I put some weighty expectations on Serious Sam 3. I had fond memories of co-op LAN sessions of The First Encounter in my younger days, with miniguns whirring and cannonballs flying everywhere. Serious Sam 3 has flashes of that earlier glory, but it needs a lot of coaxing and convincing to live up to its lofty expectations.
The mood has changed. There are cutscenes with dialogue and some half-hearted attempt at a plot line. Sam’s infamous one-liners are present, but they sound forced and stale. I would have rather been carried along on a wild ride from location to location with some cursory text from NETRICSA rather than have some pretense of a story that applies juddering emergency brakes to the game’s pacing.
The game also takes some time to get ramped up. It caters to newcomers, which is fair enough, but each weapon is trickled out at such a torturous rate that it tests the player’s patience. You start off learning there is a “melee” function that is basically an insta-kill button for smaller enemies, and slowly progress from there. It takes you several minutes before you happen across your first firearm, and you’re required to spend some time in pistol purgatory until your next weapon is drip fed to you. In earlier iterations, the game presents you with a weapon and immediately presents a scenario that demonstrates the optimal use for the weapon (i.e. when you pick up a grenade launcher, masses of enemies spawn in a nearby narrow corridor). This is a better approach than forcing the player to pop off pistol rounds at little alien spiders for 20 minutes.
The initial levels are equally trying. Rather than the vast, open arenas we’re used to, we are instead presented with labyrinthine urban corridors and spaces choked with cover and blind spots. Things get a lot better as the game progresses, but it still begs the question: why include these areas in the first place?
There are also some interesting weapon design choices. Players can aim down sights for some lower level weapons, and reloading is also present. I’m at a loss as to why both functions are included – weapons are pinpoint accurate to begin with, and the hindrance of reloading adds another layer of complexity. It feels like Serious Sam 3 is moving away from raw firepower and focusing more on player movement and (dare I say) tactical weapon usage. I guess it’s not a bad thing – I found myself using and adapting to these functions quickly enough. I even thought that the holographic sight on the assault rifle was…useful.
Serious Engine 3.5, when it behaves, looks pretty good. The environments are destructible, models and textures have a fair amount of detail, and there are some interesting lighting and particle effects. There are also several graphics and physics options to tweak, and I recommend that you do so. There is also a slider for FOV and colour adjustments, which is a nice touch that is far too often overlooked in other games.
However, it still comes with its fair share of glitches. Some levels suffer from HDR blowout that renders the sides of buildings a blinding shade of white, and several scenes in the initial few levels feel far too overexposed. I had to research some console tweaks to normalize the HDR output, which improved the scene dramatically. Be prepared to do the same if you don’t like what you see.
Overall, the negatives appear to outweigh the positives, and it takes time for these positives to present themselves. This is a game that needs love, attention, and patience before it’ll start paying dividends. When you do get to the good parts, you’ll discover that your eyes feel unnaturally dry from a lack of blinking because you have spent the last 10 minutes or so completely and absolutely focused on weaving away from enemies while you fling rockets and buckshot at them. And you’ll want more.
If you can stomach the shortcomings, Serious Sam 3 is actually a hell of a lot of fun. It just takes some time to get there.