Serious Sam 3: BFE (no, that does not stand for Best Friends Edition) stands as a testament to the old school of shooter, where levels were large and maze-like, enemy AI simply determined how fast they ran straight at you, keycards were still in vogue, and our heroes could carry twelve ridiculous weapons at once. As anachronistic as a game of this style is in 2011, it’s a welcome one - a reminder that the past was really fun, but sometimes progress can be a good thing.
Once again, the game takes place in an abandoned Egypt, and Sam needs to, well, shoot everything that moves, activate two alien artifacts, kill the Guardian of Time and save Earth. Along the way, Sam will crack wise with Duke Nukem-style one-liners, but unlike Duke’s latest foray, they won’t have you recoiling in horror each time. At worst you might groan at the cheesiness, but I had a good chuckle at a few of the better ones.
Curiously enough, the first couple levels of the game are poorly paced. When playing a Serious Sam title, one expects certain things, and picking off enemies in groups of two for the first 20-30 minutes is tedious. Luckily, by the end of the second level, things pick up, and you’ll be murdering enemies by the thousands in no time. Each level is enormous, packed with secret areas, and are well-suited to the massive combat scenarios you’ll encounter.
I’m not kidding when I say massive. The Sam games are notable for the sense of scale they present, and the same goes for the combat. By the time things get really rolling, your average combat setpiece will have thrown at you the following:Approximately 50-100 fodder soldiers with handguns, machine guns or shotguns About 50 spider-things who spit acid from afar 25-30 skeletal horses who charge you and hurl balls & chains at you Maybe 10-15 large melee enemies A wave of 5-10 bulls 20 bionic brains with legs who shoot lasers 5 bigger bionic brains who shoot rockets An assortment of other large enemies/demons who hurl fireballs or rockets at you.
Now keep in mind that this is EACH combat sequence, and most of the time you’re fighting all of those enemies at the same time. It’s exciting and you feel like a complete and utter badass when you manage to survive.
Warning: Sam is not a licensed Optometrist. He will not correct your glaucoma.
The weapons are familiar, but fun. You have your basic machine guns, shotguns and rocket launcher, but a few really stand out as fun. The minigun (that you never have to reload, natch) will make short work of enemy waves, the Devastator, which is basically a rocket/grenade launcher with a sniper scope, and of course Sam’s Cannon. Yes, a cannon. It shoots cannonballs that are larger than Sam himself. A new addition are contextual melee attacks where you can do such things as rip an enemy’s eye out/head off or even pull out their heart Mola Ram-style. (Kali-mah!)
I mentioned keycards in my opening paragraph, and SS3 will brutally remind you why games have moved on. While the huge levels are great combat arenas, there are two extended sequences in the game which require you to not only grab a keycard, but then use THAT keycard to find four seals hidden around the area to open a locked door. Like any good old-school game, there are no tooltips or hints to nudge you in the right direction, so unless you’re some kind of savant (or playing in co-op), expect to spend some extra time hunting ‘em down.
So the campaign is fun, albeit familiar. Let’s talk co-op. Specifically, let’s talk sixteen-player co-op. You heard that right. Serious Sam 3 supports 16-player drop-in/drop-out co-op either online or on a LAN across all of its game modes. Sixteen. In a shooter. Hell, it even supports 4-player splitscreen online on a PC using a mix of gamepads and mouse keyboard.
Sixteen players may seem like an awful lot, but Croteam has done a few things that keep things fun. Most importantly, all items are dropped for every player. There’s no competition for armor, health or ammunition. With such large levels, getting separated is a real possibility, so each player’s location & distance from you is helpfully displayed. The idea of having sixteen Serious Sams running through the world is kind of silly, so all of the multiplayer character models are available to use in co-op. Me? I was an old man in a gold sequined suit.
The campaign mode is easily one of the most chaotic experiences I’ve ever had in a game, but let’s back out a bit. You have several options for co-operative play. There’s Standard, which gives each player 3 lives per level before they must spectate. Classic allows everybody to respawn infinitely, and Coin-Op grants the entire team only 3 lives to share. Don’t like any of these options? You can set up a custom game and control everything from whether enemies scale to the number of players, player respawn counters and even the grace period in which a player is invulnerable post-respawn. Oh, and infinite ammo.
The minigun is a great way to bring the house down at parties.
If you want to coordinate with your teammates and be challenged by the game, you definitely want to be playing on Standard of Coin-Op mode. But for my money, the real fun in the game is had when you play on Classic mode with fifteen other players. It’s pure, unadulterated chaos. It’s like playing DOOM with God mode turned on, and yes, it’s mindless, but it’s an absolute riot and has to be experienced to be believed. It’s so much fun, that even though I needed to turn this review in, I replayed the entire campaign mode in one sitting prior to finishing this writeup.
Even though the combat in the campaign mode can feel a bit like survival modes in other games, Croteam has included a separate Survival mode with two maps, and it’s about what you’d expect. I had some fun with it, but the real draw is the campaign.
Everything’s not all wine and roses with the co-op, however. While the online play is mostly stable, I was never able to have a lag-free play session, which led to some frustrating deaths. Additionally, more than once I ran into bugs that made completion of a level impossible. Luckily, it’s possible to restart a level via the in-game voting system.
Ultimately, Serious Sam 3 is a really fun shooter, but I can’t help but feel Croteam could have mixed up the formula a bit. While the co-op is the star of the show, the singleplayer experience doesn’t shine nearly as much solo and definitely suffers from a case of having done it all before.