Serious Sam: The Random Encounter Review
Some game companies put fancy ads in magazines to promote their games. Sometimes they'll shell out the cash for a TV spot. And we're all familiar with the mass marketing of the internet. Ultimately, publishers and developers want their games to be known, so they usually stick to the media that works best for them. Serious Sam 3: BFE publisher Devolver Digital and developer Croteam, however, have decided to go in a different direction. By enlisting the aid of a couple indie developers, they've decided to release some smaller scale titles to get gamers pumped for the upcoming release of Serious Sam 3.
One of these small scale releases is Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. Developed by Vlambeer, the game attempts to combine the shoot 'em up and RPG genres, while cramming in the style, themes, and humor that Serious Sam is known for. Upon playing through The Random Encounter, you'll find that Vlambeer has most certainly succeeded in doing so, but the game is over way too soon, leaving you wanting more in a big way.
There's very little in the way of a plot in The Random Encounter. Your mission is to take down Mental, and in order to do that, you need to traverse three worlds rife with enemies and big bosses. Along the way, you'll run into individuals who gladly join your party, and you'll be treated to some great dialogue. The writing in the game isn't deep or gripping, but it's certainly hilarious. Your characters will constantly talk about how they like shooting things, and when trying to figure out how to approach a certain situation, they'll usually settle on, you guessed it, shooting. It's simple, but it's effective, and it's good for laughs.
The actual game plays out much like a bullet hell shooter with light turn-based RPG elements sprinkled on it. Your characters appear on the right, meanwhile hordes of enemies rush you from the left. Most of them shoot projectiles at you, and you're under constant fire at all times. At the start of an encounter, you must select what you want your characters to do. You'll mostly be utilizing shotguns, miniguns, and rocket launchers to blast away at your enemies, but you'll also need to heal up, throw explosives, and add armor to your party by using items. Turns last five seconds, and after the interval is up, you must select what you want to do once more. This cycle repeats until you've defeated your enemies or you lose a life.
This is, for all intents and purposes, an excellent amalgamation of genres, and it works for the most part. The developers really played around with something unique here, and their efforts resulted in a frantic gameplay experience that's a great deal of fun. Unfortunately, the game only lasts about an hour. The Random Encounter ends incredibly abruptly, and because the premise is so original, it's a shame that this game wasn't expanded to last at least four hours. Granted, it only costs $5, but it still feels like there was a missed opportunity at something really special here. The unlockable Endless Mode is a nice addition, but it's not a substantial substitute for the game's short length.
The quick pace of The Random Encounter causes a minor problem to the otherwise brilliant gameplay formula it poses. Because it's over so quickly, the difficulty amps up almost immediately. You learn the ropes in the first stage, but then things go from simple to moderate to just plain difficult right away. I imagine that if the game had been a bit longer, there wouldn't be such a spike in difficulty. This can be a problem because the challenge will catch you off guard rather than easing you into the experience.
Another issue I had with The Random Encounter was the unpredictability of the enemy fire. Bullet hell shooters are unforgiving, but there's a method to their challenge. Enemies in The Random Encounter seem to fire away like crazy, and it's usually the party member standing in the middle who absorbs the must punishment, which in turn means he'll usually be the first to die. It isn't just difficult to dodge enemy attacks--in some cases, it's impossible.
The presentation in The Random Encounter is equal parts retro and in-your-face. Visually, the game is bright and offers a nice pixelated look. As far as the sound design goes, you're treated to some crazy guitar themes that sound like they came out of some 1990s action TV show. Everything about the game's visual and audio presentation is chosen for style, and it fits well with the characters and themes.
As previously mentioned, The Random Encounter is about an hour long. Admittedly, I spent two hours playing the game because I made the stupid mistake of wasting a lot of my items early on, when I should have saved them for the last few stages. In any case, aside from the game's short length, insane increase in difficulty, and uncontrolled enemy fire, The Random Encounter is a game that I would recommend to anyone looking for something different. It's fast, fun, and affordable. Yes, it's over way too soon, but at least The Random Encounter is a great deal of fun while it lasts.