Before making his official comeback in Serious Sam 3: BFE, developer Vlambeer takes Sam Stone into some uncharted territory in Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. The opening narration sets Sam up for a trip into the future, where combat takes the form of turn-based RPG battles.
Needless to say, this is not a typical Serious Sam experience. Vlambeer has taken the series' trademark run-and-gun gameplay and placed it within the context of an old-school, turn-based RPG. Sam starts off in an isometric overworld, filled with retro pixel art. The overworld offers little chance for exploration, but that's mostly because Sam can't take more than a few steps without initiating a random battle sequence.
The battles are the meat and potatoes of the game and fit in perfectly with what Serious Sam has always been. Sam and his sidekicks are ambushed by dozens upon dozens of enemies at a time. The battles take place in auto-running environments, so even as players issue attack orders, battles visually emulate the run-and-gun style of the original Serious Sam games.
Fighting is simple. Players can attack with an available weapon (many of them involving adjusting the weapons range or line of sight) or use an item. Incoming enemies and projectiles can be dodged using the arrow keys, making the overall learning curve refreshingly simple.
Where The Random Encounter differs from other RPGs is that the characters never gain levels. Rather, Sam increases his arsenal through item drops. The toughest part of the game is knowing which weapon is right for certain enemies. This can be particularly troublesome during boss fights. I always instinctively reached for the rocket launcher to shoot at the giant monster taking up half the screen, but it often left me open to attacks from lesser enemies. Having said that, Vlambeer does a good job in setting the game's difficulty curve, as boss battles are tough, but never feel overwhelming.
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The Random Encounter's biggest failing is that it's too short. At most, the average players will complete the game in about three or four hours. It's a shame, because the battles are enjoyable and it feels like Vlambeer has a good grasp of the series' style of humor. Worse than that, there really isn't any reason to revisit the game once it's over. While the other entries into the Serious Sam Indie Series offered some additional replay value, I couldn't find that same carrot to bring me back to The Random Encounter. Once it's over, it's over, and it's time to look forward to the next game in the series.
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter works in the sense that it brings a traditional FPS and successfully makes the transition into a turn-based RPG. It's faithful to the license, has some funny moments, and offers up a decent challenge. It's worth playing through once. Unfortunately, this game won't offer much reason for a second encounter.
The review for Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is based on a final version of the game on PC, provided by indie developer Vlambeer.