Guest review – The Lost Soul [SS3 BFE]

The Lost Soul

Author(s) : Marko Dzoni
Game : Serious Sam 3: BFE
Type : Campaign

When it comes to Serious Sam 3 modding and mapping, we must distance ourselves from the ideas of the old Classic Serious Sam 1. If we look at it, the main game itself always sets a certain kind of model to how its levels should be for it, whether that is good or bad. Sometimes people try to keep to that model, sometimes, they go against it.

So when it comes to Serious Sam 3, it is definitely a whole lot more advanced than its predecessors. Its graphical fidelity is top notch, its moddability is beyond the complexities of SS1, where one had to know programming to make a new enemy. Its gameplay evolved as well, and while it’s not the best when it comes to SS3 (mostly due to the battle design and item layout of the vanilla levels), it is yet another model. The game now also has cutscenes, voiceovers and, in a way, a better story. The game also has a specific setting: Modern, post-apocalyptic Egypt, with aspects and tones of military, something that was missing from SS1.

So we have better graphics, better story, cutscenes, voiceacting and many other aspects to stand model for aspiring mappers, show “this is the bar you must reach”. Getting to this bar, with a complex editor of a more complex game, without an easy documentation to the said editor, which tools are still being experimented on by the experienced mappers; getting to this bar is indeed very difficult. One should use its own sense to determine, if their product is up to par with the original game. This knowledge of production values is now one of the more important things when it comes to building your own campaign.

And yes, I said “campaign” as with SS3, unlike SS1, the goal of most mappers became not to build a single map, but a multi-map campaign. Due to this, custom SP maps for SS3 are quite rare.

Summarizing the current present of Serious Sam mapping, I decided to look on such a campaign, that somehow fits to all those points raised above.

So a little about the campaign: It is supposed to recreate the hometown of the creator, called Kumanovo. I personally know nothing about the place, so I have no reference to how accurately it was rebuilt, so I’ll just grade the looks on its own merits. The character was also supposed to be not Sam, but some other person named Jason “Caspar” Wytee, but that’s not a huge change.

Level 1 – Apocalypse in Kumanovo

The first level starts with the usual intro, which is used all over the place since SS3 mapping exists: the player getting up from the floor. The first part of the level is a slow walk, setting the mood, similarly how SS3 started. The music playing during this section is quite fitting and dramatic, though it is certainly not from the vanilla game. One other specialty is that there’s some voice acting: It is amateurish, yes, but it is certainly an added flavor. The problem with this however is the lack of subtitles. This is something of a problem that will be present all over the campaign. Now, it seems that there are only just a handful of people around, who knows how to make the proper subtitles in SS3, so I’d forgive this overlook, however there were also many other ways people used to create makeshift subtitles, so there was no way this should have been gone without them. As this problem is present all around the campaign, this could lead to cutscenes where it is very difficult to understand what the characters are talking about. Yes, there are also cutscenes, but we will talk about that later.

During this intro sequence, we can also notice that the creator haven’t paid much attention to modeling the building properly either. Overusing official resources is something that is popular with the current generation of SS mappers, and I’m guilty of that as well. However, this area have so many z-fighting models, that it’s more like a Z-Fight Club! I know I shouldn’t talk about the Fight Club, but this is definitely something that would have been pretty visible to not only the creator, but the testers as well. At least covering them up should have done better. (Those who don’t know, Z-fighting is when two models/meshes overlap and they are “fighting” to appear on the top, resulting in flashing textures). Fortunately, it all goes mostly better once you exit the building.

There is one more thing about this opening area I’d like to go another tangent about before moving on. When the level starts, there is a LUA error displayed in the console. LUA errors are serious, please mappers of today, don’t just leave them there hanging!

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Too bad there are other graphical errors all over the map.

Anyways, moving on, when we reach the outside area, the game suddenly goes back being just how Serious Sam 3 is. Going around a ruined city, fighting some enemies with little to no weaponry, scavenging pickups here and there. This part of the Vanilla game I was always okay with, it encourages exploration and gives this “survivor” feeling to the corridor battles. We also meet a new Beheaded enemy, which has weird color and a strange attack where it shoots two kinds of projectiles at once. I personally do not really find any real use of this enemy type other than a second kind of rocketeer for a variety effect, that seems to be wasteful when it comes to introducing new foes – something, I consider to be one of the best opportunities when it comes to SS3 mapping, something that should be done by most mappers who do campaigns.

Soon, the player arrives in a park, which is a nice wide area. Unfortunately however, it looks quite bland, with only two textures used for terrain painting and no usage of stains texture at all. There are at least some new lamp models, basic they are. Now, the fight in this area is mostly okay, however what I find the best in the area are the events setting the mood. There’s a stray cat running around while there’s also a part when there’s an explosion that makes many birds fly away in the distance. These things set the mood of the level perfectly, bonus points for that one.

