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Review: Serious Sam: The First Encounter

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: M - Mature Audiences
My Rating: Ages 13 and up
Genre: First Person Shooter
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2001
Review Published On: October 12, 2018
Played on: Martha & Thaddeus

Available from:

Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

Your progress is saved automatically at the beginning of each level. You can also save manually, or use quicksaves if you need to.

You can pause the action by hitting ESC or by bring up NETRICSA.

Summary of
Major Issues:

There is a lot of blood and gore, as you're spending the entire game shooting things. However, the blood and gore can be disabled or even turned into glitter and candies.

With the gore disabled, this title should be reasonably safe for teenagers rather than something restricted to the adult gamers in the audience.


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Pop goes the bad guy

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A watery battle

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The mean streets of ancient Egypt

Game Overview

In the mid-1990s, First Person Shooters were all the rage. Many of them tried to make it a contest to see how much blood and violence they could include in a game, and many more also tried to depict their heroes as powerful, square-jawed, gods among men who dripped with enough testosterone to kill a horse. These games were basically an unapologetic male power fantasy on steroids. Eventually, someone had to be self-aware enough to look at the meatheads populating the genre and just laugh about the ridiculousness of it all.

And that's where Serious Sam: The First Encounter comes in. Over the top and reveling in its own disregard for sanity, this game sought to be both an excellent game and a parody of everything the genre had become known for. With its muscle bound hero, huge guns, large firearms, and threadbare plot, it looks like your standard FPS. But looks can be deceptive, and once you start playing the game you'll be finding unexpected things.

For example, Sam "Serious" Stone likes to make sarcastic or silly comments on the events unfolding around him. You can also find some references to popular movies hidden throughout the levels. Overall, the entire tone of the game is one that is driven by the idea of just having fun with really big guns, rather than the realistic "war is hell" mentality that some games try to push.

However, as good as this game is, The First Encounter suffers from one primary flaw: it's the first game in the series, and thus it's rough around the edges. The team behind the game was clearly just warming up, because once you move on to the Second Encounter, there are more jokes, more crazy secrets, and more content in general. This isn't a bad game (far from it!) but it's dwarfed by the rest of the series.

My recommendation is to pick up both the First and Second Encounter, then play the latter. If you have both games in your Steam library, you can play the First Encounter's levels using the Second Encounter's superior engine. Alternatively, pick up Serious Sam Revolution, which is an upgraded version of both First and Second Encounter. However, it's stuck in Steam's Early Access, so I can't say for sure how improved it really is.

Points of Interest

Classic FPS action
Since this was originally released in the 90s, the fancier stuff that's become commonplace in recent years isn't present, and it's a welcome change of pace. There's no leveling up, no RPG-style stat system, no skill trees, and the story is told via skippable text screens rather than elaborate cutscenes. You also don't need to focus on things like headshots, as critical hits don't exist in this game.

You do have to worry about dealing with loads and loads of enemies in the large and open levels, however, and that's what makes this game fun.
Not so serious
While this game is a "manly" First Person Shooter, it's also a parody of the genre. When creating this game and its sequel, the developers clearly asked themselves, "what would be fun?" and ran with it. One example that's impossible to miss is found fairly early in the game: Sam triggers a giant boulder trap, and after being chased by it for a little bit, he'll casually whistle part of the theme to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

In fact, a lot of the jokes in the First Encounter involve Sam's silly commentary on whatever's going on.
Tons of fun secrets
Secret stashes of powerups and items were the bread and butter of classic games like Doom, Duke Nukem, and Quake. Naturally, Serious Sam takes things one step further, as there's a plethora of hidden goodies scattered around. There are even hidden levels that you can unlock and explore, provided you can find their entrance. Of course, some of these secrets are more like ridiculous easter eggs than what you'd normally expect in a game like this, but that just makes triggering them much more fun.
Steam community features
If you're into collecting them, there's a set of Steam trading cards available for the First Encounter. More players will be interested in collecting the 35 achievements that are up for grabs, though the majority of them are for doing various things during multiplayer deathmatches.
Not worth playing directly
As much fun as this game is, the main reason for owning the First Encounter isn't so you can play it directly. You see, if you own both the First and Second Encounter, then you can access the First Encounter's campaign through the Second Encounter's program. The Second Encounter HD uses a better engine that supports more details and fixes some pretty annoying bugs, so why use the old, buggy engine when you don't need to?
Game-breaking bug
This is one reason the Second Encounter's engine is better: there's a bug in the First Encounter's engine that can cause your game to crash when the final boss spawns. You can't get around this bug in-game, but there is a possible solution. Navigate to the folder containing the game's files, and run the DirectX setup program from the "redist" folder. Once you've done that, re-validate the game's Steam cache and try again.

If all else fails, just play the campaign through the Second Encounter.

Concerns and Issues

Violence, blood, and gore
Games in the 1990s often tried to push the limit on how much carnage they could get away with -- as much as people today joke about it, there was a moral panic over video games back then for a reason. As Serious Sam is both a 1990s FPS and a parody of the genre, it deliberately goes for absurd levels of blood and gore. But, this game was meant to be enjoyable for almost everyone, and thus it also caters to those who don't like the graphic content.

You can customize the gore and blood separately to suit your tastes. Don't like either? Just turn them off. Want the monsters to bleed green ooze instead of blood? That's an option too. You can also have the monsters bleed pastel stars and confetti, and if gore is enabled on that setting, they'll pop into lollipops and candy canes instead of body parts.

Regardless of what you've made it look like, you're still spending the game shooting monsters with various pistols, shotguns, machine guns, missiles, death rays, and even a portable canon. The monsters you're fighting will returning the favor by shooting at you with everything from ray guns to fireballs, though some types of enemies act like suicide bombers: they'll rush at you and explode when they get close enough.
A little bit of magic
While most of the "magic" encountered in this game is just really fancy technology, some of the enemies are said to use magic in some form -- usually as a means of attack. For example, the aludran reptiloids conjure up huge fireballs that they fling at you. The rank and file enemies also use "magic missile launchers", which, if I was to be very honest, are just guns that fire really slow bullets. Another "techno-magical" device is found in Sam's pistols, which provides then with an unlimited amount of ammo.
Mildly suggestive content
The harpies, true to the term, are bird/women hybrids. Their only clothing is their own feathers, which is about as modest as your typical bikini. That said, you're probably going to be too busy dodging their magical bolts and claws to oogle them. I mean, you can try if you want, but they tend to appear in huge flocks and are rather fast moving targets at close range.

Also, the game ends with Sam facing off against a gigantic monster -- a battle that is immediately followed up with a joke about how "size does matter".
Egyptian gods are actually aliens
The core of the game's story revolves around a race of aliens. They visited Earth in the distant past, and installed themselves in Egyptian culture as some sort of gods. In reality, the elaborate and "magical" rituals revolving around them is just a bunch of disguised technology. For example, the ritual used to contact these "gods" is little more than an elaborate method of turning on a giant inter-stellar antenna array (otherwise known as the Great Pyramid).