Serious Sam is one of the more interesting franchises of the past few years. Not because it is one of the most innovative titles ever, but more the fact that most people would have expected a game which focuses solely on action and not much else to fail. However Croteam struck gold with Serious Sam and despite this being the third game in the series, it is the first time it has appeared on the PS2 console.
Even though the game does feature a storyline, it's fairly cliche and not something that keeps you wanting to play it more. That comes from the action, however the storyline basically revolves around time travel. Sam is transported back to various locations in time and must rid the world of an increasing number of enemies called the uglies who are controlled by a character named Mental.
Serious Sam: Next Encounter is a first person shooter but unlike the famous ones of today such as Half-Life where AI is everything basically, Sam revolves around destroying anything and everything in your path. The game does contain puzzle solving to a degree, but this is fairly basic such as finding a switch or key to progress further into the current map. In reality the only task you have to perform most of the time is get from A to B alive. However this isn't as easy as it sounds because Sam is definitely a game where enemies rely on power in numbers.
Next Encounter is more about reflexes then anything. Sam is dumped into a location, and is swarmed by a large number of enemies. The game doesn't let you run and gun through each location either, with doors sometimes locked until all enemies have been dispatched. This is where one of the problems of the game surfaces, the scripting. Whilst games being scripted is nothing new, the level of scripting in serious sam may be a complete turn off to some players. Enemies don't appear until certain items are picked up and the game even indicates which item that is. This can give away the element of surprise because you know as soon as that item is picked up, many enemies will appear.
Climax appear to have followed the mantra, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. Not much has changed since the PC versions of the game and most of the weapons and enemies do remain the same. This isn't a big problem because the PC games were of such quality, but fans of the franchise may have been expecting something new.
Weapons include a chainsaw, pistol (which can be used akimbo style as can the uzi) shotgun, sniper rifle and more. It's not long into the game that you start picking up serious firepower to play with but its also not long into the game that Sam is rushed by hundreds of enemies either. Sam also at times has the use of vehicles to help defeat enemies, but they are not invulnerable and can be destroyed.
Items are also littered around the place which reinforces the action style of the game, bucket loads of ammo is strewn around the place as are powerups such as invulnerability and armor. One of the main areas replay value comes from is the point score, but also as Sam racks up the kills, a combo begins and once enough enemies are taken down he becomes enraged giving you much more firepower in a short period of time. Sam also has unlimited lives, but each time you die, five thousand points are deducted.
As mentioned before the game begins in Ancient Rome (it does progress to other locations in the world) and you will encounter buildings such as Caesars Palace and a Colosseum. In terms of variety the game doesn't offer a great deal for the themes it is set in, but combat occurs both indoors and outdoors. Forty missions are included, but some missions are completed in five minutes whilst others take a great deal more time.
One thing that Climax must be applauded for is the frame rate. Despite the fact that there is so much action on the screen at once (explosions, up to and over ten enemies, bullets/rockets flying) the frame rate remains stable and not once dropped noticeably if it even dropped at all. The graphics do the job but aren't the most impressive around, but Sam is definitely a game where gameplay matters very much so over graphics. Sam's one liners ('I thought Caesars Palace was in Vegas') give a humorous shot to the game, and the sound effects feature big, bad explosions. The music is a varied mix of rock and cinematic style but most of the time the sound effects will drown out the music due to the amount of action happening in the game.
The length of Serious Sam: Next Encounter is dictated by the difficulty level you choose. If you choose the easiest, you will waste the enemies quickly and progress quite easily but crank it up a few notches and the enemies will be much tougher and progress will be all the more difficult. The game also contains online play via the PS2 network adapter which increases the games value even more. Three modes are available for online play, deathmatch, hold the flag, and pass the bomb.
Serious Sam: Next Encounter is a decent game but it also shows the franchise is getting a little old in its third iteration. Those wanting a deep, story oriented game should definitely look elsewhere but if you want a game which you can pick up once every few weeks and have nothing to worry about other then destroying hordes of enemies, then Serious Sam: Next Encounter is definitely it.