Unfortunately, while the park area is mostly okay gameplay-wise, there are two other things that makes things worse, and unfortunately, they are a mainstay in the campaign. One is the “enemy introduction” cutscene, a second long cutscene just showing a new enemy appearing. This is seriously annoying. I get that the creator probably wanted to recreate that scene from Vanilla SS3 when the bull appeared out of the box, but that only happened once, and it showed some special way of intro to the enemy. When it comes to this campaign, there are like three of these mini-cutscenes and they only show the enemy spawning. An annoying and wasteful kind of cutscene, if you ask me. The other mainstay is the sudden drop in FPS, due to no visibility sectors at all. Optimizing is one of the most important parts of SS3, and I know, that Visibility Sectoring is still a dark arts, known by the very few in the mapping community. However, it is still certainly a problem.

The area after that is where the first longer cutscene is triggered (there’s also a very cool chopper scene there, another one that sets the mood nicely). This leads to yet another mainstay problem of the campaign, the design of cutscenes. It is mostly okay when it comes to the characters not moving their lips as lipsynch animation in SS3 is something that right now currently a single person who knows how it is done, in fact, he only just found out about the specific method used about a week ago. However, cutscenes themselves are barely dynamic and such, very boring, focusing on people just standing around and speaking to each other. Not to mention, that due to the lack of subtitles, the conversations are mostly impossible to understand due to the amateur voice acting and accents used.

What follows this cutscene is a quite decent fight, which works well, though sometimes there are a few overspawning and enemies getting stuck. The problem here is the music, which suddenly is that one famous song from Far Cry 3, “Make It Bun Dem”. Now the song is good (which is incredible considering its Skrillex) and it was obviously made with reggie undertones to create this Haitian drugger stereotype music when you go around burning weed and getting high on the smoke. It is a very awesome mission in Far Cry 3, said to be the best and indeed it oozes with style. However, this song is now used here in Serious Sam 3, without the context, without the flames, just because… it’s cool I guess? Unfortunately, this really doesn’t go very well with a fairly normal battles.

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Another problem was finding the damn C4 to blow up the gates… that is already blown up, yet none at the same time? It’s Schrödinger’s Gate, everyone!

The parts following these are mostly okay. From what I’ve played, the battles are mostly balanced and can be fun on the later parts of the level, though I think maybe the “there’s a long corridor before me, enemies come down on them” aspect is maybe a little overused.

When it comes to general looks, mood and atmosphere, the level mostly succeeds portraying an apocalyptic East European city (even if it’s Macedonia). There are many great bits here and there to set the mood, even if one of them was copied over from the Contamination campaign. It certainly looks like that the author have placed much much effort into making this one map… Too bad I can’t say the same about the others.

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The level generally looks okay, with the exception of a few, but very obvious stretched textures and the bugs shown above.

Now that I explained many of the mainstay problems of the campaign, we can move to the other maps, where I’ll mostly focus on the gameplay and layout of the level.

Score: 50/90 – Fair

Level 2 – Back to School

This level takes place in the school of the author. It starts in a dark area, reminiscent of the Museum level of the Vanilla game. First I was actually impressed how the author managed to use the museum assets to make this part of the level seem like an old, overgrown and ruined school. Unfortunately, while there’s a very effective jumpscare at one point, this part of the level is just a corridor, which is really a shame. You can’t enter any of the classrooms and the stairs to the next floor is blocked. It really seems like that the author really only recreated the parts of the school which he was familiar with and only that. Pity, because the concept was good.

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Despite some stretched textures and the leaking in lights, the corridor is mostly well made.

Unfortunately, this scene has like no gameplay whatsoever and after a cutscene that is similarly hard to understand as the others, you are suddenly warped to the courtyard of the school. Now, I know I used the word “mainstay” a lot, but this is really another of it. There are multiple cutscenes in the campaign that just flat-out warps th players around, instead of letting them walk there. It is highly annoying.
This part of the level is basically just a large arena, filled with many enemies and… that’s about it. You fight and then the level just ends suddenly. What.

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Not to mention, this part of the level looks horrible with stretched textures all over the place. Also the FPS drop when looking the other way.

The music is also pretty horrible. When it comes to music in a Sam game, I like to think that there’s a certain style: atmospheric peaceful and fight music that fits the general pace and feel of the level, with some rock/metal music for the large battles; the music is rarely chosen because the author likes it, but because it fits the level the most. However, with this map it seems that the author did chose music that was of his liking and not something that would fit that particular scene.

After such a good beginning, this level ends up with incredible laziness. Not to mention, while the level is supersmall, it still manages to drop the framerates to almost unplayable levels. It is just flat-out horrible. Yet, the potential was there to explore such a scary concept as a dark and abandoned school. Yet that was thrown out the window at the end. Pity.

Score: 8/90 – Abysmal

Level 3 – Construction Site

The third level takes us to a construction site, as the title implies. After yet another incomprehensible cutscene (which was at least funny due to the unmoving car and the engine sounds that sounded like it was made with someone’s mouth), a pretty linear, yet not bad looking level follows after. The mainstay problems are still there, like low FPS, nonfitting music (and if I recall, it was even an SS3 Vanilla music this time around).

