WIT: Serious Sam – The Random Encounter

By John Walker on October 25th, 2011 at 10:33 am.

It may not look like much, because it isn't that much.

I wonder if many other publishers will follow in Devolver Digital’s path of hiring a bunch of indie developers to create a smattering of tie-in games. I know there’s the requisite Facebook/iOS game, but none has gone as far as those offering us Serious Sam 3: BFE next month (if they can stop delaying it). We’ve had Double D, and Kamikaze Attack. And now comes Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s fun. Here’s Wot I Think.

A 16-bit style and ethos, but with slightly more up-to-date graphics, The Random Encounter is as top-down dungeon exploring RPG-lite, with turn-based combat. Which is an obvious way to interpret a run-n-gun shooter, right? It’s the work of indies Vlambeer, known for Radical Fishing and Super Crate Box. And it’s very silly.

An extremely basic RPG, you wander small environments, stumbling into invisible fights with every other step. But in keeping with the Sam vibe, these fights are not against four or six enemies, rather dozens and dozens at a time. Sometimes hundreds. Yet it’s still turn-based. The onslaught charges toward Sam, and any other characters you may have in your party, and every five seconds things pause and you are able to issue commands.

So perhaps you’ll have Sam fire his rocket launcher into the crowds, while the Cowboy uses a special item that speeds up all attacks, and, uh, the guy in pink uses a laser rifle to hold back the charge. So it is that you apply tactics against the madness, while still maintaining the signature backward running and sense of impending doom that makes a Serious Sam game Serious. Which is smart, if ridiculous.

You have an extra layer of control as you play. Once you’ve selected your players’ moves, and the charge continues, you can still move the gang up and down the side-scrolling screen. This means you can dodge enemy attacks, and since you choose the direction in which a character will be firing, you can also move them into place to catch more enemies. And dodging is especially important, because none has that much life to spend. Once they’ve expired they fall to the ground and are left behind, unless you have a “Revive” you can play on your next turn. But using these is darned tricky, as reviving a teammate immediately in front of a big group of enemies is going to see them get knocked backed down immediately.

The controls are especially retro. You select menu options with the cursor keys, and select with z, go back with x. There’s no mouse here – nor a need for one. Although I think it would be nice to see a 360 controller implemented. Or even any control options at all.

It’s packed with lovely details. The music is especially great, managing to capture that tepidly bombastic style that occupied the gaming of the late 80s, with a synthy edge. Then there’s cute features, such as when you fight in the water, the whole screen, menus and all, are washed out, delivered with a tacky wobbly effect. There’s also the fun of Sam making remarks in text at the bottom of the screen, grumbling about puzzles, the tedium of finding keys, and lines like,

“Fork Parker would be proud of us.”

To which the dude in pink replies,

“Who?”

It’s also incredibly tough. It’s not difficult per se, but you’ll lose a lot. Because, again, that’s the way of Sam. Death carries little penalty. If all three of your mans go down, you’ll get a couple of lives to continue just before the battle that did you. If you run out of those, you just restart in the room you’re in. Admittedly that can be a setback of a good five or six battles, but it’s still not a genuine game over. As tough as it is, it’s not being a dick about it. Apart from when it suddenly assaults you with spawning masses of giant beasts giving you no chance whatsoever. But that’what we want.

There’s no more useful recommendation than my ridiculous desire to keep playing. It really doesn’t offer a great deal in terms of complexity or depth, but what’s there is just enough to make me want to keep bloody playing it. It entertainingly (and rather blatantly) teases you with constantly being near the end, almost from the beginning of the game, as you hunt down Mental so you can “shoot his face off”. “Mental should be through here” your characters say at the exit of each level. And this obvious trick makes me feel even more inclined to just reach the next screen.

At £3.59 (on Steam) there’s absolutely no reason not to. Unless you hate having fun, or something.

