Monthly Archives: July 2018
The recent reveal of Serious Sam 4 got me thinking about its predecessor. I picked up Serious Sam 3 fairly close to when it came out, but I only got a few hours in before life events distracted me. After everything had settled down, it sort of fell by the wayside, as I was ready to move on to other games. But it was somewhat fortuitous that SS4 got me thinking about the game again. I really need a game that just serves as a distraction right now, one that just lets me zone out and relax, and I’ve always found the Serious Sam games to be fairly good at that. I’ve never beat the game, so I decided it was time to rectify that.
Despite the fact that I consider myself a major Serious Sam fan, I honestly couldn’t tell you what the story is to any of these games. They are obviously about an extraterrestrial invasion of Earth and have something to do with time travelling aliens messing around in Ancient Egypt, but other than that, the details of the plot completely elude me. Like I don’t know who these alien hordes are, and why they’re so dead set on coming to Earth and wrecking up the place. The invaders are led by an entity called Mental, but what/who he/she actually is and his/her motivations are utterly beyond my comprehension.
Serious Sam 3 is a prequel to the first game of the series, Serious Sam: The First Encounter. Obviously, you might expect, like I did, that a prequel would fill in some of the elusive backstory. There is a brief cutscene at the beginning of the game that lays out Mental’s assault on the Earth, but this quick introduction only raises more questions than it answers. We then cut away to Sam Stone helicoptering into Egypt with his squad mates on a mission to find a secret weapon that can stop the invaders. Everyone is wearing tactical gear and camo, prepared for the mission ahead of them….except for Sam, who inexplicably wears a t-shirt, jeans, and sunglasses with colored lenses (true to his wardrobe in the original game). I feel like right away, I’ve stumbled into some sort of joke that’s meant to imply that I really shouldn’t think too hard about the events to follow.
And of course, story is really only set dressing in Serious Sam. These games are deeply true to themselves. They set out to be the most intense die-hard action games out there, and they don’t pretend to be anything otherwise. When Serious Sam: The First Encounter was released, I feel like the word was that it was a game that set out to recapture the pure no-frills adrenaline of games like Doom and Rise of the Triad. That and that the game was just really good looking for its time. With the advent of games likes Half-Life and Unreal, action games had started to focus more on story and atmosphere than on pure action. Serious Sam was deeply retrograde in this respect. But while the start of the game did sort of harken back to Doom, Serious Sam eventually develops its own identity, one that couldn’t have existed on the technology that existed at the time of Doom.
What really differentiates Serious Sam is scale and scope. Classic Doom is essentially a maze game, born out of first-person dungeon crawlers. Within that game, players explore labyrinthine corridors and structures, with most of the action being close quarters. While Serious Sam games tend to have a few levels like this, most of the game instead opts for wider open spaces that serve as huge arenas for extensive hordes of enemies to besiege the player all at once. At a given moment, dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds upon hundreds, can flood out of the woodwork to descend upon Sam. The sheer number of enemies Sam can face at any instant is what really sets the Serious Sam series a part from other action games.
While it’s easy to see how such a game could quickly become an overwhelming experience, these games tend to be balanced well enough that, for the most part, they don’t descend into relentless frustration. The trick is to keep moving. Enemies don’t really track Sam all that well, which means as long as you don’t stay in the same spot (or better yet, move in serpentine patterns) you can slip through their incoming projectiles. Another important strategy is to retreat backwards toward the direction you came. The faster moving enemies will manage to keep up with Sam, but the slower moving (and more dangerous enemies) won’t be able to catch up. This divide and conquer tactic allows you to take out the faster and weaker enemies first, and then proceed toward the bigger and more threatening enemies.
I enjoy a lot of different types of games. I like games like Final Fantasy which have a heavy focus on storytelling. I like games like Dark Souls that have rich and complex mechanics to master. And I like games like Fallout that present a vast and immersive world to explore. But sometimes a Big Dumb Action Game that just focuses on getting directly to the excitement can be really cathartic for me. I feel that I’m the kind of person that has difficulty relaxing, and I think the problem stems from the fact that I have trouble silencing and shutting down my thoughts. My head has too much noise in it. I like games like Serious Sam because the action is unfiltered. The experience doesn’t have a lot of story or setpieces or other interruptions that stop my brain from being in a very focused state on the action, and this focused state burns off brain cycles from being used on thinking about work or other sources of stress.
