Fans of the action genre will undoubtedly look back on 2001 with fond memories. This year has seen the release of some of the greatest shooters we've played in a long while--Max Payne, Operation Flashpoint, Undying, and, of course, Serious Sam: The First Encounter. Who can ever forget Serious Sam? While the whole industry was busy trying to create the next Half-Life, a relatively unknown developer out of Croatia released a game--straight out of left field--that many people heralded as the next Doom. Serious Sam had no AI to speak of, nor did it have a memorable plot, scripted sequences, character interaction, or any of the features that have become more prevalent in recent first-person shooters. Instead, it focused strictly on all-out action by throwing waves and waves of onrushing enemies--that ranged in size from frogs to mountains--at you. The formula worked well, particularly because of the game's inclusion of an addictive cooperative multiplayer mode and the fact that it was priced at about 20 bucks. Upon Serious Sam's release, Croteam, the developer, went right back to work to create even more insane levels, and the result, cleverly called The Second Encounter, will be released in a matter of weeks. We recently had the chance to play through the first of the three new environments in The Second Encounter, giving us ample opportunity to wreak havoc with all of the game's new weapons, explore many of the new areas, and run away from a lot of the new enemies.
As Croteam CEO Roman Ribaric made clear in yesterday's interview, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter is a completely stand-alone product that doesn't require the original game to run--but please don't call it a sequel. The Second Encounter is merely more of the same style of levels, more of the same interaction with the NETRICSA interface, more of the same weapons, and more of the same enemies for fans of The First Encounter--but in Serious Sam's case, more of the same is something that leaves little room for complaint.
The game takes place immediately after the end of The First Encounter. For those who don't know, you play the role of Sam "Serious" Stone, a soldier sent back in time to stop an alien horde from ever leaving planet Earth. Sound confusing? Apparently, the aliens in the game originated from the many ancient civilizations that were previously thought to have been human. The First Encounter saw Sam purging ancient Egypt of its alien inhabitants before jumping aboard a massive UFO that seemed straight out of Independence Day. That same UFO drops off Sam amid a mountainous jungle environment that's littered with Mayan and Aztec ruins at the beginning of The Second Encounter, and from there, you'll proceed to cleanse the area of hundreds of crazed alien attackers, from old favorites such as the gnaar and beheaded kamikaze to several new arrivals that include cucurbito the pumpkin, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow that rushes at you with a chainsaw; the fiendian reptiloid demo, a 20-foot creature that resembles the original game's aludran reptiloid and throws indestructible balls of lava at you; and the zorg mercenaries, aliens which wield massive laser rifles. This Aztec environment will start in the fairly open areas of Sierra de Chiapas and then move on to the crowded and ancient city levels of Serpent Yards and City of the Gods.
New Areas and Weapons
This new Aztec environment will have five sprawling levels that will have you going from cramped indoor temples to massive outdoor locales completely seamlessly. Serious Sam's ability to render massive outdoor areas and transition to detailed indoor environments without hesitation was one of the game's most appealing factors, and needless to say, that same technology has made its way into The Second Encounter. In all, you can expect to find 12 of these massive levels spread throughout the game's three areas, one of which will take place around Persepolis, the capital of the ancient Achaemenian civilization now buried near Tehran, Iran. Croteam has hinted that the third area will be located in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Aside from the addition of three new environments, The Second Encounter has made some minor but not insignificant enhancements since the original, including some visual upgrades in the already impressive 3D engine. Specifically, some of the levels now have entire fields of grass--particularly in the early jungle environments--that are rendered procedurally for beautiful results. But effects like the grass aren't just for eye candy; they actually make the game tougher. Some of the taller grass will impair your vision, making it harder to spot rushing enemies until they're fairly close to you. You'll find that finding and getting to high ground as quickly as possible is much more important in The Second Encounter than it was in The First Encounter. Thankfully, you'll have a larger arsenal this time around to make your alien-busting duties a little easier. Croteam has added three new weapons in The Second Encounter, while keeping all the ones from the original game intact.
Screenshots released a few weeks ago revealed one of these three new weapons: the "Bonecracker" P-LAH chainsaw. Chainsaws and first-person shooters have gone hand in hand since Doom, and while it's kind of difficult to add functionality to a lumber tool that was designed for one purpose, it's still more fun using it to cut down enemies than it is to cut down trees. The second new weapon you'll find is the Raptor 16mm sniper rifle. While it may seem that a sniper rifle seems out of place in such a fast-paced game like Serious Sam, it's actually quite effective. Because of the game's large levels, you'll often come across areas where you'll spot a horde of enemies rushing at you from a distance, a significant number of which can be picked off using this rifle before the enemies reach you. Interestingly enough, the Raptor rifle seems to be more powerful when fired while in zoom than without. Rounding out the list of new weapons is the XOP flamethrower, which spews extremely flammable streams of napalm that will consume even the largest of enemies in a matter of seconds. One of the new enhancements of the game's graphics engine--the ability to set any creature and nearly every object in the levels on fire--was implemented specifically because of the addition of this flamethrower.
Playing through the Aztec areas of The Second Encounter reminded us of how much fun The First Encounter was and only increased our anticipation of the final game's release in a few weeks. You can expect the game to be just as long, if not a little longer, than the original, and it will include both cooperative and fragmatch multiplayer modes directly out of the box. Couple that with its price of $19.99, and The Second Encounter will be a game that no Serious Sam fan should be without. We'll update you with more impressions of the later levels in a few weeks. In the meantime, though, be sure to take a look at the new screenshots and movies that we've added to our gallery.