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Treadmill Combat: Serious Sam The Random Encounter [Review]

Vlambeer is building their name upon solid gameplay. Title after title they continue to come up with addictive mechanics that players can dive into again and again without things getting repetitive. It’s kind of their thing. So it was exciting to hear that, along with other notable devs Mommy’s Best Games and Be-Rad Entertainment, the developer would be taking part in a Serious Sam 3 indie games promo. Thus getting a chance to weave their magic into an already enjoyable franchise by creating Serious Sam: The Random Encounter.

Now their effort is out on Steam ($5) for everyone to purchase and play. So how is it? A variety of feelings come to mind after playing through, and (like the game’s familiar enemies) the whole lot happen to slam into me simultaneously.

The game is deemed a turn-based RPG, but there’s really not a whole lot of RPG to go around. Rather the game mimics the traditional JRPG with various dungeons full of random encounters (hey!) anytime you move a square or two, and the combat system has some major similarities as well. Other than that, there’s no leveling, hardly any plot or dialogue at all, and with the amount of enemies you take on every battle the combat system ends up being more of a turn-based shump than anything else.

The mechanic works like a moving floor where enemies are running and characters are backpedal away from them, but instead of it continuing on linearly the floor wraps around once the edge of the screen is reached. You eventually get three characters who have a turn each round (every five seconds) to choose whether they want to shoot the gun they have in hand, swap for another gun, or use an item. Enemies of all sorts come flying toward your party, flinging projectiles, or lacking that just running their ass off until they catch up to you and hit your face. All the while your party is using the patented drag-and-drop system at a frantic pace, and you’re making decisions to rid yourself of all enemies in the most efficient manner possible. Everyone at the end of the fight must be very exhausted, especially when battles carry on in the slightest. (On the bright side if you live through a few battles, you’re probably in great shape.)

Another layer to fighting is that you can move your group of characters up and down in a straight line to avoid oncoming fire and monsters. It’s like working with one of the bars on a foosball table. Some enemies will actually run right by you and loop back to the left of the screen if you can avoid their charge. It adds a nice amount of depth to combat, as you have to dance up and down along while aiming your weapons at approaching targets. One thing I wish they would’ve added though, was the ability to change the character order in terms of where they stood in line. When all three characters are acquired, one of them in particular is bound to the middle position and often is stuck taking a lot of damage the others can avoid. I just felt bad for the guy, and wanted to give him a breather.

Having the right gun out for the right enemies really makes a ton of difference in efficiently winning your battles. At times I found the game incredibly frustrating when I couldn’t figure out the right weapon combination to rid myself of the various charging hoards. Items used at the right time are lifesavers, but use them too often and you’ll find the well dry when you need it most near the end of the game.

The soundtrack is great from the dungeon music to the victory fanfare, and what dialogue is there to take in delivers a few laughs, especially when Sam discusses his feelings for puzzles. The boss battles were visually awesome, but lacked a little in strategy and epic flavor when it came to actually fighting them. The game’s campaign isn’t that long if you don’t die much, but even if you do it shouldn’t take more than a session or two to get through. There’s plenty of replay value though, with random weapon pick-ups each time you play through the campaign (one time I got the rocket launcher first!), a solid fighting mechanic that’s deeper than it first appears, and an Endless mode to put that previous item to the test.

The Random Encounter is a solid small game that brings something interesting to the table in terms of gameplay, and I can’t do anything else but suggest it to you if you’re into that sort of thing. The $5 tag fits perfectly, as that’s what a game of this reach should cost. Put your Lincoln down and enjoy all the FPS fun of Serious Sam through the eyes of Vlambeer.

[DIYGamer was provided a review copy of the game by the developer.]