Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter XBLA Review

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve been feeling a little jaded with first person shooters these days. Maybe because it’s an over crowded market, maybe because they keep adding features to make them easier, or maybe they have started to take themselves too seriously. Whatever the reason they just don’t seem as fun as they used to, so it’s very nice to see an old-school FPS make an appearance on Xbox Live Arcade.

Serious Sam isn’t as old as the forerunners he is obviously based on, first appearing as recently as 2001, but his breeding goes back way further. The character himself – Sam “Serious” Stone – could double for Duke Nukem with a bit of peroxide, and the story is as paper thin as they come. Take a little bit of Terminator, throw in some Stargate and you’re just about there, in the future an alien menace threatens to over run the human race, but it turns out it’s not the first time they’ve visited us. So Sam is sent back in time to ancient Egypt, the place of the first incursion, to wipe them out and save the future. Who cares about story anyway? It’s just an excuse to shoot relentless hordes of alien scum and save the world.

Before and after (above): nine years later, the HD update makes a big difference to the visuals.

Although based on classics like Doom and Duke Nukem, Serious Sam ups the ante when it comes to opponents. Not that there are loads of different types, just loads of them attacking at one time. There may not be many types of enemies to blast, but what there are decidedly off the wall, giant half man half scorpions carrying mini guns, something that looks like a giant boar, skeletons in rubberwear, but freakiest of all, and most unnerving, are the suicide bombers. Appearance wise, they aren’t that strange, headless humanoids with bombs for hands, it’s the screaming they make as they run straight at you. Soon as you hear that screaming you know you’re in trouble, and if they’re not in your field of vision it can be a little panic inducing. It doesn’t help that you are probably being attacked by a few other bad guys at the same time.

With such unrelenting attacking forces you won’t be able to rely on the defensive techniques you use in current shooters. There’s very little cover to take, and even if there was there’s no regenerating health, the enemy AI is almost non-existent, so you can’t hide from them either. You’ll have to rely on your reaction times and observational skills to survive here, see what’s gunning for you, remember it’s attack pattern and shoot it before it kills you.

You do have a couple of extra resources at your disposal though. First off is the save feature, all it takes is one press of the ‘Y’ button and your progress is saved. It can be a real life-saver when you get a moment between attack waves and gives you the chance to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Another way is get a friend to help you; yes the game has a co-operative mode where up to four players can play together. Online only though, no split screen I’m afraid. Sadly the co-operative mode is the only multiplayer supported, so no deathmatch, which is also a shame as that would have been fun.

So, if like me you’re a little weary of current shooters, or just fancy a bit of something retro then Serious Sam HD should be right up your alley. Weighing in at 1200 MS points, roughly a tenner, it’s not going to break the bank either. There’s loads of fun to be had here, but you better get used to dying a lot, but it’s all worth it to save the world.

7/10

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Version tested: XBLA

Developer: Croteam

Publisher: Majesco Entertainment

Genre: First-Person Shooter

Players: 1-4