“Best played co-operatively.” It’s something that’s fairly obvious for some games: Left 4 Dead, Payday 2, Killing Floor, the works. These are the kind of games that are built from the ground up to be played co-op with friends or random players, but can also be played by yourself if you want to. To me, the term also applies to games that have a single player campaign, but is infinitely more fun with a few friends. Like Sven Co-op is for Half-Life. That describes Serious Sam, the chaotic shooter series, to a T.
After realizing the “Decision Wheel” I made was leading to my own picks rather than unique or random ones, I abandoned the idea and replaced it with a simple queue system where friends and viewers could request games to be played on future streams. As I was asking for requests, my friend Cambertian on Twitter suggested this one for me to try, and it was quite the interesting pick.
I’ve played Serious Sam games in the past, where I tried to play through the classic games solo through the HD remasters, but I never got very far in them. I was more successful playing through them co-operatively with a few friends, where I played through The First Encounter HD, Serious Sam 2 and even part of Serious Sam 3: BFE. Sadly the group I had to play Serious Sam 2 and 3 were from separate communities, and we had a hard time matching our schedules enough so we could finish 3, since one of them was from the UK whereas the rest of us, including friend of the site Bobinator, were based in the US. One of these days I might replay 3: BFE solo, but we’re here to talk about the original games.
The Second Encounter is basically an expansion pack to 2001’s The First Encounter. It adds a few new enemies to its bestiary such as a pumpkinhead looking monster with a chainsaw, an Reptiloid Demon that throws homing fireballs, and even alien variants of the simpler headless foes of First Encounter. There’s a few new weapons in addition to the common arsenal of shotgun, tommy gun and rocket launchers, including the valuable sniper rifle – devastating against middle tier enemies – and the Serious Bomb, the game’s answer to the BFG.
There’s a few new locales like the jungle, some temples, even a snowy land, each area defining a certain episode of the game. These are much different than the aztec temples that are prevalent in First Encounter, and it brings a nice look to things.
Serious Sam is part of a genre I’d call “slaughter FPSes,” as they relate to the Doom community’s “slaughter map” design of straightforward levels and lots and enemies to kill. Many of the rooms in The Second Encounter throw loads of enemies in fairly open spaces, which isn’t particularly hard.
However, once I got partway into the second episode, the game starts ramping up the difficulty in an unfair way. They loved putting loads of Kleers – the skeleton monsters – in very cramped corridors, making it difficult to push through without getting stuck and repeatedly taking damage. The flamethrower was my best friend a lot in that section, as it killed them pretty fast.
There’s a bunch of bizarre secrets and really bad sections where I had to dodge death traps and do precarious jumping puzzles, which seem to be a common hallmark of a Serious Sam game, but at times it felt like Croteam was showing off what the Serious Engine could do rather than making an amazing game to put around them. Even games like Doom or Quake didn’t throw death traps that often, but Croteam liked doing it a fair bunch, leading to frustration on my part a few times. Despite that, I still had fun in some of the levels, because of the interesting tricks, the funny secrets, and even some of the boss fights were fun, if a bit simple.
When I think about it, Serious Sam almost feels like a twin stick shooter in the vein of Smash TV or the later Geometry Wars, but in first person. Serious Sam and Painkiller fill that void of basically throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the player and killing everything along the way. In a way, Serious Sam carved its own retro FPS niche.
Unfortunately, this has lead to people thinking “a classic first-person shooter” falls into the Serious Sam mold of “throw everything at you,” and some modern shooters that are made to feel like a “classic FPS” end up emulating Serious Sam’s chaotic gameplay rather than the finely crafted action-packed levels that Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake excelled at. Thankfully stuff like the 2016 Doom reboot hit the perfect balance between feeling old-school while also feeling modern at the same time, showing that you can make something feel modern without throwing everything at you all at once.
Cambertian, the one who suggested I played this, requested the original Second Encounter – which I snagged on CD at a thrift store a few years ago – and I was a bit worried if it was even going to work on my Windows 10 machine. A lot of games from this era usually require a bit of mod hackery or even stuff like dgVoodoo2 to work, but Serious Sam surprisingly worked fine without any major issues, the only problem was minor stuff like powerups not disappearing, and I only had the game crash once on stream.
I’ve heard good things about Serious Sam Classics Revolution, which takes the First and Second Encounter and puts them in an updated version of the original engine with Steam Workshop support. The HD versions just look prettier, but it can be played with Croteam’s new Serious Sam Fusion, which makes it so one can play First Encounter HD, Second Encounter HD, Serious Sam 3 and their VR efforts all in one client, without having to swap between games. I don’t think there’s any drastic changes between the original and HD remakes, so go with what sounds best to you, really.
I definitely think Serious Sam is “best played co-operatively.” Grab a few friends, turn on arcade mode to make the otherwise superfluous scoring system mean something, and have fun blasting monsters. In hindsight, I should’ve grabbed a friend or two to tag along for the ride. Maybe I’ll do that if I ever get around to replaying Serious Sam 3 any time soon.
At this point I was mostly riding solo on my streams. For part two, friend of the site Bobinator tagged along after I had messed around with a Turok mod, but the others were by myself. It was around this point that I started losing interest in the whole Budget Shooter Theater idea, feeling like it was a slog for an audience of three people. I did two more games after this, one of which we’ll probably get around to sometime.
PART ONE (played on February 25, 2017):
PART TWO (played on March 15, 2017):
PART THREE (played on April 28, 2017):
PART FOUR, FINALE: (played on June 29, 2017)
Budget Shooter Theater
iswas a stream series where I tried to play and finish as many first person shooters, third person shooters, and light gun rail shooters as I could, with occasional guests. It lasted for about 7 games spread throughout various Twitch streams from 2016-2017. While I abandoned this idea in mid-2017, the articles are still up for posterity.