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The Games of Christmas '11: Day Three

A ray of sunshine

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You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Serious Sam 3: BFE is coming to town
He’s making a list
And killing everything on it three hundred million times
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
And then kill them all anyway.

Alec: The easy insult towards Serious Sam 3 is that it’s just doing the same thing all over again. Well, I don’t have that reaction whenever I go into a curry house and order a tried and tested dish, so why should I have it with something else I know I like?

Counter-point to that is why would I then moan about, say, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations being largely a repeat of its predecessor, or Call of Duty games forever pulling the same trick but with the volume turned ever-higher? Well, it’s because Serious Sam is without artifice or pretence: it’s a bestial level of action gaming, right the nub of why we thrill to simulated, impossible violence. It doesn’t require argument or defence or justification, it simply is. I would never, ever show it to a non-gamer as part of a demonstration as why I play videogames. Yet it understands why I play videogames in a way that very few others do.

God, I hate that I’ve once again ended up sounding so serious about Serious Sam. That isn’t what it’s for. It’s for this:

ratatatatatatattBOOMsplatAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAthoom
thoomratatatatatatatatPOWsplatstplatAAAAAAAAAAzzzzap
BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOMhahahahahaahahaah

I can imagine a long future in which, every few years, we get a new Serious Sam game, and it’s just the same as before, that unrefined, celebratory meatheadedness at an impossible scale, but depicted with the best that contemporary technology can conjure. And I can’t imagine ever resenting it.

We all seem to get our knickers so twisted discussing the relative merits of BioShocks and CoDs and Battlefields and Duke Nukems and all the rest, then this turns up in a party hat with a bottle of industrial strength cider in its hand and bellows “hey guys, what’s going on? Let’s have a good time!”

It’s the sudden smile in the middle of an argument with your partner. It’s the chimp performing cartwheels in the zoo when all the other animals are slumped in depressed sleep. It’s the last thing an entertainment medium that is essentially about making pixels flash different colours needs. It’s everything it needs.

Adam:

ratatatatatataatatatBOOMsplode
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH
KABLAMMIEPOWPOWPEWPEWPOPPAPAPAPAPAPAAPAPAPABUDDA
BUDDABUDDABUDDATHWOMPKASPLOSIONMEGATONDEATHFACE

Indeed. But since I haven’t had the chance to write about it before, I am going to get a little bit serious about Serious Sam. Just a litte.

First off, the first few levels are horribly unSamly. Give it to someone who has no preconceptions about the series and they’d probably be too bored to carry on. There are narrow streets and corridors instead of gloriously open desert spaces, and rather than crowds of enemies there are small gatherings. The pistol is Sam’s only gun for far too long.

But then it happens. Croteam crank up the dial until the dial breaks and then they blow it up. Point is, there’s no longer a dial. It has been replaced by an explosion.

By the later stages, it’s the most Serious Sam game of them all – and I am comfortable using the name as an adjective. It means variety in weapons and enemies, vast numbers of opponents, and wide areas that allow movement backed up by thousands upon thousands of deadly projectiles that demand it.

It is the first-person shooter as I always hope it will be. This is almost platitudinous, but Serious Sam 3 does so much that I wanted Duke Nukem to do. From riffing on and roasting other games, including those introductory levels that must be satirical, to reinstating what now seem traditional features such as medikits, weapons on every numkey and combat where strafing, not cowering, is the solution to all ills.

I also find myself wishing Rage and Doom 3 were more like this. Take away the attitude and, in their design sensibilities, Croteam are more id than 3d Realms.

There are times when Sam is forced to hide lest miniguns shred him but it’s momentary. He’s not waiting for someone else to do his dirty work or looking, he’s just catching his breath. The action doesn’t take place from behind cover, it takes place in the gaps between hordes of enemies, weaving and using the shotgun almost as a melee weapon. I’d forgotten that was possible – dodging an incoming projectile and then rushing at the sap who fired it and waiting until the last possible moment before pulling the trigger, reducing him to a burst of colour.

The series is often described in terms of quantity and scale – it’s the game with the massive bosses and the enormous number of enemies. That’s all there, sure, but it’s the variety that marks the game out for me. Rather than shooting man with rifle and then man with pistol, I’m shooting tentacled flying-beasts, bipedal mechanibastards and a host of other alien oddities. And that’s why, although Fork Parker would burst a vessel if he were forced to acknowledge it were anything more than brash, loud and stupid, Serious Sam 3 is the cleverest FPS of the year, as well as my favourite.

Every sound matters, cluing you into in what the wall of flesh heading your way is composed of. As soon as you hear a certain grunt or footfall, evasive action begins, your strafing and forays marking out patterns that have been learned but that continue to evolve as new monsters are added to the mix.

Serious Sam is motion and balance. Standing still is an invitation to death and in the later stages I found myself tapping into a strange brainzone I haven’t explored for a long time, where movement and aiming seemed instinctive but were more than that. I was learning how to recognise and react to sound, to approximate proximity, to aim accurately without really looking. Relearning in fact. I’ve known how to do all this since I struggled through Doom on nightmare difficulty but the molasses of modern warfare had blunted my skills.

I’d forgotten how to play. Sam soon helped me back into my stride though and reinvigorated my love for the simple joy of shooting space invaders.

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Hivemind

The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.

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