Platform: PC (Reviewed) | Xbox 360 Version TBA
Developer: Mommy's Best Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Devolver Digital's decision to commission some veteran Independent developers to design their own unique take on the Serious Sam franchise was nothing less than a stroke of utter genius. It's fantastic brand publicity and a cynical PR coup, but more importantly, it has allowed the best weapons designer in the games industry to do what he does best. Nathan Fouts designed the guns for Ratchet & Clank and Resistance when he worked for Insomniac (and the gore mechanics from Postal 2 back in the day), and after developing several ridiculous games under his Mommy's Best Games boutique label, he's brought his love of innovative gameplay mechanics and balls-out fun to a series that already delivers an insane level of action.
After we got to play Serious Sam: Double D at E3, we've actually been as excited about it as we are for as Croteam's long-awaited Serious Sam 3. Excitement, as it turns out, that was thoroughly justified. Double D is one of the most ludicrously, graphically, biblically fun games that you'll play this year - fun that can only come from the ability to butcher your way through swathes of flying amputated monkeys, dinosaurs and exploding-chested cyberwomen with a teetering tower of outrageous firearms.
If you're looking for sweeping exposition and a thoughtful portrayal of the human condition then you've come to the wrong franchise. However, if you want your games to be ridiculously epic, Serious Sam: Double D might be the smartest purchase you'll make in 2011.
Serious Sam: Double D is a two dimensional action-platformer that puts its action front and centre. All hint of canon (which has never been much to speak of, let's face it) has been thrown to the four winds, thrusting the heroic Sam Stone into a quest through numerous time periods in order to... well... kill stuff. Hard. Slick independent movement and aiming controls feel natural and responsive on keyboard and mouse or using an Xbox controller, featuring a sticky reticule that makes picking off distant targets a breeze. On the face of it, Double D is all about linear, pulse-pounding action as waves of enemies assault your position, with long periods of gleefully charging forward punctuated by desperate back-pedalling as reinforcements arrive. It's instantly accessible, mechanically tight and effortlessly satisfying - but serious hidden depth lurks behind its simplistic facade.
Naturally Croteam's series provides some familiar enemies to fight against, including the ferocious Kleer Skeletons, Beheaded troopers, Mechanoids and the volatile fan-favouite Beheaded Kamikaze. They're all present and correct (and handle much the same as they do in the FPS games, to the delight of hardcore veterans), but Mommy's Best Games has also added a huge number of new opponents to the proceedings. Flying paraplegic apes bombard your position with explosive bananas. Vuvuzelators, animated stacks of syrup-encrusted pancakes studded with vuvuzelas, attack with vicious sonic blasts as they stare you down with their empty yet adorable blueberry eyeballs. Ten-foot-tall beheaded naked women - Femikazes - shriek as they charge towards you and attempt to detonate their enormous explosive breasts. Though the new enemies are incredibly self-aware and tongue in cheek, they all require completely different strategies to defeat. They may look silly, but the reality is deadly serious.
Fouts usually goes out of his way to create unique (and borderline psychotic) firearms for each game he's involved with - as an example, his debut Xbox Live Indie title Weapon Of Choice features a cannon that projects scything clouds of hovering ivory knives - but Croteam has already provided him with all the guns he'll ever need. Rather than messing with the formula, he instead decided to come up with a new way of making them more fun to use, leading to the creation of the revolutionary Gunstacking system. Throughout the campaign, Sam will collect connectors that literally allow up to six weapons to be slapped together and fired simultaneously. Want to wield two shotguns, two tommy guns, a flamethrower and chainsaw? Lasers and rockets? Flamethrowers and grenades? It's all good, and the intuitive menu allows you to manipulate and wield multiple stacks on the fly. Working out which of the 80,640 combinations of weapons work best together - as well as those that don't work at all (explosives and chainsaws prove to be a self-terminating proposition) - adds an extra dimension of tactics and strategy into the proceedings. Not to mention that it's fun and visceral as all hell.
Sam also happens across a jump pad during his travels, which can be deployed with a simple press of a button. Its primary function is to boost players up to inaccessible platforms, but much like everything else here, it's also capable of so much more. Projectiles can be bounced around corners and enemies can be thrown upwards into the ceiling, which is perfect if you place the pad directly under some vicious stalactites. Perfect perforation.
Corpse Piling is another deceptively deep gameplay feature. Fouts took the original Serious Sam box art as inspiration for this nifty mechanic, which pictured Sam stood proudly atop a mountain of corpses. "Why can't Sam actually do that in the game?" wondered Nathan... and then decided to make it happen as only an indie developer can. Corpses become platforms when they hit the ground, granting you extra mobility mid-battle as well as an intriguing way of accessing certain secrets if you kill foes in the right place.
Despite all of these exciting innovations, by far the most interesting and solid part of the package boils down the level design. Each stage is liberally packed with secrets and multiple routes containing extra loot, Gunstacker Connectors, weapons or hilarious Easter eggs that riff on everything from Dune to fellow Indie game developers. As well as facilitating a huge amount of exploration, the levels are also exceptionally well placed and delight in throwing unpredictable new challenges at players. One moment you'll be duelling a troop of monkeys on a living conveyor belt of scarab beetles. The next, you'll be jumping up a flock of pterodactyls. And then you'll be sprinting along a dinosaur as it attempts to bite you in half, digging your multiple stacked chainsaws into its flesh and laughing, cackling, braying like a man possessed. Discovering the next set piece will keep you motivated throughout the eighteen levels.
These eighteen levels provide a serious amount of face value for the meagre asking price, and it's also worth noting that you can revisit stages with your persistent loadout in order to find secrets you missed or add to your arsenal. Not only that, but collecting pies (a Mommy's Best Games tradition) rewards you with unlockable challenge levels that will push you to the edges of reflexes and reason.
In terms of presentation, Serious Sam Double D exhibits Fouts' competent hand-drawn art style in all its polished, gory and frequently disgusting glory. It looks great and runs well at multiple resolutions, providing a colourful and refreshing feast for the eyes. Sound effects from the original games, a shred-licious new selection of songs from MBG veteran Hamdija Ajanovic [thanks, RoastedBarley] lock down the audial side of things as well as tipping a nod to series fans.
- Outrageous, accessible and deceptively deep action
- Polished and innovative mechanics; outstanding gameplay
- Incredible value at £5.99
- Activists will probably moan about the Chimputees
- Co-op would have been nice
- Makes other games look properly boring by comparison
The Short Version: Serious Sam: Double D combines the glorious juicy ultraviolence of the Serious Sam franchise with the reckless and unbridled creativity that you'd expect from the Indie scene. The net result is a wondrous orgy of great gameplay mechanics, hidden depth, outrageous combat and more exploding monkeys than you can handle. If you're looking for fun without compromise, Mommy's Best Games has what's yours. Put it in your face.