Serious Sam 3: BFE Review
Serious Sam 3: BFE Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Croteam
Pub: Devolver Digital
Release: November 22, 2011
Players: 1-16
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p
Not So Serious
by Robert VerBruggen

Serious Sam 3: BFE is good at one thing. In its ten-hour single-player campaign, it puts you into a variety of huge, well-designed levels, and shooting your way through the massive groups of enemies is a joy. You won't care about the story behind everything. You won't even bother to learn anything about the enemies except the threats they pose to you: there are the guys who run up to you and explode, the guys who shoot at you in slow motion, the guys who run up to you and lunge, and so on. You'll massacre all these creatures with wanton abandon, using the strategies that were second nature to you fifteen years ago, such as strafing to avoid their projectiles, triggering enemies and then luring them around a corner, picking off the biggest threats first, switching weapons on the fly, etc.

The idea here, you see, is that all the cute little game-enhancing perks that shooters have given us since Quake—the rechargeable health, the cover systems, the advanced A.I., the two-gun carrying limit—are for pussies. Real heroes walk into the line of fire and take the damage that's coming to them, and real bad guys run straight at you until you kill them. And much of the time, the game pulls off this macho, proudly stupid attitude. At its best moments, Serious Sam 3 makes you say, "This is what Duke Nukem Forever should have been like."

Serious Sam 3: BFE Screenshot

Unfortunately, pretty much everything else about the game is frustrating. Some of these failures are inherent to the old school kind of gameplay Serious Sam strives to recreate, some of them are botched attempts to bring modern FPS features to the series, and some are just poor choices on the developers' part, but all of them work to bring down what should have been an all-out fun shoot-'em-up. What we're left with is a game that can be exhilarating at times, but is often just annoying. Fans of the franchise will find much to enjoy, but otherwise, the game mainly serves as a testament to how obnoxious old-style shooters can be.

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For example, Serious Sam 3's boss fights hearken back to games like Wolfenstein 3D and Duke Nukem 3D, and that kind of face-off has not aged well. At the end of each of the twelve levels, you'll go toe-to-toe with an abnormally powerful enemy, and the only way out of the jam will usually be to shoot it a bunch of times while running around frantically to stay behind cover. Not exactly gripping stuff.

Serious Sam 3: BFE Screenshot

As bad as that is, at least it's a faithful recreation of the classic FPS gameplay model. Much worse is the developers' pathetic attempt to implement an autosave system. The entire point of Serious Sam is to throw ungodly numbers of enemies at you—and, as mentioned above, health does not regenerate—so you'd think the developers would have been fairly generous with the checkpoints, at least through "Normal" difficulty. You'd think wrong. Time after time, you will kill your way through a massive wave of enemies, only to die and have to start over. When health is scarce and you're only a few hits from losing lots of hard work, the game becomes a lot less fun than it should be. And if you reach a checkpoint with low health, you'd better hope some power-ups are nearby.

So, what do you do when this gets to be more frustration than it's worth? You could notch the difficulty down until you stop dying, turning the game into a challenge-free if carnage-infused romp. But if you're like me, you revert to your old-school ways, ignore the autosave system, and start quicksaving instead—a type of gameplay that has aged even worse than the boss fights. The whole point of an action game is for you to overcome a series of challenges set up by the developers, but when you resort to quicksaving, you essentially set the challenges yourself—you can perfect each small segment of gameplay rather than learning to play better. All the tension and challenge is gone. It's boring, but if you want to get through Serious Sam 3 on a reasonable difficulty without replaying the harder sections countless times, it's what you have to do.

Serious Sam 3: BFE Screenshot

Other modern features don't work any better in Serious Sam 3. You have iron sights, but they don't zoom the screen in at all and aren't needed to steady your weapon, so they're almost completely pointless. There's also an instant-kill melee system, but it almost never works correctly. You can use it from too great a distance, in which case your character essentially teleports next to the enemy to kill it. Also, you can take damage during the kill, so it's almost impossible to use it during crowded battles. What's worse, sometimes it doesn't work at all, even when you quite clearly pressed the required button while the prompt was on the screen. This is especially enraging with the skeleton enemies, which can tear you up if you let them get to close without promptly executing a melee attack.

Screenshots / Images
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