I really tried to like Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. For all practical purposes, it contains all the ingredients needed to cook up a roleplaying game I’d love: retro graphics, a fast-paced battle system, reflexive humour, and great bosses. But in the case of Serious Sam, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. I really surprised myself when I couldn’t even be bothered to complete the hour-long endeavour.
Where does the game go wrong? The title gives away the most grievous problem. Anyone who has played a classic SNES roleplaying game – whether it be a Final Fantasy, a Breath of Fire, or a Dragon Quest – knows that the frequency of random encounters can make or break the experience. Nothing grinds a game to a halt faster than having to stop every three footsteps to fight another group of slimes, goblins, zombies or other sword fodder. Serious Sam: The Random Encounter falls into this trap in spades. I’m perfectly aware that this is a combat-heavy game by design, but I felt encumbered by the sheer number of monotonous battles I was forced into when traversing each map.
By the second or third area of the game, the ugliest symptom of random encounter ennui had set in: lack of exploration. There would be times where I would see a point of interest on the world map – such as an item box or a teleporter – and I would ignore it outright because I knew it meant braving five or more extra fights. Placing this kind of burden of exploration disservices the player, encouraging them to skim through world maps looking for the most linear path to the exit rather than the most interesting one. Walking became a chore, akin to sifting through the paragraphs of a hefty textbook to seek out specific dates and definitions.
The game is particularly worse for the wear due to the homogeneity of the encounters. While visually diverse, enemy tactics are bland, ranging from “move forward and shoot” to “move forward and charge.” The tactics available to the player are similarly limited. Sure, there are a fair number of guns to toy with, ranging from laser rifles to pistols to magical cannons, but most of the time the choice hardly seems important. Monsters have a tendency to leak through your defense no matter how ingenious your strategy is, causing a lot of battles to feel like they’re won or lost by luck. Kudos to the developers for at least putting in a lenient save system.
I have to really question the price point of this title. I know it’s part of an independent developer outreach program, but five dollars is steep for such a short and simplistic experience. The Binding of Isaac, which I reviewed last week, shares the same price point and boasts dozens of hours of gameplay. Gish, Dungeons of Dredmor, Cthulu Saves the World… these are games you can score for less than five dollars on Steam that offer so much more. Honestly, Adult Swim puts up free Flash games on their website that are much more satisfying than Serious Sam: The Random Encounter.
I can’t overstate how much I wanted to like this game. It really has a lot going for it. Dropping Serious Sam into a roleplaying game is a genuinely hilarious premise, and the bright and visually appealing retro graphics work overtime to make it happen. However, when the cornerstone and namesake of your game – the random encounters – are balanced in such a half-assed manner it really becomes a problem.
Do yourself a favour and play Dinosaur Zookeeper instead.