All right, the Time-lock has been activated and Sam Stone has gone back in time. Now to sit back and answer the big question. Was Serious Sam 3:BFE (for “Before First Encounter”) a fun ride worth taking?
The Serious Sam series has been a franchise built on a “retro” throwback style of FPS pitting players against massive hordes of enemies, following the exploits of the titular Sam “Serious” Stone; a wise-cracking, smart-aleck hero that would be perfectly at home in the lead role of a B-grade action movie. Interests include big guns, killing aliens, and sprouting the occasional pop culture reference. Sound like anyone else gamers know particularly well?
SS3:BFE itself is not so much a prequel as it is an alternate “what if the bad guys win?” storyline. The main antagonist, the alien demigod Mental, has arrived on Earth and reduced much of the world to rubble. It’s up to Sam Stone and the remnants of the Earth Defense Force to power up an ancient alien time machine and travel back in time to assassinate Mental before he can invade Earth. And… that’s more or less the plot in a nutshell. Like any B-movie that doesn’t pretend to be anything more then what it is, Serious Sam 3 only gives you just enough plot to justify the utterly ridiculous displays of pyrotechnics and gratuitous violence occurring on your screen.
Regarding the gameplay; BFE starts off slow, hording even the basic FPS staples like the shotgun and the assault rifle out of reach for the first two or three levels. Yet once Sam gets through the first third of the game or so and unlocks the rocket launcher, things quickly pick up, so much so that the difficulty curve is practically vertical by the time the player reaches the final levels. Once it picks up though, Sam gets both a new enemy and a new weapon virtually every level. Regretfully though, late-game enemies often pull double-duty as early game boss battles, allowing the developers to reuse art assets and generate a feeling of sameness that lasts for most of the second half of the game.
Continuing on the subject of flaws, the game has a few shortcomings but nothing that significantly detracts from the game. Environments are limited to the deserts of Egypt and the ruined city of Cairo, the single-player campaign is sweet but short at about twenty hours, and what is there is brutally hard in the second half of the game. Hardware-wise the game ran fine on a mid-range PC though some of the game’s largest battles caused a slight drop in frame rate.
In conclusion, Serious Sam 3 earns three out of five stars. It is a fun but otherwise unremarkable throwback to the simple but fun games of yesteryear, worth the trip but there's not quite enough to justify a return visit. SS 3 is still available on Steam and through the official Croteam website.