Having made its PC debut last year, Serious Sam 3: BFE is already widely known to be an intense action first-person shooter (FPS). A balls-to-the-wall affair unlike that which we commonly see in today’s marketplace. In its heyday Serious Sam was a franchise born of technical limitation and made to push FPS players to the very edge of their comfort zone. Here on modern hardware, Serious Sam 3: BFE revitalises the now well established gameplay with the benefits of superior graphics and added horsepower.
The largely superfluous story tells the tale of Sam ‘Serious’ Stone’s journey before Serious Sam: The First Encounter. Set in the modern day, Stone is fighting back against Mental’s forces after a three-year war has resulted in genocide of almost the entire human race. What few survivors remain have taken up arms, and Stone is part of a small task force in Egypt taking the war to Mental’s army head-on. Needless to say, things don’t go too well, and before the videogame even begins Stone is on the back foot: alone and without armament.
Despite popular belief, the gamplay design has evolved slightly in the decade or so since Serious Sam defined the most hardcore adrenaline rush gameplay the genre offered. There are far less puzzles in this predominantly action-orientated affair; while secrets remain included they’re typically just alternative routes or small easily accessible but cleverly disguised corners of the map. Instead, Serious Sam 3: BFE concentrates on the chaotic challenges of facing overwhelming numbers: exactly what the series is remembered for.
Playable as a solo exercise but also in co-operative modes for up to four players, Serious Sam 3: BFE’s campaign is a lengthy endeavour that takes the player through dozens of levels across multiple different environments. The levels are significant in length individually and also feature numerous boss encounters; to suggest Serious Sam 3: BFE is all about the action is an understatement to say the least. The level design supports this by way of providing large open spaces with plenty of cover, both breakable and permanent – which shockingly manages to avoid the modern tradition of presenting only waist-high scenery – as well as tight corridors and right angled hiding places. The level design is actually very well implemented, with the lessens learned on primitive hardware clearly providing the inspiration for how things should be done now the choice is one of design rather than computational power.
The weaponry also makes a significant difference to the way Serious Sam 3: BFE is played. Many of the familiar favourites from both Serious Sam: The First Encounter and Serious Sam: The Second Encounter return (though some of those featured in Serious Sam 2 are left out in the cold) with a combination of precision, impact and area effect weapons providing an impressive and deadly arsenal. The videogame’s design relies on giving players adequate stopping power to push back waves of enemies, and as such the strength of the weaponry has been tailored to do just that: nothing will die from a single pistol bullet, but it will prevent an enemy readying his sights from pulling that trigger.
In addition to the campaign Serious Sam 3: BFE also features a Survival mode, also playable in both single-player and co-operatively either online or through split-screen options. A test of your dexterity and little else, the Survival mode is just about as challenging as an FPS experience has ever been, and only the strongest need apply as, in a very real way, it’s only the most skilled players that will survive more than a few minutes.
From a technical standpoint the Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Serious Sam 3: BFE is significantly weaker than its PC counterpart. Less convincing textures take longer to draw and the character animation is way below average for a videogame production of this quality. It’s a real shame that such corners have been cut given the commendable design elsewhere – including the high octane soundtrack – but whether it’s a case of inferior hardware or cost/distribution limitations we’ll perhaps never know.
Despite its comparatively high price tag and the lengthy delay in bringing Serious Sam 3: BFE to the Xbox LIVE Arcade, the result has been worth the wait. Sam Stone is back on form with the same level of punishing adrenaline rush action that we’ve all come to expect from the Serious Sam franchise, and any established FPS gamer will immediately recognise that as being just what the doctor ordered. It may not be clever, but it’s certainly big and ballsy, and for that we can only thank Croteam for sticking to what their good at: no nonsense action videogames.