When Serious Sam: The First Encounter quietly appeared in 2001, it was a real breath of fresh air. The game delivered fantastic-looking, incredibly intense first-person-shooting action without any of the genre's pretenses of grandiose storytelling, all with its own unique style and for a bargain price of $20 at that. Serious Sam has made appearances a handful of other times since then, but only now has a full-fledged sequel finally arrived. The good news is that this is Serious Sam all right, packing in all the silly humor and massive shooting-gallery-style levels you'd expect from the previous games. The bad news is something's been lost in translation, perhaps due to the passing of time or due to the new 3D graphics engine, or--more likely--because of a combination of each. Serious Sam II has a lot of levels and a few good laughs, but its simple shooting action is less likely to get your adrenaline pumping as it is to make you go numb.
Sam is back in Serious Sam II, and this time he'll have to shoot his way through a whole bunch of levels filled with lots of enemies.
"Serious" Sam Stone, casually dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, has been summoned to rid the universe of Mental and his nefarious forces. To do this, he'll need to travel to different worlds to collect medallion pieces from their oppressors. And to do that, he'll need to run from point A to point B through nearly two-dozen levels, stopping frequently to gun down literally hundreds of foes. Along the way, you'll find a variety of big guns, grab lots of health, armor, and ammo power-ups, and probably discover some amusing secret areas. But mostly you'll just shoot and shoot and shoot as enemies pour in from all around you, attacking from the ground and from the sky, either hanging back and firing at you or rushing right toward you--sometimes using a combination of the two.
The original Serious Sam boasted a 3D graphics engine that could render incredibly huge levels packed with incredibly large numbers of enemies. By comparison, the levels in Serious Sam II seem smaller, and so do the enemy counts (or at least these factors don't stand out like they used to). Both on the PC and the Xbox, when large numbers of enemies clutter the screen, the frame rate noticeably bogs down, which hurts the experience.
The bigger issue is that the action in Serious Sam II just doesn't feel all that satisfying. The game's weapons look big and bulky onscreen, but the interaction between your firepower and your enemies' bodies feels rather hollow. Enemies just kind of break apart into bits, then quickly fade away. So despite the high volume of enemy casualties, you just don't get that sense of wreaking massive havoc and carnage with your ridiculously oversized guns. The weapons don't behave as you'd expect them to in other ways, as well. The very first weapon you find, a multibarreled shotgun that looks far too much like a toy, turns out to be perfectly accurate at extreme ranges, contrary to first-person-shooter canon, which stipulates shotguns should only be effective up close. So this boring gun actually becomes your mainstay throughout most of the game. Using a shotgun to snipe aerial targets from miles away just feels silly, but it's not the same "silly" that Serious Sam II is going for. The rest of the weapons are pretty straightforward. You never have to reload, but just keep an eye on your ammo count.
There's more variety to the scenery than to the action.