Written by Paul Lyon
If so much of Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter seems like a trip down first-person trip down memory lane, that’s because it was designed that way. The original game, released to much fanfare way back in 2001 (has it really been that long?) was always meant to give players craving that ‘classic’ experience, as the bulk of newer shooters were starting to embrace newer gameplay methods and nuanced storytelling. For many developers this meant less focus on wild action, and in some cases a severe reduction in the size and scope of epic battles. While some games benefited from this intimacy, developer Croteam was never interested in that lovey-dovey stuff; they just like to blow stuff up real good.
Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter is a direct remake of the original game, only with substantial improvements in the graphics department (hence the name). Every detail of this remastered classic has been lovingly processed and upgraded with the magic of high-definition graphics and shine, yet never at the expense of the original’s bizarre sense of humor and inspired, screen-filling battles against hordes on alien scum and villainy. From screaming suicide-bombers to giant machine-gun toting scorpion things, there’s nothing quite like the adventures of Sam “Serious” Stone as he runs, puns, and blasts his way through gigantic levels with just one goal – action, and lots of it.
The gameplay remain largely untouched, with our hero blasting his way through overwhelming hordes through a variety of sprawling, Egyptian-themed environments. Simply entering an area will usually trigger a barrage of attacks, and the joys of watching untold enemies racing towards you is as impressive now as it was then, and is a stark reminder that it’s quantity over quality in Sam’s world. The game’s basic controls have been mapped to the Xbox 360’s controller and work great, with faster weapon cycling and the ability to quick-save on the fly (see below) easier than ever. Moving Sam around is silky smooth, and you’d better have a steady hand when handling the mob with your fancy strafe-shooting expertise.
Another relic of days-gone-by is the way the game handles saving, which is to that it really doesn’t. Saving your progress, other than when starting a new level, will be entirely up to you via the quick-save feature. Using these one-button quick saves couldn’t be easier, and when used strategically can make all the difference between starting an entire level from scratch, or just from your last thoughtful quick-save. But they can also work against you, as that last save could have been just before getting yourself hopelessly massacred, only to continue this fruitless karmic cycle over and over.
New to option set are two twists on how players will experience the game’s copious blood and gore modes: Hippie and Kids. Hippie Gore mode is an ironic twist to the entire slaughter-fest, as instead of blood, bone and dismemberment you get…flowers, carrots and pumpkins. Kids Gore mode is similar to Hippie, except now you get stars and candy. Other than being absolutely hilarious, these new options allow fans to experience the game in an entirely new light. Or maybe this is really just Croteam’s twisted incentive to get kids into the joys of first-person shooters, with flowers and candy? Probably not, but these are indeed a twisted bunch, and bless them for it.
Those expecting the manic 16-player warfare of the recent PC version of the game will be sorely disappointed to hear the Xbox 360 version doesn’t follow suit, as the number has been trimmed down to just four-player cooperative through the campaign, with no competitive deathmatch to be found.
Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter is a textbook example of how you update a classic, with a generous coat of high-definition paint, and leaves its core gameplay alone. That last part is especially true in a game that so unapologetically lives in the moment, easily sacrificing nuance and sentimentality for pure alien blasting insanity. The addition of the hilarious Hippie and Kiddie modes are too much fun, proving that total destruction can be just as entertaining with clowns and pumpkins as with blood and gore. This first HD remake is both a tribute and a blessing for all those fans who loved the original and were just waiting for an excuse to come back for more. Now bring on The Second Encounter!