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Serious Sam 3 BFE – Best Frag Everything

Duke Nukem Forever was sold as the Antichrist to the modern FPS, guns blazing, pants down and no messing about. But every time I’m asked ‘so, how disappointed were you with it?’ it becomes a little harder to sound confident in my response. It wasn’t what anybody wanted from Duke. Sure, the final image still remained more interesting than most, but it was like a puzzle made from leftover jigsaw pieces.

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With the announcement of a third entry into the Serious Sam series, there’s a glimmer of hope; a possible return to an era of genre I loved. The man who was a parody of a parody now has the opportunity to step up to the throne. Last time Sam “Serious” Stone was seen blasting through alien hordes was many years ago. Back then he tried to call Duke Nukem from a payphone to ask what the hell he was up to. There was no definitive answer. And in a bizarre twist, both games have sequels coming out in the same year.

Like Far Cry, Serious Sam was born from the need to demonstrate the developer’s new engine. Like 3D Realms, Croteam wanted something that was designed to cope with huge distances with massive amounts of models, using a extremely long view range to render outdoor environments. They decided to make their own engine, aptly titled ‘Serious Engine’. Work began in 1996 and in 2001 Serious Sam: The First Encounter was released. The story of how Sam came to be is similar to that of DNF, only written quicker.

The sequel, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, wasn’t as well received upon its release. The more cartoon visuals and soundtrack risked the game losing its impact, with ‘the game [feeling] less grounded in reality’, and the weapons considered to be less powerful. The early screenshots show that Croteam have taken this on board; the visuals and environments looking more…serious.

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With an updated engine, Croteam are now working to unleash their latest outing with Sam, setting the title before the first two games. More large-scale battles can be expected. This time the game looks to take place when Earth is the pivot between an alien war. With Mental’s forces sent to Earth for a spot of summer genocide, it was Sam who – through his bravery and ability to carry lots of guns – was later sent back through a Time Lock to alter history.

With this setup it can be expected that a lot of bullets will be fired and many aliens kicked hard in the arse. Details are still thin on the ground regarding this prequel, but the inclusion of tighter lever design and destructible scenery could offer up some incredible self-made set pieces. The clash of the typical, though gorgeous looking, military FPS scenery and aliens is already causing a buzz. This juxtaposition of a modern warfare setting against a sci-fi B-movie world is a great idea.

This is an important choice. It’ll prevent the new game from feeling ancient or regressive, providing a common theme but from a fresh angle. Maintaining the sense of speed will be important in stopping this from falling down due to modern FPS conventions. While the weapon limit and regenerating health didn’t kill DNF, it definitely didn’t do it any favours either.

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Sprinting down rubble cover streets from screaming Beheaded Kamikazes, strafing from incoming Werebulls and firing off missile after missile will be a refreshing change from ‘press X to survive this cutscene’. With pretty much every FPS using a two weapon limit for ‘realism’, we need a game to put its neck on the line and reintroduce the ‘carry whatever you want’ mentality. We want lots of aliens. We want lots of guns. We want to shoot lots of aliens with lots of guns and do it how we want.

While writing this article there was a sense of déjà-vu, a notion that this has all be said and asked for before. Am I searching for a design mentality that’s long gone? And would I be happy if we truly got an old style FPS? Possibly, possibly not, but it’s a passion that keeps me interested in the genre. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a stunning achievement. The sequels have yet to come close to what it realised, and I’m burnt out on that franchise now.

After watching most of the television series 24 – amazed at how it became a parody of itself without becoming conscious of this – I grew tired of the same formula. It was too mathematic; it knew exactly how to get people on the edge of the seat. To think about it a little deeper would bring the apprehension that it was a wafer thin programme. It had no heart, no soul. The The Wire was a needed alternative. You need to break things up to keep it fresh.

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And like all trends, everything comes back around, with 2011 seeing an early sign of what could be a return of some ‘stupid’ gaming. Games like Bulletstorm, Shadows of the Damned and many downloadable titles have embraced this mentality and used it to their advantage, drawing in those who’ve become jaded with the stagnation of genres. This doesn’t result in just immature ideas (although this will happen if a game tries to show off), but more a return to making games enjoyable escapism first, and everything else second.

This’ll be healthy for the industry. It needs variation and the courage to not follow a set routine. There’s a place for Call of Duty as there is for unique visions like Child of Eden. Hopefully we’ll vote with our wallets and sustain a healthy balance. It’s important that we do. And treat video games like films: it’s nice to watch Commando now and again, but even better when you dip into some art-house or ‘70s exploitation too. Having a spectrum to draw from helps to identity and define what’s important about each of them – never write a genre off, don’t leap on the anti-franchise gravy train and keep a space in your heart for the oddball titles.

If Serious Sam 3 BFE succeeds and sells well there are no illusions of grandeur that’ll it ignite the industry with a burning desire to not follow the leaders of the pack every time. But perhaps it’ll catch the publishers’ eye – perhaps the next Shadows of the Damned will get marketed well this time, placing it in a sales top ten. Slowly – and with heartache I hope so – gaming horizons will broaden.

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Back in January I said this:

With regards to first-person shooters, over the past few years we’ve mostly been given faux-gritty 24-esque stories and future civil war scenarios. New FPS titles look like nothing more than clones of insufficient Call of Duty sequels. They all have the same attributes, the same movement and the same guns. The Godfather of FPS now returns to save us all from this homophonic time, and he’s looking for some alien toilet to park his bricks…

Perhaps – in hindsight – I was talking about the wrong guy. Croteam, it’s time to be serious about not being serious but still keeping it serious. And with many of the old PC FPS conventions remaining, this looks to be the ticket to run’n’gun heaven. Just make sure to add some variation to the level design this time; changing the number of enemies in each wave doesn’t count.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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