Author(s) : Philer
Game : The Second Encounter
Type : Single Player / Coop
(Fuzztail’s Note: This map has been reviewed with the then-fresh release of Serious Sam Revolution. As such, the cutscenes may have been broken as a result.)
I remember back in the past, when I was still a kid, I downloaded a huge mappack. Playing something akin to a whole episode fascinated me, and I wanted to do something similar. That map pack might have been this one (but maybe it was Portals; can’t remember anymore). I remember this one to be quite interesting, but also buggy. And now, I decided to revisit this.
Now, as this is a 4 levels long map pack, I’m taking a more different approach. Instead of careful overview, I’ll try to recall my experience with the maps as I’ve played them. I’ll also cut up the review to separate parts, as it is a multi-level review.
Level 0 – Intro
Okay, this is not a good way to start a campaign. This intro haven’t got much, just Sam appearing and running around in a Persia themed map. However, the more annoying part is the actual Intro message. Which is not much of an intro, but THE STORY OF THE WHOLE CAMPAIGN! Spoiler much? Seriously, this part of the map pack is just plain unnecessary and is actually worsens the experience. Let’s just skip to the next level.
Level 1 – Home of Serious Sam
This first level starts up in Sam’s bedroom. There’s a Netricsa message going with our “awakening”, with a pretty weird styled image nevertheless. The room itself is also brim with completely new architecture and textures, which is a pretty good start after the awful intro.
Continuing on, we come through some tight corridors and even a smart mirror area, into what I suppose is some sort of storage room or underground or weird puzzle area? This is actually something that most of these levels, but especially those taking place in Sam’s home has it common. These weird gravity and puzzle areas would work REAL well if the setting was some sort of temple of ancient time. But this was supposed to be Sam’s home. Why would anyone build such traps like a crusher corridor with spikes into his own house, near his bedroom? This is what I’d call as a setting-design dissonance, and this mappack is sure full of it.
Visually, the level retains its mixed nature. In one hand, it looks very different from the common maps, and uses plenty of nice, though in a way, plain textures. However, on the other, we can see some pretty weird graphical glitches here and there, for example visibility bugs and some stretched out textures. There’s also a design dissonance as well when it comes to stairs: These are supposed to be stairs designed for a normal human being, yet the steps are at least waist high. Unfortunately, not even this duality keeps up when you reach the attic area. Aside from the fact that the areas seem to make no sense (again, setting dissonance), there’s alsmo mainly one texture used for this part of the map.
Secrets wise, the level is decent. There are some with just plain items here and there, but there are some interesting ones as well that lead to some other parts of the house that is mostly out of the way, like the kitchen, complete with a freezer, or a toilet with a harpy stuck in it… Yeah I don’t get the last one either, and it seems the model have been bugged out since it repeats the same animation over and over. (Actually I noticed something like this in other levels as well, it must be a bug introduced in some later patches.)
The battles are mixed bags are well. (I have a feeling that I’ll use this “mixed bag” phrase a lot during this review.) It starts well done, with good enemy variety, spawning from reasonable locations. There are even some crazy unique enemies as well, like the bouncing kamikazes, kleer pyramids and mini enemies in a hole.
However, about half way through about the same time when you find the flamethrower, it seems the quality of battles have slowly dropped for some reason. Many enemies spawn in the tight corridors, almost impossible to dodge and basically the whole level becomes a barbeque feast with your Flamethrower always having enough ammo to fry most of the enemy hordes that get into the way, making the whole level quite repeptitive and boring. There are a few neat ideas here and there (I like that underwater tunnel where you can see through the window that enemies are coming), but it’s nothing much of a thing till the end of the level.
When it comes to puzzles, the level doesn’t offer that much of a variety. We have the two switches with the crushers and the gravity room in the beginning, we have key searching, and a clever one at the end where the switch to open the spinning drill-like door (wtf is with that) is cleverly embedded in the texture.
Overall, the level is a mixed-bag, but in my opinion the best one of the four, made with a few clever ideas, good level design and layour and a few puzzles here and there.
Score: 74/100 – Good
Level 2 – Over the Earth
Oh boy! Anyone who knows me well knows that I love floating island levels. ANd this one is pretty decent as well! Unfortunately it falls flat on the battle element, but it plays more or less as a puzzle level.
First thing we notice when we start the level (besides the fact that you lost most of your weapons, which is unfortunate) is its quite unique but also familiar look due to the textures and models used. While the level is not the best when it comes to looks (though the game being old doesn’t help either when it comes to me), it certainly looks good and quite unique. Just imagining a few parts in HD made me like the scenery even better.
Unfortunately, there are also a few problems coming with the looks and the unique design, the most noticeable (which is a standard when it comes to floating islands) is that it is very easy to fall down, due to the unfortunate bumps in the terrain. Due to this, navigation can get pretty annoying at points, especially if you forget to save constantly.
I wrote before that the level is mostly a puzzle level and it shows. The first part of the level basically consist of keyhunt across the islands, due to some weird stuff always blocking the way.
Continuing on, we get a really well done “turret section”, which I really really like personally, because of the way it is implemented which is brilliant. We also have a bouncer puzzle as well, that is as lethal as it sounds. While I myself love puzzles like this, others might find these to be incredibly annoying.
