Serious Sam came from the unknown Croteam and became a cult hit among action loving PC gamers. It even spurned a semi-sequel, an Xbox port, and PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions of the game. Considering games have been becoming ever more complicated and life-like over the last few years, Sam's simplicity and non-stop action must have hit a cord amongst gamers, desperate for some pure, uncomplicated gaming action. While Serious Sam 2 takes the series forward on a technical level, the gameplay hasn't changed much at all.
The original games had little in the way of story, but SS2 (helped by the bigger budget which is joked about early on in the game) attempts to give some reason to the endless slaughter. An alien race has lost an important artefact and they ask Sam to get it back for them. As is the case in recovery missions, things aren't as easy as they seem, with the artefact having been split into five parts. This makes for five distinct sections to the game, with each section covering a number of locations.
There's not really much to say about the actual game. You'll play through roughly ten hours (depending on the difficulty - don't go lower than normal) of pretty relentless FPS action. For 95% of the game you're running across fairly large areas blasting wave after wave of freakish enemies. The enemies are the real stars of the show, with designs that no sane development team could have created. With exploding evil clowns and ninja zombies, the giant steroid-using aliens with rocket launchers come off as rather normal. The variety really is quite wonderful, and boss encounters are equally as entertaining.
From the moment you start a section until the cutscene at the end, you rarely have time to breath, let alone take your finger from the trigger. This is made all the more fun by the assortment of weapons that Sam has at his disposal. He's got a shotgun, plasma rifle, double Uzis, rocker launcher, mni-gun - the list goes on. He even uses a cannon - the kind more commonly found on a pirate ship - which fires cannon balls that can take down a whole line of advancing enemies. Firing these weapons is a little different in the Xbox version, as the game uses an auto-aim feature. Now, at first this seems far too easy, but given the nature of the game and the sheer number of enemies that come at you - at speed - the severity of its lock-on is a godsend. Without it the dual-analogue control would cause some serious problems to all but the most experienced console FPS players. It can be turned off, but it does come in very handy.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, 95% of the game is an action fest played out on foot, but that leaves 5% that is played a little differently. There's the odd jumping section (but these aren't too painful), but what I'm trying to get at are the vehicle and gun turret sections. They simply aren't much fun to play. The turrets in particular are a real bore, with ten-minute stationary fire-fights testing your will to continue through the game. Vehicles at least let you move, but lack the thrill of the on-foot sections. I'm sure they were included to spice things up a little, but they just get in the way.
Serious Sam 2 has been a rather long time coming, and this is probably in no small part to the new game engine. On the PC the game can look pretty stunning, with huge open areas, highly detailed textures and all manner of current technical wizardry. It does come at some cost, with the best settings requiring a rather tasty PC, but even scaled down, the visuals are a solid improvement over the original two games. On the Xbox things are a different story. The detail from the PC version is nowhere to be seen, with bland landscapes, low-res textures and a sporadic framerate that really hampers gameplay at various points in the game. Thankfully the auto-aim feature saves these sections from becoming an unplayable mess, but the game still looks pretty rough compared to current Xbox offerings.
Overall presentation is fine, with some decent voice work and informative end-of-level summaries, but cutscenes - and the humour they include - aren't too hot. The humour is the biggest problem, as most of it falls very flat. The characters tend to make jokes about the game and the development team, but it just doesn't work. There's the odd amusing moment, but it's safe to say that humour isn't one of the game's best features.
Both versions of the game support online cooperative play, but the PC version offers support for sixteen players, while the Xbox only supports four. This is definitely a fun way to play through the game, but it doesn't work as well as co-op modes found in games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Conflict: Global Storm. The relentless action doesn't require such strong teamwork as those two games, and it often feels little different to playing alone.
Serious Sam 2 is a very enjoyable game. It doesn't stray from the original formula all that much, but more of the same can sometimes be a good thing. On the PC in particular the game is quite beautiful and this goes some way to increasing the overall quality of the game, but the Xbox port has considerably less appeal. If you've got the right hardware I'd certainly recommend the PC version (the Xbox version to a lesser degree) to anyone wanting a break from the realism in today's games. This is insane, freaky-enemy blasting fun.