By the time I had beaten it, I felt Serious Sam 3 was a thoroughly worthy entry in the greater Serious Sam series, but I would still recommend Serious Sam: The First and Second Encounter over this entry. For various reasons, I just think those two games are a little more fun. The only solid issue I had with SS3 was the final level. It was a massive slog. The level is set in a long, fairly linear canyon that seemingly goes on forever and terminates in the final boss fight of the game. And they take the game’s signature element, the massive hordes of enemies, a little too far. There were way way to many enemies in this level. It took me forever to get to the end, and I was completely ready for the game to be over and done with by the time I made it.
The final boss fight is also a little odd. Another signature of the Serious Sam series is that the games end in bosses that are ridiculously giant. I remember how people freaked out over the first game’s ending, and how big the last boss was. At the time, I don’t know if anything that big had ever been seen in a game. Certainly not anything that moved. Serious Sam 3 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the sheer volume of the screen that the final enemy takes up. However, my issue is that you don’t actual fight him in a typical way. Rather, he’s like a puzzle that needs to be solved, and the solution requires an item that is just haphazardly hidden in the level, and there’s no indication given that you need to look for this item. I had to pull up a guide on Steam to actually figure out what I was supposed to do. Once I found this item, the rest was ridiculously easy. I would have been let down by the anticlimax had I not been so ready for the game to end.
All those issues aside, Serious Sam 3 is a great modernization of the series, but it doesn’t do a whole lot to meaningful advance the formula that it is built upon. I’m liking what I’ve been reading about Serious Sam 4, however. SS4 is a prequel to SS3 (which is in turn a prequel to SS1), and it deals with the onset of the alien invasion of the Earth, rather than its aftermath. Action seems to take place all across the planet, as opposed to being contained to just Egypt. And they seem like they are adding a lot of interesting new enemy types. SS3 introduced a few cool new enemies, but it was mostly reliant on the staples of the series that were introduced in SS1. I’m actually really excited for SS4 now, and I hope it can really be a turning point for the series to gain the popularity it’s deserved for a while. And maybe….just maybe… it will finally give a satisfactory explanation as to what is actually happening in these games.
Each year when the Steam Summer Sale rolls around, I like to put together a quick list of recommendations for lesser known games that are going for really cheap prices. One of the reasons for doing this is that I think sales like these are good opportunities for trying out underrated or rough around the edges games that you wouldn’t always take a chance on at higher prices. A way to explore your tastes in games, if you will. I have two criteria to maintain the spirit of the list: 1) These are games that I (arbitrarily) feel are underrated or have been forgotten about, and 2) They have a price point no greater than $5 (USD).
This year, the list is coming in hot, since the summer sale started just as I was packing up to take off for a week long vacation (probably the longest vacation I’ve taken in forever). The sale ends Thursday (7/5) at 1:00 PM EST, so I realize there’s not a lot of time left to consider these recommendations. I thought about not doing it this year, but I decided I wanted to keep up the tradition, since I’ve been doing these lists since 2014.
I had a little more trouble writing the list this year because of the time constraint I found myself in, but also because the deals just don’t seem as good as they’ve been in past. When searching for games to put on the list, several titles I thought would be going for under five bucks by now weren’t. In fact, I’m not entirely sure previous years’ lists are still valid, since I noticed that Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed from the 2015 list wasn’t even on sale at all this year! Nonetheless, I still think you can grab most of the titles form the old lists fairly cheap, so I recommend looking over those too if you are interested.
Jazzpunk was actually one of the first games I wrote about when I started this blog way back in 2014, and I think this is the first year that it’s finally hit a price point to qualify for this list. Jazzpunk is more of an interactive comedy than a game. The game chronicles the missions of a secret agent codenamed Polyblank, who lives in a bizarre alternate Earth version of the Cold War. There’s not much challenge to it, rather you spend your time exploring the environment and discovering bizarre situations and odd mini-games to play. The comedy relies heavily on non-sequitur and absurdism, so it can be hit or miss, and of course it will depend on your own sense of humor if you find it funny or not. I found it to be an amusing experience, at least.
