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Although I never did play any of the Serious Sam games when they first came out, I have just recently taken a stab at The Second Encounter to find that they (a) didn't take themselves seriously despite the name, (b) featured tons of over-the-top enemies and (c) have some of the most disgusting enemy kills in all of gaming (you'll see what I mean soon enough). As such, if you're not old enough to be able to purchase a Mature-classified game (as determined by ESRB ratings) then for your own sake you need to stop reading now. Seriously, if you truly are underage this stuff really isn't for you. Go back to your Mario Bros. and Tetris and Blue's Clues before you regret seeing what's to come. This s*** is truly graphically violent in nature, and discretion therefore is definitely advised.
For the rest of you, get ready for some of the bloodiest, totally over-the-top fragfests you've ever seen in high definition. Trust me, this s*** is about to get heavy; and you're in for some of the craziest, exaggerated, and totally over-the-top gameplay and visuals I've ever seen. (Seriously, I just canot say that enough.) The only question remaining is: How does all this stack up to the greatest remakes ever? Let's jump in and find out, and get ready for a doozy...
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Gameplay and Visuals
Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter plays essentially like every other PC-based FPS on the market, but what really stands out is the exaggerated, over-the-top nature of the experience. (See? I had to say it. AGAIN.) We're talking flamethrowers that actually burn the opposition, chainsaws with more violent kill effects than the original Doom, and some of the most grotesque encounters ever. Even the enemies are over-the-top in their design (and yes, there I go again) as you'll see deranged mutant humanoids with bombs on their hands, or bulky mutants carrying a few chainsaws of their own (seriously, I'm not making this s*** up) among other things. Even the main villain has a seriously-idiotic name: he/she/it is literally named Mental, and I'm pretty sure this scumbag is excruciatingly tough.
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Storyline and Presentation
The Storyline is just as over-the-top (ad-infinitum) as everything else. When the series started, the likes of Mental and his/her/its crew started messing with history and a guy named Dancing Dan was sent back in time to put a stop to it, but was erroneously deposited too far up into the air and fell to his death upon some vegetation, so the even greater warrior, Sam "Serious" Stone, was picked to do what the "Dancing One" never got to do. Sam ultimately wiped Mental's crew about the sands of old Egyptian sands and pyramids and such, and ultimately escaped on one of the alien forces' spaceships toward South America, where he managed to somehow crash the thing en route, which is close to where you start the new chain of events.
Yet as far as the story is concerned, this is more expansion pack than sequel (albeit standalone) but it is still an excellent example of twitch shooting. It does not in any way come even close to the kinds of experiences you would get from, say, the Halo series but then again, Croteam diodn't intend such comparisons when the game first released in its original form back in 2002. In fact, you'll even encounter at least one instance where throwaway one-liners pop up on screen to describe what's going on: in the first level, for instance, after destrying an enemy that looks like one from a prior area in that said level, you'll get the classic "Hey, didn't I just kick your a** a few rooms back?" response, as if Sam had a quick, hard case of deja-vu. Some of the character designs are a bit lax, though -- and some of the configuration aspects are a bit overused -- so these particular means of faux-pas degrade The Second Encounter by one mark in this department, but otherwise it's a very good experience throughout.
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Challenge Level and Environmental Variety
This game has all sorts of challenges to get in the way of completing your mission. Even if you start the game at the lowest difficulty in Tourist mode, the opposition will still come at you with enough force to keep you on your toes. At the Serious difficulty (the hardest available until you unlock the excruciatingly-insane Mental mode) you'll get hit by a bunch of flying cylinders that come from who-knows-where if you try to hurry ahead; these will take you out extremely fast (and you only have about 100HP at this difficulty vs. the generous 200HP in Tourist mode) so at the higher difficulties your strategy is more important than rushing in head-on.
The various areas are more diverse than before; in fact, there are three increasingly-difficult locales with their own challenges to conquer. From European countrysides to Mesoamerican jungles to Babylonian wonders, you'll be fighting tons of enemies coming at you from every which way; and the levels are even more varied than the Old Egyptian Pyramids and Sphinx Statues from the original. The area in which to take out the opposition is larger as well, though you'll still find the occasional narrow pathway to traverse before the next open space; and yes, these do include a fair variety of insta-kill traps and other hazards to impede youir progress toward your next-objective.
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I just have to say it again, but the over-the-top action brings with it a wide arsenal of weaponry to shoot, burn and rip apart your enemies right where it hurts. From the aforementioned chainsaw and flamethrower, we also have your standard variety of guns and ammo: chassic FPS standbys like shotguns, sniper rifles and the like round out about fourteen different weapons just begging to be fired at the opposition: that's a grand total of about three more than was used in the original Serious Sam. This wide range of means to take out the enemy are enough to balance things out in planning your strategy and make for a more diverse experience overall; though a few (like the sniper rifle) do feel out of place in this kind of game, they are still invaluable to your success as a result of the large environments in which you fight the opposition in The Second Encounter.
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The multiplayer aspect is somewhat ho-hum, though, as it doesn't have quite the variety of, say, Halo for instance; but then again, this is an eight-year-old game so it's fair to give it a break in this department -- but not by enough to save it from a couple of demerits. Same goes for the co-op mode: as much of a blast it was to play the main story with other people when the original release came out, almost every FPS since now offers some form of this option (versus only a small few at the original release of the game) so this particular area of the experience is no longer as special as it once was, even though it's still there.
The multiplayer's lack of variety isn't entirely bad: it just lacks something special nowadays. You still have your deathmatch (team-based and free-for-all), a variation of Unreal Tournament's Domination mode, a scorematch game (who knows what that is) and your standard capture-the-flag variant, but that's it. There's nothing as original as the Swords mode in Halo 2 or the Oddball game that's spread across that entire franchise! Definitely a letdown in this department, especially since the original release came out almost a decade past.
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While several parts of Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter are a bit of a letdown (whether because of the age of the original game or bits of faux-paus in other departments) the game is almost as good as it was back when it originally released and still stands the test of time very well -- albeit not by much. Regardless, this game is still worth the thirty bucks you'll pay to get it, and since the original game was bargain-priced anyway, it sure beats some of the regular bargain-bin junk out there. Even eight years later, this is still a must-own for any shooter fan.