I also mentioned in the beginning that there are not many battles due to it being a puzzle level. This one really shows, not to mention, those few battles the level has are nowhere near good. Enemies coming in a line, harpies pushing you off the level, barely any space to dodge and just not the most perfect pacing overall. In my opinion, the level should have had a clear distinction between puzzle areas and battle areas, the battle areas being more spacious larger islands in general. Unfortunately, that is not the case with this one, with the exception of one single area.
One another thing that started to pop up on this level (and will continue on the following levels) is there are less and less Netricsa messages as you proceed through the level, and even if there are a few, their language is getting worse and worse, along with the small messages popping up here and there. Very unfortunate, and it just emphasizes better that the creator is not a native speaker.
Overall, the level is very unique, with interesting visuals, some weird gameplay elements, but very lacking battles and fight design. The worst part of the map is the end: There’s a cutscene where it really shouldn’t be any, and this cutscene is completely bugged that makes the level unwinnable. Not to mention, this cutscene was actually broken 10 years ago as well when I first played this level. This is indeed yet another sign of something worse to come, unfortunately.
Score: 51/100 – Fair
Level 3 – Return to the Home of Serious Sam
This level. This level, alright. The one level where the fairly decent mappack does a dive into the worse.
It’s one thing that the level is a rehash of the first level in looks and design, but it somehow does everything worse than what it did on the first level. The worse parts of the first level show up on this one, not to mention, it continues its annoying new trend of cutscenes being completely broken, unless you move very carefully.
The first thing you can notice when you start this level (either using cheats to skip the cutscene at the end of the previous one, or selecting it from the menu) is that there’s no Netricsa message waiting for you to explain what is going on. And this is just the start, because there is only a single message on the whole level, and that is completely useless, pointless and random beyond redemption only just to super conveniently set up the next level, which wouldn’t have any connection to the map pack whatsoever.
Gameplay wise, you get tight corridors with the same gameplay that was the second half of the first level which was disappointing. However, at parts even this level excels, especially when it comes to the large room at the entrance or the bridge above it, where the gameplay is still fast and fun. The only problem that while this large room looks awesome even today, FPS-wise the game really gets a hit, even on my PC; while my PC is really not new, it’s not that old either – considering this, it means that back in the day, this area lagged like hell. Not good at all.
The design dissonance from the first level appears yet again on this map as well, in the form of some sort of mayan dimensional gate, where apparently the key is to the house’s front door, which is beyond ridiculous. Fortunately, the mayan temple part is well designed, with an interesting twist at the end, but the whole area really feels shoehorned and not fitting to the premise of the campaign at all.
After that weird trip, you return to the arena for another, yet different kind of battle, which is something I actually liked. Not so what happened afterwards, which was yet ANOTHER bugged cutscene, that also managed to bug out the whole rest of the gameplay of the level!
Fortunately, after trying the whole thing again for a few times, I did manage to trigger the cutscene normally, and another well done battle have followed, with an interesting spawning style. This is an interesting recurring theme about this map pack, I think. It feels very amateur, yet it has that small shine of brilliance here and there that makes it unique. Unfortunately, that uniqueness can’t help to save this level from below average quality.
Score: 42/100 – Below Average
Level 4 – Water Temple
Le sigh. Why this level even exists? This map pack was supposed to be about Serious Sam’s home, and yet we have this. I won’t be nice with this one, this level in general is utterly pointless, broken and ugly at times. Interestingly, with all this qualities, it still manages to be quite excellent at times, but this excellence is now too few and far between for this map to do any good.
This level seems to just magnify everything that is bad in this map pack. First, the level is mostly a puzzle level, which is not that bad of an idea to begin with, but for the love of all that is Holy, I swear I don’t remember any fights from this level besides one cool area with light effects and the last one, both which aren’t very well designed aesthetic-wise (translation: they look ugly, but at least play well).
For a pack that started with unique, if a little bland, texture work, this level undoes all that with its blurry, ugly textures covering the walls at the most noticable of places.
And for a pack, that started with decent Netricsa messages with a few grammatical errors here and there, this map seem to have forgotten that Netricsa messages are existent at all. Not to mention, that the pop-up text is now in German for some reason.
After all this, I’d probably give this map the worst possible grade I could give, yet Philer’s latent brilliance strikes yet again. I already mentioned those two arenas where the gameplay is truly fun and interesting. One of them that plays with colored lights and looks quite pretty; not to mention the interesting “blinding kleers” which give battles an interesting new intensity.
And as a cherry on the shitcake, he manages to appease my greatest pet peeve as well when it comes to custom maps. Instead of having a disappointing last battle, or just a Reptiloid at the end for a boss, this map actually uses Mordekai, which is a REALLY welcome sight and many of kudos from me. Not to mention, there’s even a twist on this fight as well! Incredible.
Unfortunately, the end cutscene bugs out yet again, so there’s no end for this mappack at all. What a shame, because I remember this cutscene working back then, and it actually has some custom speech from Booger himself, which is a great WOW! for a Sam fan.
Score: 34/100 – Poor
Well what can I say? The map pack, in the end, with all in… is decent. It has its best moments just as it has its worst, but in the end, I’d say it worths at least a playthrough, just to see how to do something unique and how to not do many others (especially cutscenes). It really feels like an early work of Philer, and we know well that he became better after this. So it gets a Beginner’s Achievement from me, for unique design.
I also heard that the map pack is actually a lot of fun in Co-op (most likely due to the lack of cutscenes), so hey give it a try.
Overall Score: 55/100 – Fair
– Reviewed by Solais