Platform: XBLA (1200 MSP)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Serious Sam 3 kicked an inordinate, even unnecessary, amount of arse when it released last year on PC. It was big, brutal and bonkers: delivering a refreshingly old-school experience that threw literally hundreds of simultaneous enemies into our crosshairs. We bunny hopped, strafed and backpedalled furiously. MENTAL's hordes died by the thousands. Big review scores and Shooter Of The Year nominations followed.
One year on, and Croteam's salute to old-school thrills has arrived on XBLA for 1200 Microsoft Points. It stands to reason that buying Serious Sam 3's full campaign and cooperative modes for roughly £10 might just be worth doing, and guess what? It obviously is.
However, sacrifices had to be made to get Serious Sam 3 running on the Xbox 360. Not only have the visuals taken a fairly substantial hit, but the game has been split into two halves due to XBLA's file size limitations. The first standalone half contains the full campaign with cooperative support, while an optional DLC pack bundles competitive multiplayer together with the recently-released Jewel Of The Nile expansion. Since both portions cost 1200 MSP separately, you don't need to be a mathematician to know that one is seriously better value than the other.
Let's get the basics out of the way as quickly as possible, since you can head over to our Serious Sam 3: BFE PC review for a full gameplay rundown. You must kill lots of enemies with guns. Really big enemies. With even bigger guns. Packing an enormous arsenal of weapons such as shotguns, miniguns and even massive pirate cannons, you'll rampage through Cairo and its outlying deserts to save the future of humanity by finding a way back to the past... but we're getting off message here. Big guns. Big bad guys. In massive numbers.
You'll crush possessed scythe-bladed skeletons into powder, splatter chaingun-toting scorptions into fine paste and desperately slaughter dozens upon dozens of incoming troops, often to within an inch of your life. You'll fire enormous cannonballs into charging alien bulls, bring down buildings with your rocket launcher and rip beating hearts out of their hapless owners' chests. Despite the old school action, however, it's not a brainless thumb workout - with spatial awareness and situational assessment being as important as fast fingers. When you're loosed into maps that are literally tens of miles wide, working out how best to use your arsenal to advantage becomes a surprisingly cerebral experience, a raucous and unscripted dance of death that sets Serious Sam 3 apart from practically any other game released this generation.
Eventually, that is. The first three levels gradually ease you into the process via some relatively linear levels set in the city of Cairo rather than the outlying deserts. You'll face some surprisingly well-crafted set pieces such as miniboss arenas, a tense flight from a menacing alien helicopter and even some claustrophobic shootouts against wall-crawling demons in the dark, but it's not at all representative of the balls-out brutality you'll face throughout the majority of the package. It's clear that, without pointing fingers, some of my journalistic peers stopped less than a third of the way through before reviewing Serious Sam 3 last year - and I'd urge you not to jump to conclusions either.
Again: here's our in-depth review of the original PC game. It's properly good fun and intense as all hell - and supports multiplayer for four online players or two splitscreen partners (with a choice of horizontal or vertical split). When played with a mate, the increased enemy numbers make for a ridiculously hectic experience.
A few gameplay tweaks and concessions have been made to ensure that Serious Sam 3 work well on a console controller, which could have been far too imprecise to handle the intense action for most players. Optional auto-aim has been added, with the ability to activate an on-screen indicator so you can pick out priority targets. Instant-kill melee attacks, which allow you to brutalise smaller enemies with a horrifyingly cathartic finishing move triggered by a single context-sensitive click, now have a vastly increased range, providing an empowering new way to deal with charging foes or close the gap with weaker foes. Ripping a Gnaar's eye out and throwing it at his friend has never been easier, nor more fun.
Switching weapons can be problematic, mind, especially in pitched battles. You can switch back to your previously-used weapon with the Y button, but you'll mainly have to rely on a sprawling radial menu built around... wait for it... diagonal inputs on the Xbox 360 controller's D-Pad. Considering that Microsoft's janky directional pad is the worst in the business, you'll frequently struggle to select the right gun when you need it most, leading to plenty of unnecessary deaths. Hate. At least you can freely quicksave with the Back button.
The graphical side of things has certainly taken a bit of a hit. Though Serious Engine 3 still provides a good-looking game in the main (lovely by XBLA standards), textures have been muddied and the draw distance for foliage and scenery objects is only about ten metres. Worse, despite these concessions, performance is incredibly inconsistent, often leading to a juddering frame rate (which you can see for yourself thanks to an optional FPS counter) and stuttering slowdown when using melee attacks and some of the more esoteric weapons such as the Sirian Mutilator bracelet. What's noticeable in singleplayer becomes amplified in splitscreen or multiplayer, leading to some aggravating breaks in the action. The Serious Engine is capable of delivering 30-60 FPS in the main, making the frequent dips and chugs all the more obvious.
These niggles aside, you should definitely download Serious Sam 3 if you've even the slightest interest in awesome old-school shooting action. It's thoroughly mental, seriously satisfying and a breath of fresh air in a genre that's often accused of stagnation.
But you probably shouldn't buy its DLC pack.
In fairness, the Jewel Of The Nile expansion is pretty good in its own right. Its three long levels herald the return of the Aludran Reptiloids (the homing missile-spamming b*stards from Serious Sam: TFE and TSE), the ability to collect some secret weapons from the campaign and some punishing new challenges. Sadly, rather than being available on its own for a relatively low price, it's been bundled right along with the competitive multiplayer suite for an extra 1200 Microsoft Points.
Serious Sam 3's multiplayer was rather unambitious back in 2012, but came into its own thanks to the ever-amazing modding and level design community. Without this support, however, the XBLA version feels limp and constrained, featuring small maps and unsatisfying matchups. Worse, it lacks any hint of progression, which isn't strictly necessary but acts as an addictive draw to most modern players. Unlike the PC version, I suspect that the console multiplayer community will wither and die within a few months (as is so often the case with the overwhelming majority of XBLA multiplayer games), making the pricey expansion much worse value than it first appears.
Considering how much content we get for an initial 1200 Microsoft Point purchase, most players will be better off sticking with the core game.
- Breathtakingly intense action with delicious co-op (online and splitscreen)
- Looks great for an XBLA title
- Stonking value for 1200 Microsoft Points
- Wildly inconsistent framerate and performance issues
- Rubbish Xbox 360 D-Pad makes weapon switching a massive hassle
- Limp multiplayer makes the 1200 MSP DLC relatively poor value
The Short Version: Serious Sam 3: BFE is as bonkers and brilliant as it ever was despite some performance issues - so for 1200 Microsoft Points, it's an essential XBLA purchase for shooter fans. However, the optional competitive multiplayer DLC doesn't make anywhere near as strong a case.