Virtual reality is about to get serious, as CroTeam is bringing its longtime action hero Serious Sam to the VR space with the aptly named Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope. With him comes all of the raucous, bullet-riddled, and explosive action the world has come to expect from the Serious Sam franchise. I was given the opportunity to strap on an HTC Vive and get my hands on a demo of the new game at Devolver’s E3 2016 parking lot of wonder and awe, and when it came time to take the goggles off I felt a nostalgic rush few other games have produced in recent years.
The core concept is as basic as games come in 2016: enemies approach me and I have to neutralize them. Assorted monsters will appear and attack anywhere within a 180-degree first-person field of vision while I fend them off with a wide array of weaponry coming in all shapes and sizes. I have full aim of the entire space in front of me, using the Vive’s motion controllers to shoot at the oncoming hordes. If I needed a quick health boost all I had to do was target a floating heart in the environment and “shoot” it, causing a grappling hook to reach out and grab it.
Mercifully Serious Sam VR spares me from having to worry about the entire 360-degree VR space, focusing strictly on what’s in front of me, and as designer Mario Kotlar tells it, that was a conscious choice. “We considered enemies coming from behind,” Kotlar explained, “but first it’s hard to develop, and second when you die and you don’t know why you died, it’s kind of annoying for the player.” There’s also a technical limitation that hampers SSVR’s ability to go full circle, as Kotlar says “if we went full 360 degrees we’d have to design our game around it, and because of that we wouldn’t be able to fully support Oculus since it doesn’t track well when the player turns fully around.”
The demo I played thrust me into three waves of enemies within three different settings, all contained in some Egyptian-style planet. The first was the front of a large structure, with enemies attacking on two different levels, an equal mixture of hulking fire monsters chucking giant flaming boulders at me and swarms of bug-like creatures trying to get right in my face. Next was a dark and dimly lit area, what I assumed to be the basement of the earlier structure, with pillars blocking my field of vision and my weapons while enemies approached me around them.
This room was a lot less worried about shooting projectiles than it was filling my field of vision with abominations out for my head. Finally I was out of the basement and in a flat desert area where the difficulty rested less in the environment and more in the sheer volume of enemies that came after me. The third stage was the only one of the three that bested me and forced me to use a continue, and I fully blame the massive swarm of disgusting scarab-like bugs that absorbed all of my minigun ammo before the big goons came.
In between each stage I could use money earned in the previous round to purchase new weapons and ammo refills. Some of the weapons are basic, like the pistol, but others like the “hand cannon” that shot actual cannonballs and the minigun offered a bit more firepower. Best of all, whatever I purchased could be dual-wielded, and while that meant ammo was depleted faster it also allowed me a brief moment of dual minigun madness. Sometimes shooting wildly and not thinking about it is the perfect way to deal with monsters and headless screaming people.
As I blasted my way through the throngs of enemies I flashed back to the days of Lethal Enforcers or other arcade light gun games, experiences where the enemies came to me and I simply had to take them down. Granted I didn’t have access to rocket launchers or laser cannons back then like I do now, so the action is much more bombastic and entertaining, but the core concept really struck a nostalgic chord and made me wish I could see more than these three levels.
I also found it interesting that while most of the action took place in the Egyptian-style desert — and there will be other environments including “rainforest planets, swamp planets, ancient and alien civilizations” according to Kotlar — the “hub” of the game is set in outer space. Was this a choice made because of the game being in futuristic virtual reality or was it more than that? “The space theme meshed well with both the franchise and what we wanted to do; we wanted to have a lot of different environments, so why not make them different planets and travel between them with a spaceship?” Or, perhaps more simply, “we chose space because a bunch of us at CroTeam are simply sci-fi geeks, we as a team just love space.”
As this is Serious Sam’s first turn in virtual reality, that also means it’s the first time developing in VR for many of CroTeam’s crew, including Mario Kotlar. How did he feel about developing in a more complicated space for the first time? “VR is more exciting for me to develop because I’m a VR nerd,” Kotlar said, “but it’s also more challenging because it’s unexplored territory. The first teams to develop in VR are gambling with ideas, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and that’s exciting.”
Serious Sam VR is exactly the kind of game I expect to play in virtual reality: first person arcade-style action with plenty of explosive antics to boot. For an early demo with only three stages the game is incredibly polished and a ton of fun, which gives me hope that CroTeam will make it a fantastic VR experience in these early days of the medium. We won’t have to wait too long either, as Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope is currently slated for a Summer 2016 Steam Early Access release for both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive.
Article contributed by Jason Fanelli. Jason is a freelance writer with work appearing in publications like ArcadeSushi, ZAM, and EGM. You can follow him on Twitter: @BigManFanelli.