Version tested: PC
Serious Sam has one trick. It's simple, but effective. First it puts a big shiny thing in front of you. "Check this out, Dicky-boy, it's a COLLECTIBLE!" You pick it up, and immediately a hundred monsters spawn around the plinth. You either emerge like Bruce Campbell clutching your prize between clenched butt-cheeks, or reload and pick up the shiny thing again in all innocence. And then, a little way on, you find another shiny thing.
Serious Sam: Double D, a 2D spinoff from the series intended to whip up some love before Serious Sam 3 hits, certainly gets that right. It's a side-scroller with few surprises but one trick, with a fistful of B-movie monsters that get ever bigger and a load of shiny things waiting to be snaffled. Why have one enemy when you could have 15?
Inasmuch as there is deep satisfaction in blowing apart something grotesque with a gun, Serious Sam: Double D delivers - and delivers big. Barring the piddly default gun, Sam's arsenal is serious stuff: rocket launchers, flamethrowers, shotguns, all the fun of the fair at 50 decibels. The sound effects are booming and their effects are messy and immediate - when a shotgun sounds right, the wet explosions feel right.
Coming at you, bro, are 2D versions of Serious Sam enemies: the one with the big eye, suicide runners, giant insects, gorillas in rocket packs and gigantic bioweapons. All are vulnerable to bullets. They're a charming bunch, and the animations are especially nicely done - the arms on the basic clawing enemies jerk up and down instantly, while the gorillas swoop in fluid little arcs and spin off in 360s to explode. You couldn't call SSDD a great-looking game, but that's not really what it's going for; it's a cheap and cheerful type of gaudy, one that fits enemies like a headless woman holding bombs over her breasts perfectly.
So this is what happens: Sam walks forward, tens of enemies spawn, you shoot 'em up and then press forwards. The levels are mostly built around walking to the right, although there are occasionally multiple paths to choose and even the odd puzzle.
There aren't too many of these, and it's a bit of a pity because they're a welcome change of pace - getting out of a pit by building a ramp of dead monsters, or playing the matador to make charging enemies build a corpse-bridge across spikes. Later you'll acquire a jump pad, which can be used for a neat wall-hopping trick, but it doesn't add a huge deal otherwise.
The shooting is a case of quantity over quality - for most of the game, you'll be holding down the right trigger and hopping around a gradually diminishing pile of enemies. Though certain weapons have a great kick to them, and it's obviously satisfying to kill something that's many times the size of Sam, it never quite feels good enough to justify the repetition of the whole concept. There's nothing dreadfully wrong with it, no definite flaw like unresponsiveness to point to, but it never feels just right - and surely a game that depends on shooting should have fantastic, out-of-this world gunplay.
Serious Sam: Double D's only hope is the Gunstacker. It stacks guns. Dotted around the levels are clawlike contraptions that let you attach one gun to the top of another - up to a maximum of seven. Clearly this is a good thing, and after a very short while you'll be wielding an especially deadly Swiss Army knife with flamethrower and bazooka attachments. SSDD's very best moments are when you're jumping through a giant enemy sprite with three chainsaws on top of four shotguns, holding down that trigger and watching it take the pain.
There's a level of strategy to the gunstacker, but this mainly comes from the fact that your own explosions cause damage, so for the numerous grunts you want standard guns or else the friendly fire is a killer. This actually bugged me: I want overkill. If I want to demolish piles of the lamest, scummiest monsters by jumping right into the middle of them with a rocket launcher, there shouldn't be a second thought: balls out, offal flying, satisfied customer.
Much as it pains me to say it, that minor misstep is one of many things about SSDD that doesn't sit quite right. The original was clearly made by maniacs, best seen in Old Man Murray's Serious Sam coverage. Compare the genuinely bats*** responses there to this from Serious Sam: Double D's press release: "For f***'s sake, what moron in marketing wrote this press release," asked Fork Parker, chief financial officer at Devolver Digital, publisher of Serious Sam 3: BFE and the Serious Sam Indie Series. "Just tell them it has a f***-ton of guns and some big fat titties running around trying to blow you up. Gamers love explosive violence and a nice pair of floppy tits in their face."
Look, I love tits as much as the next man - but doesn't the above have a hollow ring? It's someone acting ker-azy rather than being mental, as well as stigmatising their product's entire audience as desperate males. The killer thing is that despite the presence of swearing, coarseness and sex, it's not even a funny line. If I want to be condescended to by a suit, I'll visit the bank.
And in response to this resolutely anti-intellectual approach to gamers, one that says Serious Sam: Double D is beyond critique because it knows exactly what it's doing, I suggest it's just disproving an argument by following its implications to their extremes. The argument behind Serious Sam and SSDD is that shooting games are all about shooting, and therefore the best possible shooting game is one that just throws things at you to shoot and not much else.
It's a lot of fun, granted - for an hour or two. But the shooters that live with you, that you return to every so often for a couple of hours, are the ones with beautiful systems: Geometry Wars, Space Giraffe, Bangai-O or even something simpler like Contra. These games don't just have bullets and enemies, but place huge emphasis on movement and on-the-fly decision-making. Serious Sam: Double D demands you walk forward with a gun, or a lot of guns piled on top of one another, and shoot things before they kill you. Certain pipe-smokers will insist this makes it a purer and better shooter, all about simple fun - reductio ad absurdum.
If you have an itch for straight-up no-frills blasting action, then Serious Sam: Double D will certainly give it a good scratch, but despite the challenge modes and the golden guns that bulk out the package, it's doubtful you'll be coming back. There are some good lines, and a few neat ideas, but ultimately it's mindless shooting and aspires to be no more. In that, it is a success.
6 / 10