The NETRICSA gives you a serious insight into the "plot."
Seriously, Sam?

Serious Sam: The First Encounter didn’t push any boundaries when it was new, but it never intended to. In a time when most shooters are attempting to inject something new into the genre, there’s something oddly refreshing about a game that celebrates the simple. The term, “stupid fun” comes to mind. However, since Serious Sam HD has no original content, it’s only natural to question its value this holiday season.

Serious Sam HD is a throwback to a more simple philosophy of game design, but more specifically, it’s a throwback to a throwback. In its original form, it was essentially Doom, with better graphics, support for more co-op players, and even more ridiculous weapons. The game throws hordes of enemies at you, even on the “normal” difficulty level, making it both fun and challenging. The baddies are practically endless, and with no time to think, it’s all about reaction—this is the very definition of twitch gameplay.

The title screen makes the graphical overhall immediately apparent.

Those familiar with the franchise already know that there’s absolutely nothing serious about Serious Sam. The whole game is a parody of the FPS action that it recreates so well. Serious Sam’s “story” chronicles the life of Sam “Serious” Stone, who is sent back in time to prevent extraterrestrials from taking over the planet. The adventure begins in ancient Egypt, which makes up the setting for most of Serious Sam HD’s levels. This gets a little dry (sorry) and repetitive, but the game does divert from the desert setting briefly towards the middle of the campaign with levels like “Oasis.” Sam also packs an encyclopedia-like device known as NETRICSA (NEuro-TRonically Implanted Combat Situation Analyser) implanted in his brain, which allows you to look at detailed information about your enemies and weapons. If you even bother reading through any of this content, you’re in for a bit of a treat, as the game attempts to seriously describe the origins of its antagonists, as if you can seriously describe the origin of screaming headless suicide bombers.

If Serious Sam HD serves as a peak at what we might expect of Serious Sam 3, well, the future will be rendered in brilliant detail without sacrificing performance. This is a game that demonstrates its new technology handily at times, while being occasionally rough around the edges. Most of SSHD has received a glorious new coat of paint, but there are still some old assets poking around, and they harshly contrast with new models and textures. It’s also little disappointing that the sound effects haven’t been updated to match the new eye candy. Thankfully the retooled character models, textures, and lighting all look brilliant. Graphics are one of Sam’s new strengths, and you’re given a myriad of options to help control the performance on older machines, while a newer GPU will deliver a glorious sixty frames per second with all the details pumped up.

The NETRICSA gives you a serious insight into the "plot."

Now, for the bad newsSerious Sam HD is unfortunately missing some serious features. Croteam has yet to release a dedicated server for Serious Sam HD, which is surprising given the climate in which it was launched. Also absent is a versus multiplayer mode, limiting you to playing co-op online. Versus is not why I play Serious Sam, but deathmatch would be a nice addition, and it would at least serve to add the perception of additional value. The lack of dedicated servers presents a bigger issue, however, with 16 player co-op constantly desyncing. It’s been implied on the official forums that we’ll see these features added in the coming weeks. If we can expect that level of post-release support from Croteam, than they’ve seriously trying to compensate for a somewhat disappointing launch day.

This game is a lot more difficult to recommend than I had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love it, but there are other variables to consider. Croteam has already announced the impending Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter, and frankly, it’s a bit disappointing that they didn’t combine the content from both releases into a single package. It’s easy to see the potential for a future bundle, which might make one wait for The Second Encounter. Sam is also going up against a typically stuffed holiday season, so it’s not like you wont have plenty to play if you decide to wait. Even at the budget price of $19.99, there are other downloadable goodies to consider.

Despite my hesitation in giving this my hands-down recommendation, it’s worth considering the following: the asking price is less than immense, and it’s seriously fun. It’s especially entertaining if you have a friend or two or fifteen to play co-op with. You really can’t go wrong with Serious Sam HD, especially if you’re new to the franchise, but it’s important that you recognize what you’re signing up for. So if you’re in for some stupid fun and old-school twitch madness, this is a game for you—just don’t expect more than a classic game with a fresh new look.

Serious Sam HD is currently available on Steam. Console versions should be coming “soon.”