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38 Comments »

  1. Carr0t says:

    Your ‘on Steam’ link is incredibly random…

  2. Zyrocz says:

    Looks cool, but Steam kind of puts me off purchasing this. I don’t have anything against buying games on Steam, but this is the kind of game I would probably play at school were I can’t connect to Steam’s servers. Why do they refuse to fix the broken offline mode that simply doesn’t work.

    • John Walker says:

      It works just fine, but you must be online when you first switch it to offline.

    • MuscleHorse says:

      The offline mode has worked for about a year now.

      You can buy it from here http://www.getgamesgo.com/product/serious-sam-random-encounter if you’re dead against it though.

    • Belua says:

      Weird, I keep hearing about people with broken offline modes in Steam, but I’ve never had a problem. Does this only happen with certain hardware combinations or does other software cause this? Has anyone ever found the cause, if not the solution?

    • JagRoss says:

      It’s probably because people forget to set it while online.

    • wu wei says:

      I’ve lost net access – sometimes for a week or so at a time – without setting myself to offline mode first and still been able to play stuff from my Steam library.

    • sneetch says:

      @wu wei

      So have I, I don’t know though I’ve had enough problems with PC games and systems in the past that I understand that it’s still a problem for a certain percentage of people or on certain games.

    • Tams80 says:

      “but you must be online when you first switch it to offline.”

      Not broken, but not what I’d call useful*. ¬.¬

      *Might as well be broken.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      I don’t go offline often, but sometimes I do when the wifi is on the fritz. Let’s see: It’s october 2011, so that means it’s been at least two years since I’ve had any problem with Offline mode, possibly a bit longer. Even back then I only had problems a few times, and usually involved trying to go offline when Steam was in the middle of updating, or something like that.

      In my experience, I don’t need to be online to switch to Offline mode. It probably helps, though.

      I have yet to see what people are still whining about.

    • jonfitt says:

      In my experience Offline mode has always worked ok. I leave my wife’s PC in offline mode all the time (why can’t we use the same account to play different games), and in the few instances we have been without Internet I can switch to offline ok.
      In fact, if you boot and Steam can’t contact the server, doesn’t it give you the option of offline mode?
      One thing you *must* do though is have booted the game once while online.

    • Randomer says:

      My problem with offline mode was when I was living in an area with a very poor but not non-existent internet connection (it seems like all of France shares a single cable modem). The wireless connection was always available, but the internet was only reachable between about 11:30pm and about 8am. When I would turn on my laptop at home after work, if I didn’t disable my wireless connection within about 15 seconds of booting into Windows, Steam would start up and try to login. At that point, offline mode was lost to me, because when Steam timed out or if I hit cancel, I’d be kicked back out into the login screen.

      Also, some games just refused to run in offline mode, like VVVVVV.

    • Wulf says:

      Am I one of perhaps the only three people alive that knows how to run Steam in offline mode whilst actually offline? Is it really that broken for most people? That’s… just so weird. :|

    • Phasma Felis says:

      It works just fine, but you must be online when you first switch it to offline.

      Yeah, that counts as “broken”. My service provider isn’t usually kind enough to tell me in advance when they’re planning to have a three-day outage.

  3. Amakir says:

    Is that Saxton Hale on the last picture?

  4. Blain says:

    I like fun. But as you mentioned, the game starts being a dick (around segment 2-2). Losing randomly and through no fault of my own is decidedly not what I want. It felt like a waste of time, and I wish I hadn’t bought it.

    • abigbat says:

      I can imagine youre struggling; you could have used that £3 for several packets of crisps or even a pint!

    • johnpeat says:

      Hell yeah – less than £4, he could be starving on the streets in a matter of minutes…

    • armaankhan says:

      Must be nice to have so much money that wasting $5 on bad entertainment is no big deal. At least with “crisps” or a pint he’d've actually enjoyed his purchase and not regretted it.

    • Wulf says:

      Wow… you know, it’s like some kind of insane chain reaction. I come away from a certain thread on the forums and I see this.

