Ever since Blade Runner established the visual template for sci-fi, the 'sombre dystopian nightmare' dial has been almost universally turned up to 11. Fun? Most definitely not. Seriously.
Many clichés later, games developers are still smitten by the same old sci-fi chestnuts and few have strayed from their contrived pretensions. Consequently, the market is awash with titles that are just a little bit up their own wormholes.
All this meant that when Serious Sam arrived it was a breath of fresh air. Not only was it an old-school kill frenzy in bold technicolour, but it was also a good poke in the eye with a 12-gauge auto-reloading shotgun for po-faced games developers.
Not that Serious Sam was swimming against the tide in isolation. Indeed, its main protagonist, Sam Stone, shared a very specific lineage with 3D Realms' Duke Nukem. But in the absence of the Duke, Croteam's Sam is a great substitute. Albeit a kiddy-friendly one.
We're pleased to report that Sam Stone's return is anything but serious. There's an insane inventiveness about this game that registers high on the entertainment quotient – this is ridiculously good fun. The cojones-to-the-wind frenetic gameplay will test the reflexes of the bedroom Shaolin monk in all of us, and the design is worth the price of entry alone.
As for plot… well, there's a whisper of a trace of a vestige of a soupçon of a story in here somewhere, which merely serves as an excuse for Sam to kicketh le booty. He is in the employ of some peace-loving aliens who need him to get back sections of a medallion that has been scattered over seven worlds.
Popping in to help occasionally is Netricsa Lite, who is not dissimilar to the computer-babe helping Sarge in Halo. Nice work if you can get it. The upshot of this is that Sam is edging towards a confrontation with his arch-nemesis from the first game, Notorious Mental.
This takes place over 40 levels, calling for you to dispose of 45 types of enemies with an extremely interesting arsenal.
But seriously, folks…
Computer games have been responsible for some of the worst comedy known to man. What looked like a good idea on paper often loses a lot in translation. Serious Sam 2 both succeeds and fails in this regard.
First, the comedy cut-scenes really don't, well, cut it, and we ended up skipping most of them – Croteam obviously lacked the budget for expensive vocal talents or Hollywood scriptwriters (à la Pariah). However, the enemies and weaponry have a comedy value all of their own. Martial-arts zombies? Onan the Librarian? Flying parrot bomb? Works for me.
And the fact that you pick up a huge shotgun a mere couple of steps into the game demonstrates Croteam's commitment to unadulterated fragfest pleasure. The big bosses really are the biggest in town, and there are probably more enemies in the first level of Serious Sam 2 than there were in all of Doom3. Factoid.
Croteam wisely invested the money at its disposal in a new graphics engine – and it shows. Top marks for creating such a graphically impressive game that's highly scalable and has some of the best eye-candy explosions in PC gaming. While we've marvelled at the technical proficiency of recent crops of dark sci-fi games, let's face it, half the time you can't see a damn thing. Here, everything is lit in vivid glory and Serious Sam 2 is all the better for it.