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Serious Sam II, a DVD-ROM in English by Croteam. ***1/2
But seriously, this slapstick first-person shooter game is anything but serious.
Full of inane comments and a silly plot but enriched by superior graphics, it boils down to just one thing - explode everything in view. In fact, if you attach a clothespin to the Fire button, you'll probably be better off and reduce your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome from overuse of your index finger.
About six years ago, the first version of Serious Sam (subtitled First Encounter) - produced by programmers in Croatia - appeared, and it made a big splash. It was followed a few years later by Second Encounter. This one, set in the year 2104, uses a more powerful graphics engine than either of them and comes on DVD instead of CD-ROM - thus it is bigger and better looking.
The hero is Sam Stone, a rather dumb-looking, muscle-bound hulk in jeans, a T-shirt and red sneakers who is called in by wizards from the Great Council of the planet Sirius to save the universe with his two-fisted weaponry. "You have exactly five seconds to explain why I'm here," Sam says to the wizards when he slams into the ground on his back and stands up to dust himself off. "And two seconds have already passed!" (Maybe the jokes are funnier in Croatian.)
He is summoned with orders to collect five pieces of the Medallion of Power controlled by a villain named Mental and strewn among different worlds, each of them controlled by a powerful Boss. Playing at any of five levels of difficulty from "tourist" to "serious," you have to destroy his emissaries and round up the segments in a game quite reminiscent of Unreal Tournament. The mostly outdoor scenes start in the jungles of M'Digbo and include the Chinese environment of Chifang and futuristic Siriusopolis.
Sam's guide Netricsa (short for Neurotronically Implanted Combat Situation Analyzer), asks Sam to call her Nettie. She has a female voice but is unseen, which Nettie explains by the programmers having an inadequate game budget (another pitiful in-joke). In any case, Netricsa operates as a tiny computer implanted in Sam's skull to process on-screen data. Aside from the single player mode, you can go online to the Internet or to a LAN on an intranet and share the chaotic game in the multiplayer mode with up to 15 others.
Dozens of levels interspersed with crazy cut scenes are offered, and it should take gamers at least 25 hours to complete the game, depending on how many creatures are killed and how often weapons are exchanged. There are 15 different types of arms, from a Raptor 2 sniper's rifle and rocket launcher to a hydroplasma gun, Uzi (named Suzi) and a parrot fed with "fire flowers" that blows up with the slightest contact. There is even a portable chainsaw. But you'll probably find yourself using the conventional double-barreled shotgun the most.
Upgrades from earned points include shoes on coils that enable Sam to jump five times higher, extra ammunition and "serious power" to hurl objects that you ordinarily wouldn't have the strength to even pick up. You can protect Sam by earning points and obtaining Roman-style helmets, shields and armor, as well as health points in the form of red-cross pills, capsules and hearts. Sam spends most of his time as a pedestrian, but there are also wacky vehicles to climb onto, such as a velociraptor dinosaur, flying saucer, hovercraft, Barracuda attack plane and Simba helicopter bomber.
While the visuals are very realistic, the sounds are disappointing. Fortunately, there is no blood or gore, and the language gets no worse than "crap," so the action is suited even to younger children. Despite all this variety, as one rises from one level to another, having to constantly shoot hordes of enemies coming at you and exploding them into smithereens becomes highly repetitive and tiresome. This brings down the quality of Serious Sam II and makes it routine.