By Mike Bezek
Delays are a part of life for most of society and specifically for us gamers, last minute game delays are a knee to the face to patiently waiting fans. It’s hard not to mention the heavy hitters in this category, like Duke Nukem, without hearing the gnashing of teeth by many a fan. Recently, there was another addendum to the delay list: Serious Sam 3. Coincidentally, Croteam had contracted indie developer, Vambleer, earlier this year to develop Serious Sam: The Random Encounter to help promote SS3. It just so happens that their premeditated promotional efforts have unintended residual effects to help tide some fans over until the franchise makes its first big debut in years. So in place of a shiny new Serious Sam, what we have here is an Action-RPG hybrid that tosses aside conventions of the genre in favor of shootin’ stuff and then shootin’ more stuff.
Review Length = Game Length
Demakes have become all the rage nowadays. Not a single game is safe from the jaws of independent game developers desperate to take a good game and transpose its attributes into technology older than some of our dear readers. The Random Encounter has received this special treatment and places Sam in a top-down environment where the rules of engagement are traditional RPG elements mixed with a small amount of real-time maneuvering to survive your battles. The meat of the game is in the battle system, which revolves around using a variety of weapons to fend of unfathomable hordes while constantly running backwards in true Serious Sam fashion.
Like its namesake, players will encounter enemies randomly while navigating the miniscule overworld maps. While Sam’s repertoire is small in the beginning, it helps to reinforce the need to learn the strengths and weaknesses of every weapon. Players are immediately given the options swap weapons, use items, or simply direct the angle of their weapon right from the start of the battle. Once you’ve made your selections, a timer counts down an average of 3 seconds until your next turn. During those fleeting moments, you will be able to move your characters up and down on the constantly side-scrolling battlefield where enemies continuously advance on your position. One of the games main weaknesses comes into play right from the start of any battle: the weapon you are holding at the end of the previous fight is now the weapon you start the next battle with. Swapping weapons requires a small delay while enemies make their way to you, and sometimes the entire battle can be lost simply because you didn’t have the right weapon out at the beginning. I found myself being overrun easily in some situations because I wasn’t given enough time to swap to an appropriate weapon.
In order to aid this seemingly unfair situation, Sam will be joined by two familiar faces that have made appearances in the multiplayer portions of previous games. With their addition brings new weapons for the team to share while formulating strategies on how to deal with each wave. The team aspect of the game is a mixed bag where the idea of variety gets bogged down by the clunky movement system. All members of your team handle like a row of foosball figures, except they are covered in molasses. Things that you would be able to maneuver past with one character become impossible with an unwieldy team, and you will be forced to sacrifice member after member simply because the game doesn’t give you enough space to effectively move out of the way of 80% of your oncoming fire.
This is not to say that the game is a challenge in preventing yourself from smashing your keyboard. Once you understand how to prepare for future encounters, you will stand a better chance of not having to run your resources dry by reviving and healing characters every turn. There is an undeniable feeling of satisfaction when you conquer a massive wave of enemies with all of your members still surviving, and as a plus, you are given additional armor for your next fight for performing so well. The healthy variety of series staples available to be slaughtered by your testosterone-riddled team keeps you on your toes as no two battles are the same.
Boss battles are thrown into the mix to keep things interesting, but they end up being very simple as using a Serious Bomb (which inflicts tons of damage) while using your most powerful weapons usually kills them before they have much of chance to hurt you. You can choose not to employ this method, but it seems more of a test of patience than a challenging experience if you decide to take them on with basic weapons.
There is an interesting generation-spanning graphical presentation that threw me for a loop. Sam and co. are tiny, simple sprites that any feature a few frames of animation. Simply put, they look like they were ripped out of an advanced 8-bit game. The overworld and battlefield are also very “1990” in their presentation. Meanwhile, the bosses and enemies range from 16-bit representations, to full on Castle Crashers level of detail. It’s a shame that the entire cast isn’t given the same amount of attention that bosses and enemies have. There is such great detail given to a boss that may have a total of 30 seconds on your screen, but the sprites you stare at the rest of time look like little hunks of pixels.
But I guess it is very hard to split hairs over a game that is as long as it’s protagonists are tall. The short, yet funny adventure was completed in under an hour as there are only 3 main stages, each with a boss, until you encounter the Final Boss. There was really no attempt to make this long by any stretch of the word. I was surprised that a game like this would be over and done within a short 45 minutes, because there is enough material here to make a 2 hour experience.
The Random Encounter accomplishes exactly what it was originally intended to do: create a diversion. The gameplay is as simplistic as it can get; the unbalanced combat system will grate the nerves of some and the catchy (yet limited) tunes sate the Serious Sam fan’s craving for a short period.
Is It Worth Your Money?
As previously stated, The Random Encounter is a very, very short experience, even by budget title standards. I have played Android games that have lifespans 10 times longer than this one. At $4.99 for a 45 minute romp through a mediocre game, it’s hard to recommend this one to anyone but the diehard who actually needs to play something like this in the wake of the horde of AAA releases in November. If you are a die-hard fan, then you already have it, but if not, just go download Cave Story.
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter – Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 1 Hour
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Control Scheme – Keyboard
- Bugs – Graphical glitches at Game Over screen causes random sprites to stay on screen. Sound will sometimes fade out after battle and not come back for 10 seconds.
- Demo – No
- DRM – Steamworks
- Availability – Steam