Serious Sam:
The Mayhem Shooter

By Shamus Posted Friday Apr 25, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 29 comments

It has been observed that in terms of gameplay, the true descendant of Doom was not Doom 3, but Serious Sam. In Doom you played a man who could run at something approaching the speed of an automobile. You carried a cache of weapons, ammunition, and armor that would, in a more plausible reality, require a U-Haul truck to transport. You were a bullet sponge of epic proportions and capable of falling any distance without being harmed. Most importantly, you fought multitudes of foes in huge, chaotic, open-air battles. In all of these ways, Serious Sam is like Doom, only moreso.

Serious Sam – Shakespearian Sam
After Doom, the entire genre of FPS games moved away from this sort of thing. The games slowed down as they fragmented into numerous sub-genres. The Stealth Shooter. Survival Horror Shooter. Tactical Shooter. Roleplaying Shooter. Puzzle Shooter. But Serious Sam embraced its roots. It exhumed the abandoned gameplay of the Mayhem Shooter, dusted it off, polished it, and made it fun again.

It’s all played for laughs, which is fitting. This isn’t a game where you engage in soul-searching and probe the mysteries of what it is to be human. This ain’t Shakespeare. This is a game where you kill an unbelievable number of foes with massive guns and overwhelming bravado. It’s good, mindless fun.

It actually took me a while to get through the game. I can only take it in limited doses. After twenty minutes of holding the fire button down and watching things go boom, I need to sit quietly and let my nervous system recover.

The game is wonderfully tuned. It’s built for speed, not eye candy. The last thing you want is a framerate hitch while you’re trying to draw a bead on one of the fifty or so murderous freaks converging on your position. The game runs flawlessly smooth in comparison to its contemporaries. The load times are quick. There are lots of foes, lots of guns, and lots of places to combine the two.

Actually, everything I’ve said applies equally well to either Serious Sam or the predictably named Serious Sam 2. The second game has more variety and polish, but both provide the same high-speed assault on the senses.

I know I’m always banging on about immersive gameplay, character development, and story depth. So me praising this game is like finding your pretentious music teacher thrashing around listening to Korn when the students are gone. I know this game is everything I usually hate, but it’s pure and it’s well-executed and it’s amusing. It may not be the kind of game I love, but it is an absolutely stellar example of the kind of game I don’t.


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29 thoughts on “Serious Sam:
The Mayhem Shooter

  1. Marky says:

    Man, that mini comic was hilarious.
    I’ve never tried Serious Sam but from what you say, it sounds like alot of fun.

  2. Nicholas says:

    Never tried SS either, I suspect it may be one of those things I’ll either hate or love. Usually I dislike all of those on description, so maybe I’ll try it and see.

  3. Micah says:

    SS pwns. It’s the pinnacle of mindless shooters.

  4. qrter says:

    Serious Sam is wonderful. I really hated Serious Sam II, though – the humour seemed off to me and it had a cutscene every 3 minutes.

  5. Phlux says:

    Small does are key, like you say. I played the original for the first time at a LAN party and it was a hoot. The game is ideally suited to Co-op, because they just increase the flood of enemies to compensate for multipler players. It gets even more chaotic and ridiculous.

    Deathmatch wasn’t very fun, though. The game is really all about a flood of enemies that die quickly. Going against players with evenly matched arsenal and hitpoints really makes it lose its flavor quickly. The fun of Co-op ruined the single player for me, too, because it just wasn’t as much fun fighting by myself.

  6. capital L says:

    I enjoyed the absolute crap out of Serious Sam. It was the first “Doom-clone” after a long (and appropriate) break from the term itself. As much as it reminded me of Doom, it equally reflected the ethos of the build-engine games: Duke Nukem 3d, Blood, Shadow Warrior, Redneck Rampage (TekWar played it straight, but it was based on books written by Shatner so I don’t even know what to do with that one).

    It is true though, that when I was finished with Serious Sam, I was quite happy to be done, and I’ve probably only replayed it a couple of times. I never did get Serious Sam 2, but I expect I will at some point.

  7. Avaz says:

    Shakespearian Sam FTW, by the way.

  8. Huckleberry says:

    Do you mean “behold” when you say “harken”? To me, witnessing Sam’s heroic deed seems more visual than auditory.

    (Or, very possibly, I just don’t get that particular joke.)

  9. Rask says:

    Tip for Shakespeare readers: “Exeunt” means “Eaten by a bear.”

  10. Jeremiah says:

    Sometimes you just gotta play a mindless game and have some fun. I love story heavy games as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s nice to just blow the crap out of stuff for a little while.

  11. Josh says:

    Tip for Shakespeare readers: “Exeunt” means “Eaten by a bear.”

    Thanks, Dave Barry!

  12. Locri says:

    On a side note, one of the coolest things I remember about Serious Sam was the ridiculously low price point the game was released at. $20 for something that was just fun and quite a solid game. I’m pretty sure that’s one reason for it’s success.

  13. M says:

    You know what?
    Sometimes we don’t need shiny graphics.
    Sometimes we don’t need big-name voice actors or studios.
    Sometimes we just need a well-crafted game that gives us pure, hand-coded fun at an astounding rate.

