No cover. All man. So reads Serious Sam 3: BFE's macho tagline. Those other shooters you've been playing? The ones that let you hide behind things? You were playing a coward. You had formless voxels where your bump-mapped man-genitals should have been. Serious Sam despises you and your modern FPS standards, in a fun way that's sometimes difficult to appreciate as intentionally ironic.
As with the previous games, this is an FPS that prides itself on bedlam and ultraviolent, large-scale carnage versus tens of thousands of streaming, screaming monsters. It's defiantly old-school PC in tone.
Even Sam's motion feels weirdly outlandish as he scoots in all directions like a hyperactive ghost, nimble and carefree. This despite carrying a dozen different kinds of weapon, from sledgehammer to shotguns, miniguns, rocket launchers and a leash weapon obviously 'inspired' by Bulletstorm.
Enemies spawn in their droves, from cyclopic fanged gorillas and skeletal chain-chucking horses to giant scorpions with miniguns for arms, and headless, sprinting, bombfisted kamikaze soldiers.
The latter are particularly obvious above the mayhem thanks to their rapidly approaching, unending screams. Each kind of enemy has its distinct movement and attack patterns, its own audio cues and weaknesses, and it's in prioritising the most dangerous – picking them out of a clattering bunch of 50 or 60 foes – that challenge lies. Of course, challenge also lies in the scarcity of ammo, the lack of regenerating health (on anything above the easiest two difficulty settings) and the unforgiving relentlessness with which its developers, Croteam, inundate you with angry creatures.
So hooray that the campaign is playable in anything up to 16 player co-op, and although the population of enemies is adjusted to match, the proceedings are decidedly more relaxed when played this way. You respawn on death, for example, rather than having to restart from your last save. Alternative game modes allow you to enforce a lives limit if you want to maintain some risk of adversity. Either way, Serious Sam is at its most gratifying in co-op.
Survival mode is a distillation of the form, pitting you and (if you like) co-op buddies against waves of increasingly tough enemies in one of two arenas.
Despite introducing a Duke Nukemlite plot as shlocky as it is charmless, the singleplayer campaign feels like a lingering, grudging concession. A heavily templated and mazelike series of levels into which the meatpaste of Serious Sam's sublime and pure death arcade has been pumped. There are a few moments of beautiful design: the occasional genius placement of a surprise onslaught of kamikaze soldiers, the triggering of a shrewd mousetrap. There's little beauty in the visuals though, somehow greyer and less expansive than 2005's second Sam. It's left to some swanky new particle effects to impress us.
The return of Serious Sam's most familiar weapons and enemies, at the expense of much new content, will just as likely leave you exhausted as elated. But if you felt even vaguely like fist-pumping upon hearing the tagline 'No cover. All man.' give Serious Sam 3: BFE a punt.