Monday, December 05, 2005

Xbox Game Review: Serious Sam II

In the post-Xbox 360 winter wasteland, one pays frequent visits to the local game stores, ostensibly to browse the game shelves, but covertly to ask by-now jaded questions on potential supply of the 360. One knows of the daily 10 AM call from Microsoft about whether the store in question is in line for a delivery. One knows of rumors that another store in town is now taking pre-orders for February. All the same, the console and its games are twaddle for the rest of us.

Interestingly, one is finding much fine pickings on the shelves for the Xbox. A couple are nearly good enough to begin a long-overdue process of de-addiction from Halo 2. These range from Battlefield 2 to the new Prince of Persia. A bad copy of Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time led me to pick up another game recently - Serious Sam II, the sequel to the entertaining Serious Sam from a couple of years ago.

Serious Sam was an FPS that consumed many nights round about when my first-born slumbered fitfully. A few of the boss battles were all-nighters. The game was enlivened by self-referential parody, a trait that sees even greater prevalence in the new game.

Both games suffer from a linear monochronic storyline, wherein Sam must fight his way through waves of aliens before facing a progressively harder boss. (The backstory is pretty intricate and humorous) The settings in the first game ranged from the cities of ancient Egypt to the jungles of South America, battling against the minions of Mental, the alien overlord. The finale saw Sam hitching a ride to Sirius in pursuit of Mental.

Serious Sam II uses the new 'Serious 2' engine, with much sharper graphics and smooth gameplay. The Croatian company which conceived of the engine and the games is now evidently a subsidiary of Take 2 Interactive, from the logos on the game cover. In this game, Sam is put through a series of tasks to retrieve various pieces of an object that renders Mental vunerable. The settings are all alien, yet evident parodies of Earth-like environments, such as a South-east asian uber-metropolis, and a tribal village with all it's trappings.

Sam can pick up and potentially destroy almost anything that is moveable in the game environment, leading to much hilarity involving barbecued chickens and broken crates. Power-ups and weapons festoon the landscape, so don't overlook a single box, crate or hut. The powerful weapons can shred almost anything, including the huts in the village, a useful ploy to gain a clear line of fire, as it were.

A heads-up display called NETRICSA provides guidance as to sub-tasks and serves as a foil for Sam's acerbic humor. Various NPCs provide backup in tight spots, although not enough to afford one a breather in a wave of attacking aliens. Targeting is good, though not perfect. The auto-aiming does not lock on to the next target, requiring much flailing around and wasted shots.

One truly innovative weapon is the Clawdovic Cacadoos Vulgaris, a sort of rocket-propelled parrot, a 'kamikaze bird' which is quite effective in open spaces against a host of encroaching enemies. Vehicles range from velociraptors to dropships.

One must cavil against the obvious influence of both Doom and Halo, in gameplay as well as enemy AI. This makes the creativity and originality of the game suspect, although it may be intentional in some sense. The game is an entertaining, if somewhat enervating experience (some alliteration, that).

The game offers Xbox Live support, with online gameplay, although one was not able to experience this, not finding anyone online the few times one logged in. Online gameplay provides both co-op and Deathmatch modes, which should be fun.

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