Jeff Markiewicz On January 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm

In the year 2000, a small independent developer called Croteam wanted to showcase their new engine called the Serious Engine. The game ended up being called Serious Sam: The First Encounter and it became much more than just a technical demo for their new engine, it garnered critical success, even getting Game of the Year from Gamestop. Five years later they followed it up with Serious Sam: The Second Encounter and now in 2010, Serious Sam HD. Serious Sam HD The First Encounter is built upon their Serious Engine 3 technology and it shows but will gameplay from such ancient times still be relevant today?

It’s the 22nd Century and an alien force called the Mental is attacking Earth. This is not the first time they attacked. Back in ancient history, the Mental battled the Sirians who just happened to leave many artifacts on our planet to be found by modern day humans. One of these artifacts is a device that can send one man back in time to the first encounter and somehow change the course of history. The man for this task is Sam “Serious” Stone and the fate of the future rides on his shoulders. This premise exists to give you some reason for what you’re doing but you won’t encounter much more story as you make your way around ancient Egypt.

Serious Sam HD The First Encounter  harkens back to the days of old with gameplay more like Doom and Quake than any of the tactical slow-paced hyper-realistic games we have today. It’s a first-person shooter that is super fast, requires quick reflexes, and a healthy dose of luck to tackle hordes of enemies. Despite the lack of games in this sub-genre as of late, this gameplay is still a lot of fun. Each level will usually have you just blasting through everything in sight with the occasional picking up items to open doors. You’ll commonly enter wide arenas and essentially fight wave after wave until a door opens and it almost feels like a first-person geometry wars. Serious Sam did come first and its enemies do not have as much unique personalities as the space shooter but you’ll find yourself circle strafing around the arenas and shooting nonstop. It’s really intense and a lot of fun. The game can be unfair and unrelenting at times. Enemies can easily spawn directly next to you or spawn in such great numbers there is nearly no way to get out untouched. A certain kamikaze unit is particularly unfair if it gets too close to you as there is no way to push them back or outrun them; you just have to take your punishment. Enemy movements are not that sophisticated with them mostly falling into two categories, those who chase you and those that charge at you. It would’ve been nice to see some more unique personalities in the myriad of different enemy types but it must be remembered that this is a port from early last decade and its inspiration was based on games earlier than that. To tackle these odds, you’ll have tons of weapons at your disposal from simple pistols and shotguns all the way up to lasers, rockets, and a cannon. They are each a lot of fun to play with but you’ll find yourself favoring the bigger ones a lot. Ammo and health are scattered around the area and in some of the arenas, they’ll even respawn. When you die, you’re reverted to your last save. Thankfully a perk that PC gamers have had for years has finally made it you the consoles, the ability to quick save, at any time, by merely pressing a button. This keeps the action coming quick and fast without having to jump through menus to save the game.

The online is smooth as butter and a blast to play. It doesn’t support the impressive 16 players that its old PC counterpart did but that would probably be too much considering the frequent narrow corridors. There is no friendly fire for the most part so blast away, just be careful as the explosion from rockets will hurt your buddies as they do you, giving you at least somewhat of a reason to be semi-cautious when they are around. The items scattered around are for your game only so there is no mad dash to pick them up allowing you to play at your leisure which is a good decision. Dying results in an instant respawn with no real penalty but there is a feeling that you want to stay alive and survive which is hard to pull off but does make the game significantly easier. But all of these can be customized from enemy strength to respawning. One of the true disappointments though is that there is no split-screen. The game does look great but you can feel like the 360 has plenty of power left to make it available yet it does not. Another issue is at the end of the game, you’re sort of just kicked out of the game without notice and it even crashed on me at that point. Overall though online is a blast and has enough customization to keep you pushing your skills.

The graphics have gone through a decent upgrading. The water is completely reflects the world and looks better than most full-fledged titles. I actually jumped into the water after what I thought was an item before I realized it was a reflected light because I am just not use to such fidelity. The amount of enemies on screen at once is ridiculous and the frame rate never drops a hair. The light from rockets will light up surfaces along its path. The textures all look pretty good. The design of the characters are crazy with some of them being headless guys with bombs strapped to their hands or enemies without legs or arms floating at you but that’s part of the charm of the game. The levels and character models models are pretty basic though and their animations could be a lot better but most of the time you won’t notice unless you’re playing in multiplayer where you can clearly see the poor animations on your friend’s model. The gun models actually look pretty decent though. Plus all of the cooperative models are exactly the same which is disappointing. But these issues don’t stop the game from being one of the best looking Xbox Live Arcade games out there right now.

To compliment the myriad of weapons are some pretty decent sounds for them. They all sound meaty and dangerous like they should. The enemies all have fairly generic sounds for them but one certain character has a hilarious or haunting, depending on how close he is, scream. It works really well and surprisingly doesn’t get repetitive. Occasionally you’ll spew out a generic one-liner ala Duke Nukem which while hilarious, is pretty low quality. The jumping noise can get annoying, especially if you’re a fan of bunny hopping or you have friends playing that are. There is some music in there but its forgettable and usually the action is so furious you don’t even know it’s there.

Before the days of the modern tactical shooters and complex interweaving storylines, there were games like Quake and Doom. They were based upon blazing action, quick reflexes, and hordes of enemies. Serious Sam is the apex of this type of gameplay before this sub-genre started to fade out in the last decade. The Croteam did an amazing job upgrading this classic to the current generation. These days though it will be considered a niche game so it must be tried before you buy but there is a lot of fun to be had here and a variety of levels. It doesn’t know what fair is and it doesn’t care. Some gameplay refinements would have been nice, like to give enemies more personality and make it more fair yet despite these facts, the game is very addictive, accessible, and one of the best looking Xbox Live Arcade titles to date.


It could do with some gameplay refinements to give each enemy more of a personality and better AI but this game is a blast to play. It can be unfair most of the time but that doesn’t stop it from being a blast to play. It’s addicting and accessible but don’t be afraid to turn down the difficulty.


Hordes of enemies and never a single frame dropped. The water is absolutely gorgeous and rivals most full-priced games. While the models and animations may be a little basic, it doesn’t stop this game from being one of the most beautiful Xbox Live Arcade games out there.


All the weapons sound meaty and dangerous. The screaming of headless kamikazes never gets old and occasional one-liners are hilarious, if a bit low-quality. The jump noise will get annoying though if you like to bunny hop of have friends that do though.


It could do with some gameplay refinements to make the enemies have more personality and to make it more fair but as a whole Serious Sam HD is a great revisit to a past classic. One of the best looking Xbox Live Arcade games to date. If you’re interested at all, this game is worth the bucks.

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