“Serious Sam: The First Encounter” is one of those classic games that I’m surprised that I didn’t discover properly until fairly recently (I played the shareware version of it in 2013, although it took me until this year to finally get the full version).
In fact, at the time of writing this review, I’m just over two-thirds of the way through this game – so this review will only reflect my experiences of the game so far..
Anyway, due to a combination of playing a fiendishly difficult “slaughtermap” WAD for “Doom II” recently and randomly browsing on GoG, I found myself the proud owner of a digital copy of “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” for the sum of about four pounds.
[Before I go any further, I should probably point out that – despite being advertised as “DRM- FREE. No activation or online connection required to play “, the digital download of this game available for sale on GoG at the time of writing this review still comes with the original game’s copy protection – which requires that the game disc be in the drive before you can play the game.
Since GoG only sells the game as a digital download, you can probably see the problem here.
Although there’s a very easy workaround for this (hell, even the warning message when the game won’t load contains a subtle clue), players should not be required to scour the internet to find workarounds in order to play a game that they have legally bought.]
Anyway, let’s take a look at “Serious Sam: The First Encounter”:
“Serious Sam: The First Encounter” is a FPS game from 2001 and it is a resolutely old-school FPS game, with a few innovative touches. Like with many classic FPS games, the story of the game doesn’t really matter that much.
Basically, you play as a burly action hero called Serious Sam who has to travel back in time to ancient Egypt to single-handedly prevent a supervillain from taking over the world with an army of mutant creatures. I’m not exaggerating about the “army” part either, for reasons I’ll explain later.
Like in “Duke Nukem 3D”, Sam will occasionally make sarcastic comments during combat. This is something that I really miss about old-school FPS games, and it was great to see it in this game.
Although Sam doesn’t make as many comments as Duke Nukem does and, although his comments are a lot more “PG rated” than Duke Nukem’s, it was still fun to see this in a FPS game.
The gameplay in “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” mainly revolves around travelling through (relatively) linear levels and battling hordes of monsters. Usually, each level will channel you into at least one or two arena-like areas, where you will have to fight your way through large groups of monsters before you can progress to the next part of the level.
So, although this game doesn’t contain the focus on exploration that made classic FPS games like “Doom” and “Duke Nukem 3D” so great, it makes up for this by turning the linear nature of the game into a feature rather than a bug. What do I mean by this? Well, the main focus of the game is on fast, frenetic and brutally challenging combat.
If you try to play “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” like a modern FPS game, this will happen to you on a very regular basis:
Because you will be attacked from all sides by literal hordes of enemies on a regular basis, this means that you will have to actually think strategically if you want to even stand a chance of getting to the next level. And, in many ways, this is what makes “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” such a great game.
Like in a particularly challenging “Doom” WAD, “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” actually requires you to have a good understanding of the mechanics of the game.
You have to know which types of monster you need to fight first, you have to circle-strafe a lot, you have to dodge projectile attacks, you have to choose your weapons carefully and you have to know how to trick the monsters into fighting each other.
Although the monster infighting system in this game is nowhere near as good as the one in “Doom”, there are still at least a few ways that you can trick some types of monsters into attacking each other rather than you. But, regardless of whether you do this or not, most of the battles in “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” will require you to think strategically and to think fast.
So, if you’re new to classic FPS games, then I’d recommend playing the classic “Doom” games (“Final Doom” in particular) before you even attempt to play “Serious Sam: The First Encounter”. Even so, this game has a fairly good difficulty curve and the first few levels – as well as the tutorial level – will gradually teach you all you need to know in order to play this game.
The game also comes with a built in guide called “Netrisca”, that will provide you with strategic information about any monsters you will encounter and any weapons that you might find:
Another great thing about this game is the sheer variety of different monsters you will encounter. One of the great things about old FPS games is that they often put a lot of imagination into the foes that you encounter throughout the game.
Unlike in modern militaristic FPS games, where you just gun down generic hordes of [insert America’s current enemies here] – all of the monsters in “Serious Sam” have different attacks and imaginative designs.
There are monsters that are only dangerous when they’re standing right next to you. There are monsters that are only dangerous when they’re far away from you. There are giant bull-like creatures that will charge at you.
There are monsters who shoot homing missiles that you’ll have to shoot down (unless you want to lose a lot of health). There are monsters that are only dangerous when they’re in large groups. I’m sure you get the idea.
In short, despite the slightly linear levels, the combat in this game is surprisingly exciting and interesting because you actually have to learn the monsters’ tactics and work out ways to use them to your advantage.
As for the weapons in this game, you’ll find quite a few of them. Unlike in modern “realistic” console-designed FPS games, you can carry a ludicrous number of different weapons in “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” and you will need all of them.
Although many of these weapons are fairly standard classic FPS weapons (including a “Doom II”-style double-barrelled shotgun) – there are at least a few imaginative guns on offer:
Graphically, this game looks absolutely stunning for something that was released in 2001.
Although I’m not really a fan of early 3D graphics (and I vastly prefer 1990s sprite-based graphics in my classic FPS games), the graphics in this game really stand out when compared to other games from the time:
All in all, if you loved “Doom”, “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Blood”, “Quake” or any of the other great FPS games from the 1990s, then you will also love “Serious Sam: The First Encounter”.
This is a game by FPS players, for FPS players and it sums up everything that once made the FPS genre so great.
But, if your only experience of playing FPS games is playing “Call Of Duty” (or any of the other simplistic, regenerating health, two-weapon FPS games that are so popular these days), then “Serious Sam: The First Encounter” will probably be too difficult for you. But, at the very least, it will provide you with a good history lesson about how great the genre used to be.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.