"SS:TRE rarely feels cheap and always forces players to maximize their potential each turn in every battle."
For those unfamiliar with Serious Sam, you're not alone – neither was I until I played this. For those familiar with Serious Sam, you may wonder what you're doing at RPGFan reading about it. Well, let me tell you: Serious Sam: The Random Encounter (SS:TRE) is a crisp, tightly knit KISS-style action/turn-based RPG that lasts anywhere from one to two hours. Sam, the gun totin' meathead, will not only evoke a few chuckles, but he will leave you thinking critically and tactically as well.
What SS:TRE lacks in brawn, it forces players to make up for in brains. Sure, Serious Sam may seem like the kinda guy who's all outta gum, but a lack of firepower when fighting mobs of enemies keeps the game challenging and engaging. SS:TRE uses a retro feel not only in terms of graphics, but gameplay as well. True to its name, SS:TRE is full of random encounters, but unlike some games of olde, these battles demand your full attention. Sam brought the guns, now you just gotta tell him where to point 'em. While running away from incoming foes, players decide which gun to use and where to direct it. Some guns constantly fire, while others burst. Players are free to move their Sams up and down in order to help aim and dodge bullets. After five seconds, the action freezes to allow players to assign new commands. In case the battle calls for a change in weaponry, guns can be swapped in and out, but this takes a few seconds. Finally, items can be used in lieu of magic, but this prevents a Sam from firing over the five second period following the usage.
In terms of design, Vlambeer, the developer, clearly used a scalpel. Sure, SS:TRE is only an hour or so long, which is probably way easier to balance than the typical 50 to 70 hour RPG, but that doesn't change the fact that SS:TRE is well-designed. SS:TRE rarely feels cheap and always forces players to maximize their potential each turn in every battle. Unfortunately, the cooldown period during a weapon swap seems harsher than necessary and certainly doesn't feel "fun." Additionally, not doing anything for five seconds after using an item isn't entertaining either. That said, I only game over'd twice, so, in regards to balance, these stipulations work – they just serve to frustrate.
Speaking of frustration, random battles result in different enemies, which can mean nearly guaranteed death. Granted, I've only spent an hour and a half on the game, but some battles seem impossible to beat. Worry not, though: each area allows for three lost encounters before the entire screen-sized level resets and forces players to restart on the current stage. However, when using the right guns pointed in the optimal direction, difficult clusters of enemies quickly fall, leaving your Sams in shiny armor for the next encounter – planning ahead is crucial.
Although not all weapons are created equally, Serious Sam can quench his thirst for gun-murder with most of the arsenal available. Since players eventually receive a full party of three, knowing the correct balance and support for each encounter is necessary to ensure success; thus, a weak weapon with a wide range might be necessary to pick off those stragglers who breach a minigun's chainsaw-like butchery. Each enemy within a mob has its own characteristics, which seems indicative of previous Serious Sam titles based on my limited research.
Fans of the series will enjoy the recurring enemies and humor. Those who aren't fans will enjoy the unique nature of each enemy and jokes. Although retro graphics and sounds seem like a cheap way to keep design costs down while simultaneously appealing to nostalgic twenty- and thirty-somethings, Serious Sam appeals to the senses. Animations, while pixelated, are smooth and well done. No loose ends or awkward graphics taint Sam's attractive package. The sounds and music don't leave a lasting impression, nor do they detract from the experience. In terms of plot – Sam's insatiable lust for death and carnage may allude to a rough upbringing, but those disinclined to read too much into things won't find much motivation in the text.
Although fouling up such a short game would be difficult for any developer, one should credit Vlambeer for offering consumers a quality couple of hours. After all, what's worse: a short, polished product, or a 60-hour grind fest? While Serious Sam isn't Vlambeer's baby, their efforts have sparked an interest within me to try the other titles. At $5.00, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is a steal. Or murder. Or something criminal more appropriate to Sam's interests.