Random Encounter is an inventive spin on the Serious Sam formula.
Thousands of enemies, all clustered together, rush forward. Three muscular men, evenly spaced apart between each other, run backward, attacking the approaching alien forces while deftly weaving through onslaughts of gunfire. Their range of movement is limited, however, able to shift only a few steps up and down. So you take the brunt of the enemy fire, it whittling your party's heath and armor down to zero steadily.
Damn, this game is hard.
You die. You try again, and die again. You try again, and this time succeed. Then you face another hoard and die in seconds, exhausting your continues.
GOD DAMMIT! This game... so hard. So mean. And then you pick yourself up and try yet again.
That's Serious Sam: The Random Encounter in a nutshell. Vlambeer's effort in last year's Serious Sam Indie Series combines the hectic, overwhelming action of the shooters with a turn-based battle system with minor interactivity. It's a weird but successful concept, blending the two gameplay types brilliantly and intelligently.
The premise is simple: you're Sam. Sam is a on a mission to eradicate the alien forces of Mental. Sam fights Mental in the past and future, because for some reason, the aliens can perform time travel. So Sam chases them through time, shooting them en mass wherever they may be, this case being the future. Along the way in this particular mission, you find a couple of allies. Specifically, a cowboy and a dude with an afro dressed in a pink leotard... or something like that. Their goal: Shoot Mental in the face.
You and your cohorts move through nine desert-themed stages fighting through Mental's seemingly endless armies at random intervals. Battle is a mixture of turn-based and real-time action. Every five seconds you get set orders, such as the weapon each character is using (you can choose from such guns as a rocket launcher, a laser rifle, a minigun, and a shotgun) and the line of fire. Once set, the game starts moving. Enemies advance from the left while you dodge them by moving up and down on the right side of the field. At first, avoiding damage is easy, as you only have one character. With the full party assembled, however, the movement range decreases drastically, meaning you can't just sustaining wounds entirely. No, instead you must endure, keeping a constant eye on your party's health and armor status to ensure no one is about to keel over.
It's important to keep your whole party active because a single loss can be the difference between triumph and failure. The game moves so quickly that any time spent not attacking gives the opposition the upper-hand. A single opening in your defense is all it takes for the hoard to overtake you. Your team doesn't last too long, either. All three have only a hundred hit-points and can have up to a hundred points of armor, which mitigates damage but drains quickly. You can't increase those values, however, as this isn't a full-on role-playing game. The most you can do is refill your health and armor as needed, but the items that do so a rare sight. All items are, in fact.
I mean, you pick up consumables frequently. It's just that you don't any one thing more than another. Healing supplies, armor refills, speed and damage boosts -- all arrive in small numbers. By the end you'll likely have only a handful of items combined.
Although that's just part of the fun. Having to conquer enormous waves of foes with limited supplies adds an extra tactical element. Because the attacks of enemies are seriously powerful, you're often placed in situations where items are the only way to victory. But at the same time, you have to conserve those items for the bosses, i.e, when you really, really need them. So you're placed in a constant conundrum: use them now to make the path to finish line easier, or hold on to them until the most dire circumstances arise?
Battles occur every one to three steps. The levels are small, not containing anything in the form of exploration save for a chest or two. It takes, at most ten minutes to complete a level, so it doesn't take long at all to get through Random Encounter. And, really, that's for the best. It's just long enough to demonstrate its idea, but not so long that it outstays its welcome.
There's an endless mode, as well, which, I imagine, speaks for itself and is unlocked by beating the story. I wouldn't know because, as of this writing, I still haven't finished the game because of that last god damn hellish boss and his impossible-to-kill lackeys. ARGH! Hate that guy.
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is a cool game. Like so many other genre-blends, it takes two completely different flavors and creates something new and great. Vlambeer has done an outstanding job converting the action of Serious Sam into a turn-based battle system. It's a bit on the short side, sure, but hey -- it's only $5. So if you're one to look at it from a hours-to-dollars perspective, it's well worth it.