Wednesday, 09 November 2016 10:47

REVIEW: Serious Sam VR (Steam)

Written by Sam Drage
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Serious Sam VR is exactly what the name would suggest - it’s a Serious Sam game, for VR headsets. Now, if you’ve never played a Serious Sam game before, then basically all you need to know is that they’re an FPS where you fight ridiculous hordes of enemies in a series of open areas. The VR addition to the series keeps that theme running whilst ramping up the immersion factor to extreme.

Right from the title screen and intro, you get reeled in and shown just how insane VR can be - as you find yourself floating in space next to an impossibly huge battle cruiser whilst a quick story spiel plays out. The premise? You’re a rookie, and you get to take part in Virtual Training Simulations to test your mettle. In using this premise, the developers have managed to seal in an in-world excuse for the design choices required for a VR game - since it’s VR in-game too!

Speaking of design choices - UI is a very important factor when making games for VR and Serious Sam does an incredibly good job of making the UI both easy to use and responsive. There’s a variety of methods you can use to make your way through level selection, gun choices and menus - from point and click to swiping on the trackpads. This makes getting through to the meat of the game very simple and you get to spend spend less time wrestling with menus and more time shooting things - and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

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The actual gameplay takes the Serious Sam premise and converts it to a single-point wave defense system. This means that you don’t have to worry about movement and teleporting around a map - always a tough thing to do with VR - and can concentrate on the task at hand, which is killing anything and everything that runs at you, using a variety of weapons. With the Vive set up for room-scale, you can still move around within your space and even dodge projectiles if needed, though most of the time shooting them works better.

Enemy waves are spawned and attack in an arc approximately 120 degrees, so you never need to turn around lots and check behind you - just lots of head swiveling and aiming in multiple spots at once. I found the actual gunplay very easy to get used to, with aiming coming naturally for each weapon after a few shots. There’s a whole variety of weapons - you start with basic energy pistols (unlimited ammo) and can then purchase new weapons and ammo refills between stages. Since you have two hands, you get to use two weapons - and this can be two of the same or two different weapons. Nothing feels greater than dual-wielding huge rocket launchers!

The weapons themselves are a decent variety - from pistols, to assault rifle, shotguns, laser weapons and even a chainsaw. I found that all of them were good in any situation, though some were more effective than others and it’s very easy to pick a favourite, though you WILL run out of ammo consistently. Whilst the game provides refills and health packs in the form of random parachute drops that you have to target, they’re few and far between. You will chew through ammo like no tomorrow even with perfect aim, so be prepared to do a lot of switching. The game makes this easier by slowing everything to a crawl whenever you bring up the weapon select menu, giving you some thinking time to pick the one you want.

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The enemies eating the bullets are as varied as the weaponry, though the tactics remain the same - hit them until they die. Many enemies will stand back and shoot at you from a distance, whilst others will charge into the fray and get all up in your face if you let them. There’s ground-based creatures as well as flying so you really have to keep a constant lookout for things. After a couple of stages, there’ll be a mini-boss and the last stage of each level has a larger full boss to defeat - whilst still defending against smaller enemies! These boss fights all boil down to the same basic thing but they really get the adrenaline pumping as you don’t get a single spare second to take a breath. Personally, I had difficulty even on easy mode and I stepped into Medium and immediately regretted my decisions. This game is very punishing if you don’t stay on top of things and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and snowball into failing - though it’s quick to try again and still remains very fun and challenging.

The levels themselves mostly differ in the spots that enemies can spawn at, but the aesthetics are varied enough to keep it interesting. There are two stages that stood out to me from the ones currently available to play. The first is a dark underground ruin, where you have a flashlight based on the direction you’re looking in but everywhere else is pitch black. This stage really raised the tension and panic inherent in the game as you can only see what you’re directly looking at, but you’re basically required to shoot at other spots too - where you have no idea what’s coming. The second stage that stood out is a final stage that starts off in some sewers below a ruined building. Initially, it seems nothing special but then you realise you’re stood on an elevator and it rises up through the sewers, foundations, the building itself and eventually to the boss battle at the top. This whole time, slowly rising up, you’re defending from enemies and constantly re-evaluating the environment.

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I’d like to give a special mention to the sound design as well. Each enemy type sounds unique and makes a different sound when spawning and when dying. After enough play you can pick up on these and know what’s coming and when you’ve killed things. There’s also very good spatial audio - you certainly know when something is about to be right up in your face compared to everything being at a safe distance. There’s nothing like thinking you’ve cleared the wave and then hearing the “AAAAAAAAHHHHH” of a suicide bomber getting really close.

All up, considering that Serious Sam VR is still in early access, it is already incredibly fun to pick up and play and very well polished. The stages are short enough that you can have a quick gaming session, but can be challenging enough for a longer play time if you feel like it. The selection of enemies, guns, and even levels are already varied enough to give great replayability and I understand that the developers have plans to add more of all three as time goes on. The only thing i haven’t mentioned is the price tag - which may seem on the higher end compared to most VR titles, but I feel this one is definitely something to keep an eye on and a great game to add to the VR collection.

Lots of polish and great game, but definitely a small amount of room for improvement.


Game Info

  • Review Score: 4.0 / 5.0
  • Release Date: Out Now
  • Platform: Steam
  • Genre: FPS, Action