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Serious Sam 3 review: Rebel in excess


There is a speck of decency to be found in the unvarnished and churlish Serious Sam. It's right there in the name: despite all temptations and probable pleading from the marketing department, it didn't come out as "Shoot Many Monsters." That's exactly what you do, over and over again, but the important thing is how you do it.

Be careful what you call mindless. Serious Sam 3: BFE lacks the long-term mental overhead of equipment upgrades and character augmentation, and the only emergent gameplay is something slimy crawling out of a cocoon, but it does know how to commandeer concentration -- ruthlessly. You're so plugged in from moment to moment, fingers flitting over the keyboard as you sprint, dodge and shuffle weapons in an onslaught of snorting beasts, it's a lie to think you haven't thought. So involving is the instinctive, mechanical game that context becomes a luxury.

And there is context, for some reason, in the form of a pointless prequel plot that explains how a man ends up traveling back in time to thwart a messed-up menagerie of aliens in Egypt. Thank goodness, because that chronological inconsistency was really undermining the drama.

There just isn't much time to contemplate whether or not Sam's eye-rolling emissions are intentionally bad, or why he's the only soldier to show up in jeans and a t-shirt, or whether his intolerable sunglasses are a willfully inflicted accessory or some kind of douchebag tumor growing on his face. Mental effort is best expended on interfacing with the game, picturing your location in the environment, discerning between informative enemy sounds and picking apt weaponry in response to the game's merciless stream of targets.

Your improvised tactics need not be elaborate, only appropriate within seconds. You alternate between attacking and retreating, and often pray that the reload animation concludes before a screaming suicide bomber gets too close. It's primitive, direct stimulation that always keeps you in motion, and it channels id's classic Doom better than Doom 3 did.

Just as the action requires more thought than is obvious, the game's pacing is more considered than it seems at the height of trouble. There's a palpable sense of defiance when you're absurdly outnumbered (which is all the time) and pull through with just 11 points of health remaining. Serious Sam 3 makes you climb hill after hill, each one taller than the last, and lets you survey the immense destruction from the top.

That sounds an awful lot like every other Serious Sam game -- a third game seems almost redundant if you're not drawn to the well-lit attractions of Serious Engine 3.5 -- but it's a distinct exclamation mark at the end of a fabulous year of shooting. Even if Bulletstorm, Crysis 2 and Resistance 3 are smarter and healthier choices, sometimes all you want is a damn cookie. Serious Sam 3 is like a dam filled with cookies.

It goes without saying that you shouldn't eat them all in one go. As deliberate as the pacing is within levels, developer Croteam loses sight of the entire game's effects, letting it devolve into a grueling fight against one-upmanship. There's such an obvious climax: you defeat everything the game can throw at you at once, burn through all your bullets, rockets, and comically oversized cannonballs, and survive the craziest, most chaotic thing ever. And then, somehow, there's more.

Your passion can't help but wither when the final level says you still have 1,750 kills to go. By the end of the game, I had amassed 6,311 kills. I had eaten 6,311 cookies.

It seems odd to slam Serious Sam 3 for a lack of restraint, especially if you've spent space arguing that it's not as mindless as it appears. So, a piece of advice, rather: play it in spurts, play it with friends in sixteen-player co-op, and shoot many monsters.

This review is based on final PC code of Serious Sam 3: BFE provided by Devolver Digital.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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