After coming out of virtually nowhere to win GameSpot's 2001 PC Game of the Year award, Serious Sam has now officially reached the next level of success: It has its very own knockoff. From the goofy title, to the nearly plot-free frantic shooting action, to the budget price, Saber Interactive's Will Rock is a blatant attempt to recapture the magic of Croteam's game. Unfortunately, while it gets the broad strokes more or less right, many of the details that made Serious Sam great are simply missing.
Not that it matters, but you play as an archeologist named Will Rock whose mentor has been murdered by the Olympian Restoration Army, a secret cult dedicated to resurrecting the ancient civilization of the Greeks. To make a short story even shorter, some other things happen and you end up running around a Doric-temple-filled lost city while chucking grenades at about 20,000 berserk monsters.
In theory, Will Rock includes all the elements that made Serious Sam a great shooter. It features large mobs of simpleminded enemies and huge, open levels in which to fight them. But something just isn't right. For starters, Will Rock lacks Sam's endearingly nutty, go-for-broke atmosphere. Even though it's filled with (lame, even for a shooter) one-liners and mythological beasts, Rock's never as colorful, funny, or surprising as its inspiration. It's over-the-top, but in a completely forgettable way.
The level and combat design also aren't as interesting as they could have been. Visually, Rock's 10 large levels favor darker, slightly less open, and more barren environments. If you had to compare the two games, the graphics engine appears to be about on par with Croteam's Serious engine, though, again, some small but noticeable details, such as grass and thick foliage, are missing. Sam's levels had a straightforward, generally puzzle-free flow that effortlessly moved you from one large battle to another--a strategy that complemented the game's focus on pure action. Rock, on the other hand, often leaves you to wander around a hublike area searching for the triggers that will permit you to keep moving forward. These switch searches don't qualify as puzzles; they're just busywork that frustrates your attempts to get on with the action.
In addition, the battles themselves seem a bit lacking in design. Will Rock's environments tend to spew enemies close to you, but in a seemingly arbitrarily manner, which gives the combat--even when it occurs in large, open areas--a more cramped, less epic feel.
Worse, Rock relies heavily on jumping puzzles, which have generally never worked well in first-person action games. These sections are made more aggravating by the way in which enemy attacks push you back a few feet, often knocking you off your tiny perch.
The game's occasionally unreliable mouse control also detracts from the combat. No matter how you set your sensitivity, the control never feels quite right. Mouse movement speeds up and slows down seemingly at random, making aiming much more difficult than it should be. A recent patch has made this problem a little less noticeable, though it's still not perfect.
On the bright side, the character models and animation are great. Some enemies, such as a series of living statues that shatter in a satisfying shower of masonry, move with a convincing fluidity that's really impressive. The game's four boss battles are also pretty spectacular, though there's nothing that competes with Sam's legendary final battle.
Will Rock's competitive multiplayer is a bit thin; all you get is standard deathmatch and a team-based deathmatch variant called treasure hunt. Thankfully, up to four people can play the single-player game cooperatively.
One of Serious Sam's most memorable enemies is the beheaded kamikaze, a headless, screaming soldier who sprints toward you and then explodes. When a beheaded kamikaze detonates, its blast radius damages nearby enemies, which, besides creating a satisfying chain reaction of destruction, adds some tactical depth to the decision of where and when to shoot it. Will Rock includes its own version of this monster--a rat with a bomb strapped to its back. However, the rat's explosion has no blast radius, removing one of the most interesting features of the monster it's based on. It may not seem like a big deal, but it's a perfect example of Will Rock's problem: It mimics Serious Sam, but without any apparent understanding of the subtle particulars that made Sam more than just another generic shooter.