Back in 2001, Croteam's Serious Sam: The First Encounter made quite an impact. The PC FPS did away with complicated storylines, consistent enemy designs and small scale battles in favour of one core design philosophy: putting as many enemies on screen at once and making them explode into piles of guts when shot. This made the original game one of the most thrilling shooters ever to hit the PC and earned it a place in the hearts of many hardcore PC gamers. Some eight years later Croteam and Sam are back, with the original classic given a modern makeover for current hardware.
The Egypt setting of the original is therefore back, as are the men that charge at you and explode in your face. The scorpions that fire gattling guns make a return, as do the charging boney beasts, floating heads and men with rotating blades for faces. The enormous beasties that serve as bosses are here too, along with plenty of weapons, pick-ups and secret areas. Serious Sam is an arcade shooter, the kind of which we haven't seen for some time. Playing this HD remake is like you've stepped into a time machine, and fans of the original will instantly find themselves back in 2001.
For those completely unaware of the series until now, at the time of its release Serious Sam was probably closest in feel and gameplay to the original Doom. There's more depth to the gameplay here, though, with enemies coming at you from all sides, in greater variety and at differing speeds. This is a devilishly difficult game that will push your keyboard and mouse skills to their limit. You're only going to see Serious Sam HD through to its conclusion if you've got great hand eye coordination and the reflexes of a ninja. It's easy to panic when hordes of enemies are bearing down on you, but doing so and wildly firing in all directions is a recipe for disaster.
Little on the market today can be compared to Serious Sam's crazy, relentless action, but the Left 4 Dead series is certainly carrying the torch for relentless FPS action. The Valve series throws wave after wave of enemies at you, but it does so with more intelligence than Croteam's game. Having seen what can be done with swarms of enemies and pacing, Serious Sam HD's completely scripted encounters feel old in comparison, highlighting the game's true age a little more clearly than I'd imagined would be the case.
There's no competitive versus multiplayer to speak of, but Serious Sam HD does include sixteen-player co-op play. It's pretty standard stuff, but adding that many extra players makes things even more enjoyable and there are numerous ways to tweak the experience to suit those playing - making the game even harder if you want. It's not going to take up much of the time you've dedicated to playing Left 4 Dead 2 with friends, but it's a fun romp that's worth a go.
While the game has the "HD" moniker, the visual makeover is more than a simple bump in maximum resolution. Enemy models are the most improved, sporting far more detail than they did in the original game, but the lighting, effects and environment detail have also been overhauled. Serious Sam HD doesn't look as good as new releases, such as Modern Warfare 2, but it has a certain charm that few games can offer. Enemy designs are barmy, battles play out over huge indoor and outdoor arenas, and best of all it all runs well on fairly modest PCs. There's some suitably freaky music and sound effects to accompany the on-screen carnage, too, making you twitch in shock on more than one occasion.
What needs to be remembered is that this isn't a brand new Serious Sam game, but the original in new clothes. As such it feels a little dated compared with modern releases. It's undoubtedly fun and relentless in its strive for all-out action, but with a recommended retail price of £18, it feels a bit light. For nostalgia alone, die-hard fans will get a lot out of this HD remake, but gamers who have been spoilt by current genre favourites will find Serious Sam HD a bit too simple for its own good.