Pirate Pop Plus
Pirate Pop Plus is a simple arcade-style game that is based on an old Japanese game called Pang. I don’t imagine many people are familiar with Pang. I certainly wasn’t until I played Pirate Pop. In Pirate Pop, you play as a little pirate guy who needs to clear the screen of these bubbles that bounce along the ground and deal damage to the player upon contact. You do this by shooting upwards (and only upwards) at the bubbles. Each time you hit a bubble, it breaks up into smaller bubbles which are harder to hit, but also bounce lower to the ground which means they are also harder to dodge. As the game progresses, the formula gets varied up with gimmicks like alternating directions of gravity. Pirate Pop is basically an arcade game, meaning you start at the first level each time you play and your goal is to beat your previous high score. It definitely can be fun to play for short bursts when you don’t have a lot of time to play something more serious.
Haunted: Halloween ’85
Haunted was originally released as a homebrew NES cartridge and eventually a PC port was made available on Steam. You play as a kid who wakes up from a nap to realize that he’s late for the Halloween dance at school. As he rushes to school, he discovers that his town has been taken over by monsters. Part beat’em up, part platformer, Haunted plays like a real NES, while most games that claim to be modern NES games play more like idealized versions of games from that era. While it can definitely be fun, it is also crude and frustrating at times. There are 6 levels, and no way to save. This means that each time you start the game, you start at level 1, just like most NES games. If you enjoy playing actual NES games, I definitely recommend it, but to others I would be a little more cautious. Two important tips: The first is that there is a secret uppercut move that is activated by pressing Down+B and does much more damage than the standard attack. The other is to play the game in windowed mode, because I believe there is no way to exit out of the game in fullscreen other than Alt+F4.
Quantum Conundrum is a first-person puzzle game that has a lot of similarities to Portal, but with the veneer of a Saturday morning cartoon. You play as a kid exploring the mansion of his mad scientist uncle. The puzzles are based around the gimmick that you have a device that allows you to shift “dimensions”, which really means that you can alter the laws of physics in the surrounding environment. Namely, you can make objects lighter or heavier, slow down time, or reverse gravity. You are guided through the game by the disembodied voice of your uncle in the same way the GladOS guides you through the test chambers of Portal. In general, neither the puzzles or comedy of the game are quite as good as Portal, but I think it’s still a fun game to play, nonetheless.
Strider is a modern take on the classic Capcom action series. This new version of the franchise is a bit more like the old NES game than its arcade counterparts. Rather than a linear action game, this is a fast-paced hack-and-slash set in a massive Metroid-style open world. Those that like Metroid-style games will probably find a lot to like about Strider.
Serious Sam HD
The First Encounter: $2.24
The Second Encounter: $2.99
Serious Sam is sort of a B-tier first-person shooter from around the turn of the millenium. In a time when many action game were going for cinematic-like adventures, Serious Sam had significantly less fluff and focused instead on a more pure action experience that was closer to games like Doom and Rise of the Triad than contemporaries likes Half-Life 2 or Halo. Serious Sam is about the war waged by time traveller and one-man army Sam Stone against an alien horde that is invading ancient Earth. Serious Sam’s signature style of gameplay is to basically inundate the player with a massive number of enemies at once. This might sound like it could get stressful, but I find that the games are balanced enough that they are challenging without being frustrating more often than not. Serious Sam was released as two chapters, the First and Second Encounters, and both are well worth playing, although I would try the first one first to see if you like this formula of gameplay before picking up the second.
Orcs Must Die
A handful or so years ago, there was a huge craze over tower defense games, and while I’m not much of a fan of tower defense, I really dug Orcs Must Die. In Orcs Must Die, you play as a wizard tasked with defending a castle that holds the portal to the human realm from an onslaught of invading orcs. Your magic allows you to manifest a variety of traps in each level that are strategically placed to thin out the encroaching horde. Unlike a lot of tower defense games, the wizard is an actual character that moves around the level, instead of being a disembodied entity that views the action from above. The wizard possesses his own weapons and spells that he can use to attack the orcs directly, which ultimately makes the game a fusion of tower defense and third-person shooter.
Tower of Guns
Tower of Guns is a roguelike first-person shooter from a few years back. The player is tasked with ascending a procedurally generated tower that is filled with relentlessly attacking robotic enemies. The coolest wrinkle to the gameplay is that the projectiles the enemies fire move in relatively slow patterns, which makes weaving in and out of these oncoming attacks as important as dealing damage to the enemies. This always on your toes gameplay is probably my favorite aspect of the game, and it’s one of the better games I’ve played that tries to marry first-person shooters with the roguelike formula.