As a fan of the Serious Sam series, I relished the chance to get my hands on this.
If you're new to Serious Sam games, then I'll enlighten you. It's all about pure, uncomplicated carnage. Our wisecracking hero wanders vast levels slaughtering enemies by the hundred with his huge arsenal of weapons - some realistic, some daft. The Serious Sam games are a throwback, to a time when shooters didn't care about novel-quality storylines, and the backstory was just a flimsy excuse to have the player shoot lots of monsters. Sam games are a riot of good fun.
For those Sam veterans, I'll try to give an idea of how this instalment differs from past games. Set before Sam is sent back in time by the Time-Lock, this serves as a prequel to the original games, set during the conflict between Earth and Mental. Sam is thrown into action in the war-torn streets of Cairo as humanity desperately attempts to stop Mental's horde. In the spirit of Sam, Croteam manages to keep our hero on his lonesome despite constant radio contact with his allies, but there are also things here which come across as un-Sam. Especially some of the early levels, which can find Sam in cut-and-paste bombed out streets, facing human clones armed with shotguns and assault rifles, and without any of his own outlandish weapons. Put simply - at times it can almost feel like a level from a Modern Warfare game rather than a Serious Sam game. Thankfully, you'll frequently be reminded that this is Sam with the distinctive gallop of a Kleer Skeleton or the yells of Beheaded Kamikazes. And later on you're into more familiar Serious Sam like environments, fighting familiar hordes of enemies from all sides.
But there are other things that come across as distinctly un-Sam as well. The pump action shotgun and the assault rifle must be reloaded. Something which is expected in any other shooter, but somehow feels out of place here. Sam shouldn't worry about little things like reloading, he should shoot until he runs out of ammo. It feels like an attempt to make weapons more realistic, but this isn't the sort of shooter where you can just duck into cover to reload. There's monsters a-coming, and most of the time you end up needing to reload while you're furiously backpedalling trying to blow up those Beheaded Kamikazes before they reach you. But not all weapons need reloading, which is a bit inconsitent - Sam's multi barrel rocket launcher, for example, operates just as it always has.
Sam can now sprint -normally you'll end up hitting sprint to get away from those Kamikazes and Kleers, but it doesn't really help you to get away from them (since they're pretty speedy themselves) and it interrups reloading, which is annoying.
But mainly, for me, it's the little things that are missing. The side room with the lone health pill, where you know that picking it up will spawn a wave of enemies, but you still grab it anyway. Walking down a long corridor then letting rip and backpedalling when two dozen Gnaars spawn in front of you - only to realise that several spawned behind you too. Walking around a corner into a sudden attack from a diving Kleer. Walking into one of those high ceilinged rooms with the chutes at the top, and knowing that you're about to be rushed by three hundred Marsh Hoppers. The things that made a Sam game feel like Sam.
Enemies don't spawn in your face so much as they used to. You don't get that same sense of bait. That feeling from the First and Second encounter where the backpack to fill up your ammo is there because you're about to need that ammo. To fight off the next wave, spawned by picking up the backpack.
But, still there throughout it all is Sam himself. Still walking around in his Sam-logo tshirt with his oversized rocket launcher, always with the right one liner for the situation and always eager to blow stuff up. And the music, the way it picks up into rousing guitar driven tunes when there's enemies about. And you know. This may be different, but it is still a Serious Sam game. While I may miss some of the things which I love about the original games (and their HD remakes), they had to do some things differently otherwise this would hardly be a sequel.
Serious Sam 2 took things too far in the cartoony and daft direction, and it's nice to see things pegged back, even if one or two things have become a little too realistic (hello! Reloading!)
A fine addition to the series, which I am really enjoying. I just wish they had made it ever so slightly more over the top than it already is. The reloading is the only thing that tarnishes it for me, dropping it from a 5 star.
For newcomers I'd say it's best to start with the Serious Sam HD games - graphically upgraded versions of the original Sam games which really let you know what Sam and Croteam are all about. For Sam veterans this is a fine addition to the series.