    Although the idea of playing a silly-mayhem FPS like that where the main character speaks entirely in Shakespearean or faux-Shakespearean English sounds even more fun than Max Payne’s over-the-top noir.

  14. Joe says:

    Serious Sam was a wonderful game and I recommend it to anyone who has some time to kill throughout the average day.

  15. Hatman says:

    Speaking of mindless shooters, have you gotten a chance to take a look at Team Fortress 2?

  16. Adalore says:

    I have played this game’s 1rst and 2nd incarnation, never got the 3 one though, Co-op was a blast when I was able to find a low lag server, back then I had no sense of ping. :P

  17. McNutcase says:

    The thing I always loved about Serious Sam was how much BIGGER it felt than anything else.

    Name another game with a final boss who’s as tall as the Great Pyramid?

    Where you can go bowling with a gun that fires eight-foot balls?

    Where the rocket launcher fires faster than most games’ machineguns?

    Where you can have over a hundred active monsters dopplering around on a giant trampoline while you shoot them and have no slowdown at all?

    Where the engine’s level size limit is 1000 cubic *miles*?

    I kid you not. 1000 cubic MILES, with all the gravity jiggery-pokery you can imagine.

    I break game engines. I find their limits and push them into crying like little girls. I could not break the Serious Engine.

  18. Praelat says:

    Sounds like my kinda game :) How could I possibly miss that one?


  19. mos says:

    I love the first Serious Sam with a passion. In co-op mode, you can play with unlimited lives against an insanely high number of enemies. You will die, and you will die a lot (we’ve wasted over a thousand lives before, without finishing the game). However, you will have the most fun you’ve ever had. Especially when your not-so-good-at-first-person-shooters friend is the first one to pick up the rocket launcher and subsequently turns you and everyone else around him into giblets.

    In single-player mode, it’s nearly just as fun. They did everything right. Few games deliver on what they promise, and SS is one of those games.

    –Oh, and the first time you see the final boss is a moment you’ll remember forever (assuming you haven’t played Painkiller, another great game in this genre).

    I think I’m going to reinstall this game and Painkiller this weekend.

  20. Jeeg says:

    Serious Sam is the Lawrence of Arabia of mayhem shooters.

  21. wildweasel says:

    This game is epic in every sense of the word. But perhaps my favorite part is the complete and total lack of realism for the weapons – to the point where your minigun is 100% accurate at all times. It is such a blast to snipe the headless warriors from miles away with minigun fire, when the average shooter these days wouldn’t even let you do the same from 100 feet, with a weapon of an even smaller caliber than a pellet gun.

  22. Harvey says:

    One confusing thing is that the original Serious Sam has “The First Encounter” and “The Second Encounter”, both of which are marvelous mindless fun.

    Serious Sam 2 was released after, and is different from, “The Second Encounter”. Unfortunately, 2 started cluttering the environments with objects & obstacles, taking away some of the pure “run & gun” fun. I didn’t enjoy it as much.

    As for 3… I just heard about it in this post and have yet to investigate.

  23. henebry says:

    This isn’t quite on-topic, but I’ve never been clear how best to contact you directly. Since you often discuss the blame game which the media plays on the video game industry, I want to call your attention to an interesting article in this week’s Boston Phoenix. I read it in the print edition; here’s a link to the article online.

    The author, Mitch Krpata, discusses several prior cases, including the flap over Cooper Lawrence and Fox’s know-nothing approach to MassEffect some months back.

    Krpata appears to be the Phoenix’s regular gaming reviewer, but I haven’t read enough of his stuff to say whether he falls into the despised category of game reviewers who fall for fancy effects at the expense of a compelling storyline. :)

    In any event, I found his account of the relationship of the gaming industry to the mainstream press insightful, calling attention to the folly of know-nothing reporting, yes, but also noting the hypocrisy of an industry which claims first-amendment protection and yet which can’t be troubled to think through the cultural implications of a game where a white man goes around killing hordes of black Africans.

  24. swcrusader says:

    Actually I just read through that article henbry posted the link to an its one of the more thought provoking pieces Ive read by a game journalist in years. Highly recommend you read it Shamus.

  25. I have to toss another pitch in for Hellgate London.

    A nice cross between Diablo and Quake. I’m enjoying it in bursts of mindless playing as I work through the quests and storyline.

  26. MikeSSJ says:

    Ah – Serious Sam, one of my all-time favourite shooters. Sure, it is never going to edge out shooters like Dark Corners of the Earth, Undying or FEAR, simply because Horror is the gaming genre I enjoy the absolute most, but it still gets a honorable mention.

    And it features Co-Op. I love Co-Op. My cousin and I would always team up to play these games. It is what got me through Halo 1 and 2 (and will get me through Halo 3, eventually). There should be much more games that feature Co-Op-play.

  27. ryanlb says:

    Thanks to this article, I picked up Serious Sam 2 (that’s gotta be like 5 or 6 games I’ve purchased thanks to this site), and it’s been loads of fun. I quite enjoy mindless fun games like this and Diablo 2. I don’t always need a deep story or character development.

  28. Bearmug says:

    One of rare FPSs I actually played to the end. End boss of episode one is just huge, and the end dialogue in space… wow. There are a lot of funny scenes in game, my favourite being first time you hear a suicide bomber in the distance. And Sam’s comment when you shoot it and hear a lot more coming.

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