Recently, I got into an argument with a friend of mine over first-person shooters. He was arguing that the current wave of shooters, with their health regeneration, and their cover, and those damn kids, were just too boring, that there wasn’t the excitement of struggling through a long passage, death one miffed shot away.
I argued that the reason we have those mechanics is, by and large, pulling off a linear shooter without them is a lot more difficult to make playable for anybody who isn’t an obsessive. Anybody within five years of thirty remembers downloading, say, “Doom” and breaking their keyboard in frustration at the first cyberdemon. There’s a fine line between challenging and just annoying, I pointed out, and oftentimes to make those games fun, you had to use their own mechanics against them.
The reason I bring this up is that “Serious Sam 3″ is an “old school” shooter in the best possible sense. It is immaculately polished, lovingly designed, and difficult. Oh man, is it difficult. But difficult in a good way. It doesn’t cheat, it doesn’t yank your chain, it doesn’t demand quicksave and quickload mapped to the fire and use keys. In other words, it’s going to hand you your head, and you’ll love every minute of it.
The gameplay is pretty simple: the levels are fairly linear, and the enemies all have preset patterns and attacks, and a weapon that works best against them. The complexity comes when the game starts hitting you with multiple types of enemies…and then starts hitting you with more and more of them. It’s almost like a cross between an FPS and a shoot ’em up.
What stands out, though, is the level of thought that went into this. “Serious Sam 3″ is hard. Die-dozens-of-times-in-a-level hard. But it’s also well-balanced: if you know the strategies to use, which the game carefully teaches you, enemy by enemy and weapon by weapon, you’ll be able to get through. Similarly, if you’re a decent shot, you’ll never have to worry about ammo: it’s the spray-and-pray crowd that are going to have problems.
Every weapon is equally well considered: sure, they’re all “traditional”, with one or two exceptions, but they’re also designed specifically to be flexible. Also ridiculous; even the sledgehammer gives off fountains of gore.
In short, it’s incredibly well-designed, simple to play, hard to beat, and fun to learn. If you’re tired of fighting teenagers in Call of Duty, this should be your first stop.