Serious Sam: The Random Encounter
Conceptually, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter appears to be an impossibility, a creation of science and magic that boggles the mind. The idea was to take the Serious Sam series, games which prize their hordes of enemies and classic style over plot, and convert their system of play into a turn-based RPG. It is in that quest that indie developer Vlambeer is surprisingly successful in imitating the style of Sam’s FPS counterparts in turn-based fashion. However, like the scientists of Jurassic Park, though they managed to answer the question of whether they could, they never bothered to ask whether they should.
The short answer is they shouldn’t have. The long answer is they shouldn’t have for a retail market. This is the kind of game that not only smells of indie but reeks of the kind of clever little flash game that you’d expect to play online for free. There’s a desire for an authentic experience in play, but the content is lacking and very repetitive.
The RPG system of the game dismisses any leveling system in favor of providing the player with various types of equipment, each with its own functionality. Sam enters the battle, first alone and quickly with party members, and is constantly running backward from an oncoming horde of bad guys. Each battle, right from the get go, pits you against the dozens, and only by obliterating everything coming at you can you proceed.
The turn-based system allows you to choose your tactics via your equipment. Because each weapon has its own capabilities, it becomes necessary to decide which member of the party to hand which gun, along with how they’re going to shoot it. It’s a system of battle that can be complex, forcing quick, split-second judgment calls. It can be tricky figuring out how to properly line up the trajectories of rocket launcher and mini-gun strikes so that you can survive long enough for your all-powerful cannon to charge.
Combat is the highlight of the game, but it runs out of gas after the first level. Once the tutorial is over, it seems as though the game just has a really hard time figuring out what new to throw at you. Large bosses come at you with dozens of minions, but by the time you’ve got all three of your party members it hasn’t even been thirty minutes and you’re a third of the way through the game. All there is to expect from the second and third acts is larger crowds of bad guys.
There is some charm to this little indie game. It’s bright, it’s colorful and it’s unique amongst RPG’s with a stylized combat system that manages to successfully replicate the series of games it is based on. The foundation, however, is weak, boring and repetitive. The only incentive to survive its repetitive battles is that you won’t have to attempt them a second time.