Serious Sam: The Second Encounter (SS2) combines the color and arcade action of Mario 64 with the gore and blood of Return to Castle Wolfenstein; what's wholly absent is the quasi-realism of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Never, ever, will you forget that SS2 is a game, since everything is too outrageous, but that won't stop you from sweating when 50 Kleer skeletons round a corner and gallop towards you waving their sickle claws. Sam Stone, a cheap Duke Nukem clone, is incredibly powerful, but the challenges in SS2 are staggering and Sam needs every super-weapon he finds. Most importantly, though, it's loads of fun.
The story is, appropriately, an afterthought: Sam's old nemesis, Mental, is trying to conquer the galaxy, again. Time to go kill him. Since Mental traveled back in time, the worlds of SS2 are set in the past ( Babylon, Meso-America) but populated with the same genetic monstrosities as the original game. All the levels dazzle with brilliant displays of color and surprisingly varied design: indoor, outdoor, courtyards, corridors, and expansive stretches. Croteam's Serious Engine handles everything in spectacular fashion with up to 50 enemies onscreen at once with no appreciable slowdown. The physics engine permits both "realistic" stages and bizarre arcade levels that remind you of Strider.
Although SS2 is a pure shooter, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the amount of strategy and tactics required to beat each level. Like Galaga, where memorizing each wave is critical, you have to deduce the correct weapon and strategy for most areas. Each enemy is deadly, with a unique attacking strategy and weakness, and the margin of error is slim. Because each enemy makes a distinctive sound, usually before you see it, smart players can seize the initiative.
The aspect that makes the game a gem, though, is the frenzied battles against massive amounts of enemies. Unlike Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, or other shooters that demand precise concentration against single or small groups, SS2 throws huge numbers of enemies at you at the same time. Any illusion of realism is lost, but the resulting gameplay is considerably more helter-skelter.
Unfortunately, Croteam emulated Nukem's insipid personality along with Sam's body. His white tank-top, three-day beard, and gruff voice are fine, maybe even slightly endearing, but the bad puns aren't. Luckily, Sam is a man of action because, frankly, how many times you can listen to him say "It's time to get serious" without groaning? SS2's penchant for cornball phrases is annoying, and its arcade sensibilities could have used a modicum of gritty realism.
SS2 is a great game that doesn't offer any revolutionary novelties, but succeeds in grafting the fun and strategy of arcade classics with the blood and gore of more contemporary first-person shooters. Players looking for more "realism" will be better served with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault or Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but anyone who enjoys frenzied shooting and zany physics will be very happy to own this one.
Graphics: Three worlds filled with blinding color will remind you of Mario 64.
Sound: Sounds are crucial to gameplay and effective in setting the mood and increasing tension during the game.
Enjoyment: The non-stop action, killing, and fun are definitely appealing.
Replay Value: The game has little replay value unless you just enjoy the mayhem. There are several difficulty levels but most players won't feel the need to replay the same levels.
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