Sam Stone is back to the future in the latest Serious Sam Indie Series game, read on to see what Brutalgamer thought of the unique shoot-em-up.
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is a strange cross-breed. It comes from a strange place in gaming, where mongrels are accepted, it is an indie game. However it isn’t a true indie game, but rather an indie take on a mainstream property. The game is based in the Serious Sam universe but it doesn’t use the universe verbatim. It seems to be afraid to commit fully to that so that it can preserve its creative freedom. It really is a strange beast.
The premise is simple. You are Sam, you have a gun and are fighting the ever-present Mental. So far, so familiar. You’ll be surprised at this, though. Its visual design, and even to a point, its gameplay are entirely 16-bit. Imagine if you will Final Fantasy VI but if it had a bizarre love child with Serious Sam. That is what Vlambeer, the indie developers behind SS:TRE, have achieved here. However it leans far more to the Serious Sam side than it does to the Final Fantasy, but it achieves an interesting equilibrium.
The story is light, as are the main Serious Sam games, in fact so light it has roughly 240 lines of text in the entire game. It does manage to create a tone that is true to the mother material. The premise is simple; you are Sam, you fight aliens and try to find Mental and then defeat him. The reasons for the chase of Mental are not overly clear and there is little in the way of exposition but the point is to find him and kill him. If you haven’t had much exposure to the Serious Sam games in the past you may have a tough time building up interest in Sam and his crew but the gameplay will keep you going through the rough parts.
The gameplay, like the story, is a simple beast. It breaks down to you and however many people in your little group you pick up (Bam and Cowboy are your usual compatriots). The games combat is built in the same fashion as a Final Fantasy or a Pokémon game. It has random encounters, so the player runs through the level and random groups of enemies will fight you at random intervals. This is where the game gets its title from, if you were unsure. Once you enter the fight each character gets one action per turn. The player can choose to fight (also they can switch weapons each turn) or they can choose to use an item. The guns are plentiful and can be rather weird. The default for Sam is a revolver but in time you get access to a rocket launcher and laser rifle, among others. Each character has various weapons they can and can’t use and the weapons are picked up during battle. The battles are mostly against gangs of Mental’s hordes, where the group you control are always running backwards from the enemies. Once you have selected the actions for each character they carry them out for 5 seconds, at which point you get to choose another set of actions. This is good and bad at the same time. The gameplay allows the player to aim each character’s weapon but only when the player is choosing their characters actions. I feel this could have been improved by being able to aim on the fly. The characters can be controlled in vertical movement between turns which allows the player to dodge enemy fire. And there’s a ton of that in each fight.
In keeping with the visuals, the sound is suitably 16-bit. Chiptunes are rife and add a certain validity to the action on screen. It is the standard faire, quiet when there isn’t much going and loud when you are in fights. I liked the fact the game played faster music during fights to give the skirmish a gravitas which made each action I selected feel just a little rushed. While the music suits the game, it never really stood out to me as above average. It was solid but not overly good. I would never sit and listen to the music on its own, but in the game it never detracts from the experience.
As I have said previously, the game is designed from the ground up to be a 16-bit game. The choice means the game separates itself from the other Serious Sam games, even the sister Indie Series games that Serious Sam developer Croteam commissioned, and give it a very unique look. I loved the design, it was bright when it needed to be bright and dank and dark when in the various caves I came across. It never excelled itself but it was always good. The small animation details the sprites were given made a lot of difference and gave the game a very nice visual character. If this was a SNES or MegaDrive game, it would be one of the better looking ones. I think Vlambeer also chose the aesthetic because it was low on resources and easy to produce, meaning they could concentrate on their unique combat mechanics.
SS:TRE is a single player only game, which is unfortunate, because it would have been a blast to play co-op. Multiplayer was never really an option on a title such as this, due to the turn based mechanics. While the game is not short by conventional measures, it is not the longest indie game available and once you have played through it once, the only reason to return is the fun combat. This will bring people back a few times but for most it will be one-and-done. It is a shame but there is little incentive to continue playing beyond the credits other than upping the difficulty.
In conclusion I really liked Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. It was a fun game that took a unique spin on an old series. I would liken it to a cover that is completely unique to the original song. Where it excels is in the combat mechanics, but the shortness of the game and the lack of outstanding music or great sprites, it seems to be held back a little bit from greatness. The lack of co-op also hurts a game such as this, the longevity is severely impaired. However the game is very good and for the mere £3.99 it costs it give a fun experience that will give you a lot of enjoyment.