve written here sounds interesting. Though do yourself a favour and play the HD versions of First and Second Encounter first, they’re both great and they run buttery smooth even on older hardware. Plus, Sam 3 is a prequel and it’s good to have seen his adventures in the past before playing this one.

Now… if you’ll excuse me, I have a spaceship to destroy. Probably after 20+ retries.

One last thing: I hadn’t finished the game when I originally wrote this. I’ve played it multiple times by now and I have some thoughts on the story, most-especially the ending. So I’ll be putting up another post at some point covering that, since I think the story – while simple – has a lot of weight to it, something I was pretty surprised about.

(A final little aside: MASSIVE props to Croteam for giving me the option to turn that blasted head bob off in the settings. THANK YOU to this one, singular developer who GETS IT. Head bob is stupid, pointless, unnecessary, and causes me serious nausea and eye strain. Give me the damn option to turn that crap off, virtually every other dev on the planet!)