The first of three indie productions under the long running Serious Sam banner, Serious Sam: Double D is a precursor to the highly anticipated launch of Serious Sam 3: BFE this October. It’s a game that’s intended to set the scene: to remind gamers of why they loved the franchise back in the nineties and educate younger gamers in the ways of Sam “Serious” Stone. It’s successful on both counts, but not in the way you might imagine.
Serious Sam: Double D works against the grain of the franchise’s closest cousin, Duke Nukem. Whereas the Duke starting out kicking alien ass in a 2D Platform game series before migrating to the First-Person Shooters (FPS) we all know and love, Sam is working in reverse, beginning as an FPS icon and now appearing in his first 2D Platform adventure. The comparisons between the two heroes will be inevitable up to and beyond the release of Serious Sam 3: BFE thanks to the recent launch of Duke Nukem Forever, but for now, the role reversal and self-referential humour is all that the two have in common. Serious Sam: Double D is perhaps the most unique experience the franchise has offered, founded on the kill-‘em-all gameplay that has become its trademark and reinventing it in an entirely new genre.
While the game features the same combat structure as its FPS brethren – the rapid respawning of incredibly aggressive enemies, the intentionally unfair trap placement and the bombastic approach to Sam’s athletic abilities – the core mechanic of Serious Sam: Double D is its combination ability. Players can attain many different weapons, and a number of each of the same weapon. In a normal shooting game, the second version of the same weapon would be useless for anything but additional ammo; not so in Serious Sam: Double D, as here players can combine weapons to create huge machinations of death. Providing they acquire enough of the connection arms, players can create combinations of up six weapons in a single stack. Within the inventory, there’s enough room to create up to eight stacks: everything from a quadruple barrel shotgun to a rocket launcher combined with a machine gun mounted on a chainsaw.
The enemy design in the game is worthy of distinction by itself. A tribute to previous titles in the franchise is of course evident in the Gnaars and the iconic headless suicide bombers, but there is new flavour added in the form of countless revisions and additions. Some games pride themselves on their colossal end of level bosses, screen-filling enemies designed to stir fear in the player. Serious Sam: Double D is different however: throughout the game, even from the very first level, players will face-off against enemies ten times their size in a basic firefight. The bosses in Serious Sam: Double D are something else entirely.
The levels are obviously built to cater for the mayhem of Serious Sam: Double D’s frantic combat, with simple switch puzzles providing only momentary relief from the trigger-happy action. The design follows the Super Mario Bros. 3 structure of offering platforms of multiple heights in a single area as opposed to the depth of a 3D game, making for tactics that involve quickly switching between levels to disorientate the movement of the less agile enemies. Couple this with the fact that enemies can be stood on and some amusing strategies quickly develop, even when the game doesn’t force them.
In addition to the campaign comes a selection of individual Challenges. Unlocked by collecting the Mommy’s Best Games icons, the Challenges are individual set pieces with varied rules: kill a set amount of enemies with a specific weapon, in a specific time limit, on a specific level. These and other such modifiers are there to test your trigger finger, and punish your mistakes.
The visual quality of Serious Sam: Double D is remarkable. While some may take an instant dislike to the depiction of a gruffer Sam, the hand drawn artwork is simple fantastic with its vivid colours and fluid animation. The same sense of comedy gunplay evident in Serious Sam: The First Encounter and Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is delivered perfectly despite the distinct change in art direction, and the sound quality stands-up to the criticism of lacking voice actors thanks to the bombastic approach to mid-combat chaos: if it’s not loud, you’re not playing it right.
As a game designed to encourage aggressive gameplay, Serious Sam: Double D is presented eloquently. The same can’t be said for its tongue-in-cheek subject matter, but that’s always been the intention with the Serious Sam franchise. The run-and-gun Platform gameplay replicates the feeling of a Serious Sam game far better than any screenshots could suggest, and in that Serious Sam: Double D is a game that fans must play to understand. It’s not a game that breaks down the barriers of Platform gameplay, but it is a game that pushes Serious Sam into brand new territory, and for that it’s wholly worth the cost of entry.