Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

January 30, 2010 by Thomas Mulrooney  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox, Xbox Live Arcade


Title: Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter

Release date: 13 January 2010

Developer/Publisher: Croteam/Majesco Entertainment

Genre: FPS

Platform[s]: PC, Xbox Live Arcade

I have fond memories the original Serious Sam: The First Encounter. I played through the entirety of the game a couple of times over LAN with a friend. Those hours sat at two computers were probably the most fun-filled co-op experience I’ve ever had, and making me incredibly jealous that I didn’t have a good enough PC to play it myself.

Since those days plenty of FPS games have been released; some of them wowing,  like the multiplayer mayhem of Timesplitters 2 (being in the same room as your opponents will always be the best way to experience those games), and some of them stinking to high heaven, such as the awful Daikatana. So, with that in mind does the HD re-release of Serious Sam: The First Encounter live up to preconceived standards? I returned to what used to be one my favourite FPS games to find out.


This is one of those games where the storyline doesn’t really matter, as you won’t really be paying much attention to it but you need some kind of justification for doing the things you’ll be doing. Basically Sam gets sent back in time to defeat Mental, an enemy obsessed with eradicating humanity, and alter the course of history so humanity was never attacked. The setting for the ensuing mayhem caused by Sam’s appearance is Egypt, and you’ll be going from one monument to do the next while fighting off hordes of Mental’s strange but deadly army.


The game is packed with a host of fun weapons and weird enemies. You’ll be using the usual assortment of machine guns and shotguns (which pack quite a punch) but you will eventually come across a laser gun and a cannonball gun that fires large cannonballs and squishes your enemies into a nice gory mess. In the latter stages of the game you’ll want to be using a gun that can cut through hordes of enemies with ease, such as the minigun, or you’ll quickly become overwhelmed. Thankfully ammo is abundant, but you’ll often get ‘rewarded’ for picking up items through the game spawning another wave of enemies to throw at you. So, you’ve just picked up all that health and ammo and then you have to use it all on a wave of enemies without making much progress through the level. That’s Serious Sam for you, and it’s something you’ll quickly become aware of and end up actually backtracking while the enemy draws ever closer;  although there are times when this is impossible as the game closes you into space, which is sometimes confined or will be when the enemy completely surrounds you.

The enemies are a mixture of your common soldier (although ‘common’ in the sense that they’re actually dead and they carry their heads in one hand), armed with rocket launchers, chainsaws or grenades depending on the type (or just holding bombs and running towards you screaming before they blow themselves up, which starts to get highly annoying), to flying winged beasts that remind me of Flash Gordon and gigantic walking fish armed with lasers or rocket launchers. All of these enemies may look strange but they hold nothing back – and by god are they brutal!

In fact the whole game is brutal, and even on normal difficulty you’ll find yourself dying a lot (I haven’t tried it on co-op or a harder difficulty setting, but it’s my understanding that even more enemies are thrown into the mix). Thankfully you can just hit Y for a quick save, which arguably makes the game far easier than it should be. I still lost count at how many times I had to restart the game though, especially at one particularly nasty part of the game. This consisted of being attacked by hundreds of galloping skeletons while I was quickly running out of ammo. You could cut down twenty and they’d just be replaced by more, so it required some quick thinking other than just standing there and pumping bullets into the masses. I’ll let you figured it out for yourself.

The last level of the game is, quite understandably, a mass of enemies and bullets flying around everywhere. However, the best is definitely saved until last and when I and my friend originally saw this beast our jaws dropped. The appearance of the final boss is still one of those ‘wow’ moments even today, but I won’t go into the technicalities as you really have to see this for yourself.


For its time Serious Sam: The First Encounter was a pretty good looking game. Of course, it’s nothing by today’s standards and Croteam wasn’t content with just re-releasing the game in its original form to make some quick cash. Instead they put the time in to upgrade the graphics to HD, and while it’s still not going to wow you by any means they’ve still done a great job with it. Everything is shiny, with some work done on the lighting effects and the look of water (although this is no Bioshock), but the fact of the matter is you won’t have much time to appreciate when you’re getting charged at by hordes of bulls. You’ll still appreciate that it looks better though, even if it’s only to get a better look at the bull that’s about to knock you halfway across the level.


One frustrating thing about the game is that you’ll often be attacked from all sides and you can’t really tell when you’re going to get attacked until it’s up in your face. The audio goes some way to fixing this, as you’ll often hear the scream of, for example, suicide bombers getting closer to your position as the scream gets louder. This allows you to figure out what direction they’re coming in without spinning around all the time when you’ve got other enemies to contend with. Sometimes this gets lost in all the gunfire and sounds of other creatures though, so you still have to be constantly aware of your surroundings.

Music wise it’s nothing special, with the dramatic rising tempos kicking in when you’re about to be attacked. Due to this you will always know when something is still alive in your area due, but the periods where the music stays at the same sound level are few and far between.

Overall Score & Replayability

The problem with this re-release is that it doesn’t try to be anything other than a slightly better looking version of its original form. There’s no extra meat here, with nothing included in the XBLA release that wasn’t already in the original. In fact the XBLA version of the game has been is slightly inferior to the PC version in that only four players are supported in co-op, with sixteen on the PC version. There’s also no competitive multiplayer, but that probably isn’t a bad thing as I don’t think the game would have grasped people’s attention long enough for them to stick around.

However, none of the above makes it a bad game and for what’s on offer it’s certainly worth the price. For people, like me, who have played the original it’s a nice little blast from the past where FPS games were far simpler, but also a lot tougher. Those who haven’t played it get a glimpse at what FPS gamers enjoyed in the past, and it may also make them delve deeper into gaming history. For everybody it’s an fun-filled action packed ride that never gives you a breather. It’s a pure arcade game at heart, and that’s precisely the type of game that suits XBLA.