Serious Sam is known for shooting up Egypt, but his best adventure actually started in Central America. Serious Sam: The Second Encounter came out only a year after The First Encounter, way back in 2002, and like the first it was a mere $20 for some of the finest Doom-style first-person shooting available. It had an amazing engine for the time, capable of rendering huge areas and populating them with tons of enemies, but not so amazing that the HD remasters a few years back didn’t need to rebuild everything from scratch. The remasters paved the way for Serious Sam 3, VR allowed for the creation of Serious Sam: The Last Hope and fan desire to move around The Last Hope‘s maps led to experimenting with VR in the HD remasters. It’s a circle of life, and it moves us all. In this case, it moves us to Serious Sam: Second Encounter VR, which is as big, explosive and ridiculous as it’s ever been except now the player is inside it all.
Serious Sam: The First Encounter told the “story” of Sam Stone, last hope of Earth against the overwhelming might of alien overlord Mental’s twisted freakshow horde. It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but seeing as the story was an excuse to throw lots of enemies at a heavily-armed player it didn’t need to be. After finding a way off planet at the end of the first game Serious Sam promptly crashed back on Earth, but at least it was nowhere near ancient Egypt. Lush green hills and mountains with giant trees make for a welcome change of venue, and the adventure explored three different eras before its final climactic encounter. All the old guns and enemies make an appearance, joined by plenty of destructive new toys and monsters, and the level design is even more creative than the first game’s. It’s also been around in various forms for 14 years for as little as $2.00 or less during sales, so odds are good that if you’re interested you’ve played it already. The real question, then, is how well it migrates to VR.
Serious Sam: The Last Hope set the template for VR-ification of the original games. There’s no way for the player to be as fast and agile as in the non-VR versions so instead they’re given a weapon per hand, with the enhanced firepower making up for the limited mobility. Dual wield two of the same weapon or mix and match for best effect against a mix of enemies, the choice is yours. It’s a little strange to see how huge the chainsaw is in VR-scale, but absolutely awesome to use against a horde of the ape-like gnaar while keeping the pistol in the other hand to clear out headless soldiers. Dual-wielding the pistol even makes it a useful weapon against the large chicken-walkers, seeing alternating fire from one hand to the other lets you do a nice stream of damage while also shooting its missiles out of the air. The possibilities are left to the player to discover, but the gun selection screen is designed with experimentation in mind. Hit a button and the action pauses while the menu is overlaid on the screen, choose a gun for each hand, then let go to dismiss and instantly resume shooting with the new loadout. The same menu also has quick-save and load off to the sides, plus an options menu with a huge number of configuration selections.
Movement in first-person in VR is a problem that seems like it’s as solved as it’s going to get at this point. Some people can handle running freely about but they’re in the minority, so Comfort Mode is enabled by default. What this means in Serious Sam is that turning is done in 90-degree increments and forward motion has both teleportation and limited-range running options. Push up on the gamepad and Sam teleports a short distance in the direction you’re looking, or hit a button to highlight a piece of ground and run towards it. While it’s possible to head into options and enable free movement this feature has been left untested for this preview because No, just No, and No again. I did adjust the turning radius to 45 degrees instead of 90, due to not needing that much Comfort Mode and that much of a change in perspective throwing off my bearings, but when inside the temples and other enclosed areas I could still feel a mild headache coming on. Fortunately Serious Sam:SE has a good balance of enclosed and open areas, so any discomfort is brief and clears up when out in the open air again.
The movement issue is the primary reason Serious Sam:SE is in Early Access rather than being a full release. For example, one of the first secrets you find is a phone booth, and the camera pulls out and looks straight down while Sam makes a call. It’s a little uncomfortable and the camera also has the player’s head clip through the mountain, both of which seem like the kind of thing that will get sorted out in the coming months. Another moment of the camera leaving first-person mode to set a scene sees it not return to Sam’s body fast enough to avoid getting a skeletal-horse kleer in the face. That’s not to say the game isn’t yet optimized for VR, just that there’s still work to be done. The bounce-pads from the second level are now things you jump across instead, which seems like the best move all things considered.
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter VR is off to a great start in Early Access. The gameplay was refined in The First Encounter VR‘s Early Access period so the bulk of development should be sanding down a few rough edges with the camera. The game itself is still around after all these years for a reason, and that’s because it’s a classic of the action FPS genre. The level design is excellent with plenty of set-pieces in each one, alternating between huge open areas and corridor-base inside sections. Secrets are tucked away everywhere, and seeking them out makes for a nice break between one high-intensity shooting section and the next. The addition of VR gives a new perspective on the world, making it bigger and more immediate than ever before, and if mobility takes a hit then dual-wielding a double-barreled shotgun and a flamethrower at the same time more than make up for it. Serious Sam:TSE VR is a huge shot of pure action gaming, and it feels great to step inside its world after seeing it on a screen for all these years.