The first area opens with an Auto-Turret Puzzle which was sort of different than the original ones, so a plus point there. However, most of the level after that part mostly turns into a pretty linear corridor shooting segments.

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It looks quite good at points, too bad it’s so linear.

There are also new enemies on this level: One of them is this weird fat monster that mainly attack in melee. I know this one is from a Russian survival map (can’t recall the name), but while it looks cool, it is really slow and mostly useless. The other new enemy is a green arachnoid hatchling with spikes on its back that shoots magic missiles. Gameplay-wise its a good alternative to the standard Arachnoid (it is not hitscan at least), however, its LOD models were never changed, so from far it looks like the normal arachnoids.

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Them new guys.

After an underground area with black water, the player reaches the end gauntlet through some pipes hanging so high in the sky that dropping from its ladder causes some medium amounts of fall damage and could kill the player without ways to avoid it. Certainly of a bad design, not to mention that from the ladder, the player can easily see through the illusions of level design.

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I can see my house from here!

The level ends with a very crowded gauntlet type fight, which is made much more difficult than it should by having very few pickups placed to the more strategic locations.

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I think I might have had to switch on God mode for this part.

Overall, while this level was miles better than the atrocity of the previous, it still feels lazy compared to the first level.

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At least we have helicopters that can change form between a Black Hawk and an Apache!

Score: 28/90 – Poor

Level 4 – Mischief and Mayhem

After a fairly good and two incredibly lazy levels I had my doubts that the fourth one will be somewhat of a difference. Unfortunately, my premonitions were right.

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It starts with our cool transforming chopper getting shot down as an apache then turning into a Black Hawk upon crashing, just for good measure.

My first bad vibe came from the looks of the level. While the terrain painting is not too shabby, the lack of any sort of stain texture makes the level look incredibly plain and empty. There’s really not much else to see on the map, as it mostly consist of two areas yet again: a village in the middle of the nowhere reminding us the Silent Riddler level of the Vanilla game, and… a nothing in the middle of nowhere. Yes, unfortunately to us, the level design yet again shows laziness on this final level, when one would expect something more epic.
Going with the plain layout design is a mostly decent battle that ramps up slowly as approaching the door the player must cross. The battle consist of many varieties of enemies, which is really not that bad, and the enemies themselves work together quite well. In battle design at least this level shows something of a similarity with the first level.

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On the other hand, the enemy pathing could be better. That scrapjack was so scared he just started crying in a corner.

Two problems I’ve encountered in this scene were the fact that I had really no idea where I got the Devastator at the beginning of the level, and the fact that I bugged out the key items needed for the gates to open. I think I was supposed to get to the gate first -then- getting the keys, but I did this in the opposite order and thus I couldn’t continue at all without cheating. Overall, not a bad scene at all.

Can’t say the same about the second area though. It starts yet again with a Cutscene that is really bugged (lots of errors in the console) and then the game warps me into Bum **** Egypt, where there’s really only just a truck with a load of pickups and nothing much else.

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Also, the car featured in the cutscene is nowhere near where the player is warped. Not to mention, look at that cool dune. How awesome it would have been if we could have just cross that section on foot, fighting against enemies coming from behind that dune. Such a wasted potential.

What follows here in the middle of nowhere is a really easy and boring final battle to a music too intense for the sake of it. And then there’s a boss, which is a modified Highlander Bride. It shoots almost completely unavoidable fireballs that actually do little damage, however the thing is big and fast, so it can get too close too easily, not to mention its incredible health. Overall, I found this boss to be pretty boring with its singular attack pattern of almost unavoidable projectiles and no other enemies spawning around it, making this final boss just a boring bullet sponge. It is really disappointing, as from the other enemies (especially the arachnoid) it is obvious that the campaign was made after the Edit Data was released for SS3, and that fact can give so many options for a mapper/modder to create a boss that at least have several different kinds of attacks. Disappointing.
And then just as suddenly the boss appeared without fanfare, the credits are rolled after its death. No real conclusion to the story, whatever it was.

Then the player is warped to an untextured place and stays there forever. What.

When it comes to the level, while it is certainly very vast yet plain looking and the second part is questionable at best, it is still mostly a quite lazy level, just like the previous two.

Score: 38/90 – Below Average

Overall, the campaign itself is mostly a disappointment. It starts fairly well, despite many of the bugs and graphical glitches, the opening level was built with the care of an amateur, but still care which really shows in its gameplay and set pieces that sets the mood brilliantly. However, what follows afterward feels pretty much like an afterthought, made in a few weeks after the first level that took months. They are short, small yet laggy, they sometimes play well, but boring, and the whole thing ends with a negative bang, a mundane final fight that expresses almost everything that is wrong with the campaign. I do weep for it, as the potential was there, but it was ruined with lazy design and a collection of mainstay problems.

On the other hand, if nothing else, the first level certainly showed that with enough effort, the author could do much more better than this. I’ll be certainly curious about his future growth in skills. I would recommend playing through at least the first level, to see some ideas about setting the mood.

Overall Score: 34.4% (124/360) Poor

Download: [Links are defunct, no backups found]

– Reviewed by Solais

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