Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter Review (XBLA)

Posted by Jim Cook, Oct 04, 2010 15:39

While first person shooters lacking an epic storyline or massive production values in favor of overwhelming the player with hordes of enemies used to be the genre’s norm, they have become more of a niche taste over the last several years. Like First Encounter before it, Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter tries to be all about nonstop action and forcing the player to weave their way through ridiculous amounts of enemy attacks and desperately hoping you have enough ammo to kill all of them. It’s a real adrenaline rush and great fun when it works right, yet this second installment in the series makes several mistakes that drag it down.

The core of the game is unchanged. It’s still very much about dangling lots of weapons and ammo at you, then spawning a wave of enemies once you’ve stocked up. And when you’re done with that wave, chances are another one will follow it almost immediately, and there’s every possibility another wave will show up after that. It’s the same sort of experience you’d get from the previous Serious Sam game or later episodes of Doom on higher difficulty levels, with a few unfortunate problems. The biggest issue is the stages themselves; there are often long stretches where you’re doing nothing but traveling from one objective to the next. You’ll be solving basic puzzles, making trick jumps, avoiding death-traps, and grabbing keys during these segments, and otherwise not engaging in the game’s main point. First Encounter also had some of these issues, but I don’t recall them being as frequent or severe and it’s disappointing to see the follow-up game actually do worse in this regard.

Fights are still fairly frequent though, and when they do happen they keep true to the series’ principles. You’ll be fighting dozens of enemies at a time in many cases, requiring players to constantly dodge and shoot while also watching their health and ammo. While you get a lot of ammo, you’ll be going through a lot of it too so one of the major skills involved is picking out which weapon is just enough firepower to get the job done while saving the biggest guns for tougher enemies. It’s frantic and exciting, so fans of ’wave of enemies’ play will find plenty to like here. Between its excellent variety of enemies and satisfying weapons, this game could have easily been great by just giving you lots of different terrain to fight in and dispensing with everything that isn’t related to shooting or resting and reloading for the next fight. That it bogs itself down in needless fluff is really unfortunate.

While alternating between said ’fluff’ and big fights is the main content of the game, it’s not the only thing here. Survival mode does away with all the distractions and simply puts you in an arena with wave after wave of enemies, challenging you to see how long you can last; it’s easily the best part of this game. There is also online play, featuring the usual array of modes while also being joined by some interesting ideas like Monster Hunt, where players go through the single-player stages in a sort of ’competitive co-op’ format; you have to work together to kill enemies, but also want to hinder your allies just enough that you top the scoreboard. There are a few other co-op variations as well, and that’s good news when one considers co-op is one of the more enjoyable ways to play a FPS of this sort.

It should be noted that Second Encounter will last you a while if you plan to play from start to finish. The Survival stages only last a few minutes each in theory, but getting good enough to handle them will be quite a challenge. Regular stages on the other hand are massive, and can realistically take anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes to complete apiece on your first run through them. Of course, a sizable minority of that time will be spent doing ’sidequests’ that have nothing to do with shooting or getting ready for a big fight, so this is both a perk and a drawback.

If you’re a fan of the old style of first person shooters, where a bare minimum of plot gave way to lots of guns and ammo to use on hordes of enemies, you will find something to enjoy in Second Encounter. It offers the same satisfying fights that the previous Serious Sam game did, though unfortunately the pacing of them is much worse since you have to go through a lot of nonsense to reach said fights. While First Encounter was probably better overall, this game may appeal to ’wave of enemies’ play... but as for everyone else, you might want to save your $15 USD/1200 Microsoft Points; Second Encounter is an unusual sequel in that it actually takes the original game’s ideas and does them worse.

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Our Rating for Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter Review (XBLA)
7.0 Replay
Practicing and improving at Survival mode can be great fun, and there is definitely enough content to keep you coming back for a while.
7.0 Graphics
The Xbox 360 has seen better but the sheer scope of each stage is still impressive, as is the amount of detail in them and the creative enemies designs.
7.5 Sound
Satisfying weapons effects are joined by some pretty funny lines by the titular main character, along with decent music.
6.0 Gameplay
Fighting wave after wave of enemies and just barely enough ammo is a lot of fun. Sadly it is bogged down by lots of unnecessary stuff you have to do on the side to proceed through each stage.
8.0 Multiplayer/Online Content
A great variety of modes will satisfy any competitive or co-op urges you have... or even competitive co-op, interestingly enough.
6.5 Overall
Competent old-style FPS play is dragged down by too many side-quests to fetch keys, avoid instant death traps, deal with tricky jumps, and otherwise do things that aren’t enjoyable. Recommended for diehard fans of ’enemy horde’ style FPS play willing to overlook its pacing problems, but everyone else can safely pass on this.

Rating: 0.0, votes: 0

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