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Sunday, November 18 2018 @ 04:28 PM -08

Serious Sam 2

I loved Serious Sam 1 and its add-on. Sure, the monsters were not particularly smart, but there sure were a LOT of them. The game was funny and inventive and the combat was intense.

In terms of co-op gaming, I consider SS1 to be the benchmark against which all other first-person shooters should be measured. Playing through SS1 cooperatively was so easy it was utterly painless:

* no CD swapping required
* only one serial/key required for LAN play
* very simple game setup
* comprehensive options, including friendly fire, infinite ammo, starting point, player appearance, difficulty level, monster difficulty geared to number of players, pickups stay
* save and restore games (that's right, you can save your co-op game at any time and pick it up later with the same or different co-op partners)

That last one, the ability to save and load co-op games, is almost unprecedented in the world of FPS games. The only other game with that feature I can think of is Quake II. That game had a few problems with its co-op mode, though: pickups were not shared ("Do you need shotgun shells? I have 20.") and friendly fire could not be disabled.

So it was with a mixture of dread and anticipation that I bought and brought home Serious Sam 2. Would it have some nasty copy protection that required a CD and/or key for each player, even on a LAN? Would it even support co-op play? The manual provided the answer: YES. What a relief!

One of the best things about SS1 was that even a fairly old system could run it. Checking the minimum specs in the manual (something I normally do BEFORE buying), I was dismayed to find that a 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 was required. What? Even Battlefield 2 only needs a 1.8. My second game machine is only a 1.8 (upgraded for BF2, in fact), so at this point I was starting to doubt whether co-op SS2 play was in the cards, at least for a while.

Installation on my main game machine was painless. Four CDs, as opposed to the original game's single CD, pointed to the likelihood of richer visual content. Apparently a DVD version is available. Unfortunately, you need the "play" CD in the drive to start SS2, unlike SS1. On the plus side, the CD required is the fourth and last one, so there's one less CD swap involved in getting up and running.

SS2 has all the depth of the original game. Settings abound and are appropriately associated with player profiles. Yay! Lots of ways to configure controllers.

I started installing SS2 on the second machine, thinking the worst: that the installer would refuse to continue because the minimum specs were not met. Surprisingly, the installation completed, and guess what? The game plays fine on that machine! I'm not sure what's going on with the minimum specs in the manual and on the game box, but they don't seem to be correct.

I started SS2 on my main machine, created a LAN game, moved the CD from that machine to the second machine, started SS2 there and joined the LAN game. No problem! A friend and I played through several levels cooperatively and had a blast!

A few other things I should report:

* You can configure pickups to stay if you are already maxed out on related items.
* There seems to be a maximum limit on lives. The default is three, but you can set it to ten. Also, you can acquire more lives through in-game actions. In our testing, this was never an issue as we didn't die. But at some point we'll increase the difficulty and then this may be a big problem.
* There is already a patch. The patch fixes several annoyances with the user interface and a few other glitches.
* It doesn't look like you can save games at arbitrary locations. Instead, a system of checkpoints is used. I may have overlooked something here, so I'll keep looking.

Gameplay is similar to SS1, but improved in every conceivable way. Ditto for the graphics, sound and music. The weapons and monsters are very cool and once again very creative. Monsters still come at you in enormous waves, but this time you're fighting FOR something, not just to stay alive: often you are fighting to protect an NPC or a village. This enhances the already very involving gameplay.

Rating: 9/10 overall; 9.5/10 co-op gaming.