Serious Sam is one of those franchises that will probably never die due to its dedicated fan base. Its ideas are entrenched in old school shooter sensibilities, an archetype that’s dying out due to “hero shooters” and other highly refined “games as services” concepts taking over our wallets. It’s not that either of those is a bad thing, it’s just that Sam became increasingly more unique as time went on and he’s been around for over 15 years and counting. While the retro approach does work more often than not with an FPS framework, the spinoffs are a different story.
Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour will bring back plenty of memories of Smash TV as soon as you see its top-down conceit. Oh and memories of Serious Sam too, as most of its cast of characters is derived from the original games. As a shooter that basically tasks you with blowing stuff up, finding keycards, and then blowing more stuff up, it works. Enemy waves are generally designed in a clever manner, throwing combinations of melee and ranged denizens at you that force you to think quickly on your feet. Moving around and dodging feels satisfying, as do the really fun boss fights that mesh those quick keystrokes in a confined setting.
But the more you play it the more the various systems sort of give way to limitations that feel at odds with its arcade-y nature. For one, the dodge mechanic is limited to a certain number of rolls, and then slowly recharges over time. I definitely get that the team didn’t want people rolling or dashing through stages, but the cool down is jarring, especially when the game throws hundreds of enemies your way. The same goes for the reloading aspect, which is slow, clunky, and shouldn’t be there at all. The aforementioned baddie waves can also feel padded by way of enemy generators, which are placed haphazardly in several zones.
I have to go back to the map design again though as it’s labyrinthine nature is much better than the core of its action. Having to track down keycards for gates isn’t nearly as boring as you’d think because nearly every corner is filled with an empowering pickup or a new enemy to best. There’s also a lot of great use of perspective, and you can often bypass entire areas with obscure hidden secrets or just a clever use of shooting through certain gaps with a good eye. The clear visual style also does a good job of ensuring that every one of those nuances is visible, and the option to swap your character skin on the fly is a nice little touch as well.
If you can get over those hurdles Bogus Detour is packed with things to do, though I was often just fine with replaying select levels with various mutators. You can toggle cheat codes like infinite lives, silly modifiers, or more hardcore ones like a speed run mode. But the real long-term draw is probably multiplayer, which comes in the form of horde, free-for-all, and team death match. Well, the latter two anyway, as horde is a bit boring. There’s potential there with user maps in the future, but at the moment you’re stuck with tiny arenas, random power-ups, and a rote wave-based formula. You’ll want to wrangle up some friends for the more intense 12-player matches instead.
Serious Sam: Bogus Detour is a tough and gritty game, and I admire it for that. I just wish it was a little less clunky and more in tune with its crazy, exploding, over-the-top nature. With just a few tweaks this could be something I want to come back to on a regular basis as a great companion to the core series. In the meantime I’m happy that Croteam is still around keeping the dream alive.