Serious Sam: BFE XBLA

There’s nothing serious at all about this franchise!  Serious Sam is a goofy, old school shooter series that mocks the clichés of modern first person shooters.  The third game in the series, Serious Sam BFE came out for PC a year ago, but just made its way onto consoles where it appears as not one, but TWO downloadable games.  The single-player campaign and co-op mode are one download, while the versus multiplayer is separate download (Which also includes a few additional single-player levels). This unusual separation of single and multiplayer might seam crazy, but Serious Sam BFE is something that shooter fans should (Ahem) seriously consider.

Sam “Serious” Stone is a wise-cracking badass soldier who find himself responsible for saving humanity from an army of evil aliens.  After his team is dispatched to Egypt to activate a mysterious artifact, their helicopter is Blackhawk-downed, leaving Sam to save the world on his own.  He does so with an arsenal of guns, plus a sledgehammer, and a liberal use of his bare hands!

Everything from the story, the generic Middle-Eastern setting, to the evil aliens is cliché for this genre, but that’s actually the point to this game!  It’s a self-parody that tempers its violence with self-aware humor, and gleefully embraces out-dated (But fun) gameplay.

Sam is filled with sarcastic one-liners to berate his foes, and belittle the danger around him.  This is done in the manner of Duke Nukem, but the key difference is that Sam is funny.  Consistently funny.  While spouting quips, he also tears aliens to pieces in a bloodbath of cartoonish gore for even more humor.

Yes, it’s nice when our shooters investigate the horror of war, or question the motivations of our leaders, but it’s also nice to kills things with a sledgehammer, or rip out a guy’s heart then throw it at the next bad guy you see (Let’s see Master Chief do THAT).

Serious Sam BFE also jettisons many of the modern refinements to the shooter genre.  There are no puzzles, no cover system, or vaulting over obstacles, and Sam doesn’t issue tactical orders to a team of squadmates.  Sam just runs around killing enemies who tend to be pretty stupid.

With enemies that aren’t very clever, and no cover system, Serious Sam forces the Player to engage in run & gun gameplay with only fast reflexes and a cool head to keep them alive.  There’s a melee move that provides quick kills but is only useful in the right tactical situation, and this is one of few times that players need to use their heads while playing.  The rest of the time, it’s circle-strafing bosses, and sidestepping attacks like in the good old days.

The game is essentially the same as it was on the PC, but the Xbox 360 port does have a few technical issues, plus some control problems.  Serious Sam BFE wasn’t exactly cutting edge in terms of graphics when it hit the PC, and the Xbox 360 version is definitely behind the times when compared to other recent games.

There’s clear pop-up for items scattered around the levels, and the characters tend to look bland unless seen from very close distance. Entering a new section of the map is accompanied by a short stutter that keeps the adventure from feeling as fluid as it should.

The default control scheme is different from what most console shooters use.  There are options to remap this into a more Halo-ish configuration plus a few other variations that players will want to explore.

What can’t be remapped is the weapon selection.  Sam carries around the classic loadout of “A big pile of guns & stuff”.  None of this modern nonsense of him only being able to carry a couple of weapons at once.  No, Sam is a walking armory, and on Xbox 360 the weapon selection is handled with a radial dial keyed to the D-Pad.

This is very imprecise, and it’s easy to select the wrong weapon when in a jam (Especially since some weapons require the player to double-tap a direction on the D-Pad).  Bringing up the double barrel shotgun when a fast-moving enemy is charging at you is trickier than it should be.

The console port also has a generous aim assist.  A VERY generous aim assist.  Rich Uncle Larry who left you his mansion sort of generous!

With a shotgun in hand, Sam can take out just about anything on the screen without bothering to aim.  Shooter fans will definitely want to turn this feature off (It’s on by default) because this attempt to make the game easier to play with a gamepad makes it far too easy.  Even when disabled, there is still clearly some aim assist going on with some guns.

Despite these many flaws, Serious Sam BFE should remain on console gamers’ radar.  First of all, it costs a fraction of the PC version (On PC it still runs forty dollars, while the console is fifteen).  Secondly, it does have a good deal of content, especially since there’s an on-line co-op mode.

Players who just can’t get enough of Serious Sam BFE also have the option of buying the DLC pack, Jewel of the Nile.  This adds in three levels, plus versus multiplayer.  We’ll review that separately later this week.


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