      Anyway, armaankhan has the right of it. Not everyone can just toss money at things and never feel regret over the waste.

  5. Dominic White says:

    In the time that most people spend complaining about the lack of native gamepad support in games, they could have just downloaded Joy2Key and used that instead: http://www.electracode.com/4/joy2key/JoyToKey%20English%20Version.htm

    You’re PC gamers – be adaptable!

    • johnpeat says:

      Why the HELL would you want a joypad in a game which requires precisely 4 buttons (Up, Down, Select, Cancel)???

    • armaankhan says:

      Maybe because we like using our joypads? Because they’re nice and comfy and absolutely perfect for playing simple games that require few inputs?

      The problem with JoytoKey is twofold. One: it’s sketchy giving a random program admin privileges. Two: It’s an extra hoop to jump through, a hoop that could have easily been eliminated by the devs if they actually cared about their customers.

  6. bill says:

    This might be the only game I will EVER like that has those goddam annoying random encounters every five steps.

  7. Thunderbeak says:

    At EUR 3.59 it’s got more than a fair price for continental Europe.

  8. Squishpoke says:

    This would have been perfect on the PSP!

  9. Omroth says:

    This is just fantastic.

  10. johnpeat says:

    Just 1 TINY thing – it’s £3.99 for people dead enough not to own SS already on Steam

    and it’s lovely…

  11. Breedlove says:

    The Netherlands is the leading exporter of Serious Sam RPGs.

  12. Roshin says:

    Kinda disappointed so far, which isn’t very far at all, as I can’t get past the Lava Golem. I’ve tried for over an hour now and it just isn’t happening. Yeah, I suck, blah, blah.

    I loved Super Crate Box and Radical Fishing. I wish they had brought those to Steam instead.

  13. fuggles says:

    For all of you saying how we are whining about steam offline not working then go do one. I lost internet for a week and pretty much no game worked as steam would not connect to the internet (even oblivion thanks to the damned steam cloud). Steam offline does not work for me when my internet randomly dies. Steam itself wouldn’t even load up, the only way I could get to anything was manually running the exe files for them.

    If I have missed something crucial in a menu somewhere that makes offline mode work then feel free to let me know, as far as I can tell you tell steam to be offline or not when online.

    • Ridnarhtim says:

      AFAIK, you need to have your password stored on your PC and can then start Steam offline. It won’t work, however, if there is an update waiting/your internet cut out while it was waiting.

      Easiest thing to do would be to go to the file menu and start in offline mode. If that works, it should also work when your internet drops.

  14. Ridnarhtim says:

    “Although I think it would be nice to see a 360 controller implemented.”

    Why? I am so sick of this. Why not just ‘a controller?’ Why would it have to be a 360 controller? Why should I have to be told to press a big, red B button when using my Logitech Rumblepad 2?

  15. Jibb Smart says:

    I got this as soon as I could. It was a steal on Steam. I would regret the money I put into it, though, if it wasn’t for the fact that I finally got to support the developers of Super Crate Box.

    It’s quite buggy. Not blatantly buggy, but… I was near the end of the last area, quit, came back, and was back way earlier in the game. On my second time through level 3-1 I had more trouble than before, earning two game overs and, consequently, two spare cannons. Finally I was able to tear through the rest of the game by obliterating everything in two turns (one to charge, two to kill everything ever). This unlocked ENDLESS MODE, which was odd, because it shows your two extra characters in the level to be acquired, but it forgot to un-acquire them from my previous bouts, so I had them anyway. Then when I won my first battle I was disrupted by an eternal view of the final boss exploding.

    And it’s not quite as thought out as it should be. Much of the strategy is lost by the significant time it takes to change weapons, which wouldn’t be so bad except that it’s only possible to swap weapons during battle, and the later waves tend to get extremely close to the protagonists before the first turn.

    So much potential lost :(