It seems absurd that even though this is eighth title released in the Serious Sam series it’s still actually the first in the official chronology – or the second half of the first instalment, to be specific. What should have been Serious Sam One was broken into two pieces, The First and Second Encounter, and the history of the series has since been diluted by too many remakes and ports to mention. The real Serious Sam 2 was therefore the third in terms of story and the sixth game in the series. I hope you're taking notes, there will be a test.
Then again though, the ancestry and chronology of the series is by far the least absurd thing about Serious Sam – where pretty much everything is exaggerated to insane levels and the level of cartoon violence and chauvinism is enough to make Duke Nukem look like Mary Poppins.
It’s important to keep that violence in context though and to understand what Serious Sam is really meant to be. It’s not an in-depth story-driven shooter and it doesn’t contain a nice blend of action, adventure and stealth that lets you wield full control over how you progress. It’s not about the dialog or the subtext. It’s about blowing things up as fast as possible and pretending that your nine-foot-long minigun isn’t compensating for something else.
That focus breeds a caveat that sits over the series as a whole, namely that if you aren’t interested in very old-school shooters where any time not spent shooting is definitely spent dying then you won’t like Serious Sam. You certainly won’t appreciate The Second Encounter which, despite a few early experiments with platforming and puzzles in the opening levels, quickly falls into a pattern of colossal arenas linked by tight corridors and filled with lots of baddies.
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter carries on straight from the first (half of the first) game, with Sam stealing a time-travelling flying saucer from ancient Egypt on his quest to destroy mega-villain Mental. As The Second Encounter opens he’s crash landed it in another area of time and space, forced to explore Ye Olde Mayan temples in search of magic artefacts. Or something.
So, in other words, the story is as stupid and irrelevant as it’s ever been and Croteam is really just using it as an excuse to put the players around some unusual architecture – which is why you end up travelling through Medieval Europe and scaling the Tower of Babel as you progress. There’s little coherence to the plotwork and it doesn’t really matter; all that does is the gloriously smooth action. That it takes place in medieval castles and ancient Mesopotamia is just window dressing.
Enemies that were bosses in the first game return as minor foes now
Unfortunately though, while Second Encounter’s move through different periods and locales means that the game feels more aesthetically diverse than the Egypt-based First Encounter, it does leave some weak spots in the level design. The medieval section of the game especially, with its drab grey walls and low-hanging mist, feels particularly dull compared to the bright and lavish later levels. It’s not until the last stages of the game that we’re really seeing all that Sam’s first/second outing has to offer.
Overall too, the levels of The Second Encounter often feel a bit more contrived and repetitive than those of the previous encounter. Empty stretches of desert are understandable in Egypt, but we expect a bit more decoration and a few more obstacles from a tropical setting. Instead, many of The Second Encounter’s arenas are sparse and flat – lacking even dunes or hillocks to scale. What could have been some of the most impressive battles ever are rendered trite and tired as a result.
That said, while the levels in The Second Encounter represent a step backward in terms of layout, they definitely make up for it in terms of scale. Serious Sam has always been about making things as big as possible – and the HD re-releases have always been about making them pretty to boot – so we’re glad to see that The Second Encounter outdoes the previous title on both fronts.