Let's not waste time preaching to the choir. Serious Sam HD is Serious Sam: The First Encounter wearing a shiny new HD hat. It's exactly the same game, but prettier. If you loved the insanity of Croteam's wildly unapologetic crowd-management blaster the first time around, you'll love this.
There are no new guns and no new monsters. Levels remain unadulterated. Given that 2005's sequel disappointed some fans of the original by gilding the lily with unnecessary adornments, this is probably a sensible choice.
Serious Sam was never supposed to be about complex narratives or character development. Its raison d'etre was the shameless abandonment of realism; here is a game which wears its batshit crazy colours on its pumped and veiny biceps with pride. It's also a game which rarely asks you to reload, let alone consider the moral implications each time you pull the trigger.
If haven't played the first game, gird your loins for something of a individual take on the genre. There is a plot, but it's so sub-Bollian in its simplicity that it's nigh on invisible. The action unfolds in a series of similar but colourful environments, consisting mostly of large, arena set-pieces linked by short, simple puzzle chains and smaller encounters.
Sure, as you navigate the tombs and plains of ancient Egypt you'll be pushing the odd button and finding occasional secret stashes. But mostly, by which I mean almost constantly, you'll be pumping rounds from a healthy array of satisfying weapons into the faces of lunatic monsters.
Usually this will involve circle-strafing around large open areas as dozens of screaming, headless suicide bombers, skeletal horses, mutated golden bulls and what are essentially Monster Munch creatures swarm towards you maniacally. No cover, not much exploration and no tactics to speak of, just a cross-hair, a few tonnes of charging flesh and a pocket full of hurt. It's the simplicity, countered by the incredibly intense pace, which holds the interest here - pure gaming escapism.
You might think it'd get repetitive, and for anyone expecting a strategic crawl through enemy lines it probably will, but there's really very little time to get bored. Pauses are few and far between, sometimes gearing down just before the appearance of one of the insanely titanic boss fights. Generally however, as long as you're moving forward there'll be stuff to kill and plenty of it. Blazing your way through a throng of monsters strays just on the right side of the entertainingly hectic/impossibly infuriating divide, even under the harshest assaults you'll generally find your rictus is carved into a grin rather than a grimace.
Enemies spawn wildly from all angles, too - from teleporters, round corners and behind walls, even in the sky or on top of scenery. One set piece in an open, pillared courtyard sees huge, minigun-toting scorpions warping in on top of distant gateways, peppering the field with bullets as the lesser minions get up close and personal.
Crowd control is the order of the day here. The AI consists mainly of getting in range and firing, accompanied in the suicide bombers' case by blood-curdling screams as they zero in on your position. Taking them out obviously results in a gutsy explosion and a wide spatter of gore and, because friendly fire is a factor for the enemy, this can be a useful tool in clearing some room to manoeuvre. Likewise for the golden bulls, whose thundering charges will carve paths through enemy ranks and obstructive scenery.
In a game so sparse, enemies and weapons almost attain the status of characters themselves. Much as you'll grow to resent their effectiveness it's hard not to feel a slight attachment to the flying harpies which screech down from the skies, the stomping Cacodaemons or the brain-in-exoskeleton mechs. They might only be there to serve as impromptu wallpaper, but it's these beasts who add much of the atmosphere.
Guns are, of course, the other star turn. Starting with a single, six-chambered Colt, Sam soon totes shotguns (both pump-action and double-barrelled), chain and Tommy guns, lasers, grenades and missiles. Then there's the hugely entertaining cannon, which sends five-foot diameter cannon balls steamrolling through crowds before they explode.
Alternatively, you can chase cannon balls up with a quick rocket for a low-tech variant on Unreal Tournament's shock rifle. These instruments of entertainment are surprisingly charismatic for military hardware, and favourites quickly emerge.
As you might expect from a shooter so firmly in the arcade camp, power-ups in the form of health and armour are scattered liberally around. Caches are secreted behind panels or under floors. Traps are a regular part of the environment, too, with ever-so-tempting hearts and body-armours often placed in such obvious honey traps that's it's impossible to resist seeing what will happen if you dash straight into them.
On to the graphical update then, seeing as that's largely the point. As you'll see from the shots, everything's received a full overhaul - lighting, textures, shader models, animations. Crisp and well-defined, Serious Sam loses none of its charm from the translation, retaining the original's cartoonish glory despite the sharper edges. Sam's foes are still garish and ridiculous, his surroundings functional rather than lush. Specs are yet to be finalised for the PC version, but we're promised that they're not too demanding.
What you probably want to hear is precisely the conclusion I came to: Serious Sam HD looks set to live up to its titular promise. For fans of the original, that's great news.