Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour

A game by Crackshell for PC and Linux, originally released in 2017.
The Serious Sam series was born of an era where the popularity of first person shooters had crested, and developers began moving away from so-called “Doom clones” and into more story-driven content. Mindless corridor-crawling blastfests like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake were giving way to slower cinematic titles like Half-Life. Serious Sam represented a return to form, where blasting monsters – lots and lots of monsters – was the driving force of gameplay. But instead of tight quarters and dark winding hallways, the series offered wide open sunlit landscapes where enemies charged in from every direction.

Following Serious Sam: The First Encounter, Serious Sam: The Second Encounter, Serious Sam II, and a couple of third party console-exclusives, Serious Sam went away for a while… but he came back with a splash in Serious Sam 3: BFE, delivering on his tried and true formula with a seriously upgraded game engine. Concurrent with Sam’s triumphant return, publisher Devolver Digital commissioned a trio of indie games to herald his coming. These games were auto-runner Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack, turn-based RPG Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, and sidescrolling shooter Serious Sam: Double D.

Several years have passed, and then, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Egyptian desert, a new indie game breaches the horizon in the form of Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour, from Crackshell, the studio behind the top-down dungeon crawler Hammerwatch. Borrowing from the design sensibilities of their former work, Serious Sam’s Bogus detour is a top-down twin-stick shooter that leans toward the dungeon crawling genre as players explore huge maps while killing hordes of monsters and hunting keys to open the path forward.

The traditional Serious Sam arsenal is on tap here, with infinite ammo dual pistols, shotguns and super shotguns, Tommy guns, pulse rifles, rocket launchers, and some of the sillier Serious Sam faire like the cannon that launches impossibly huge cannonballs that roll through the environment smashing enemies into pulpy bits (but sadly just bouncing off of palm trees this time). Even Sam’s hammer makes an appearance to deliver heavy melee damage. Caches of ammo are found lying about, but not so many that you can be wasteful, and it’s helpful to know which weapons work best in which situations.

Enemies behave like they do in the numbered series, and similar strategies are effective here. The ever-clacking Kleer Skeletons are best handled by running backwards and turning your Tommy gun toward them, Gnaar go down with shotgun blasts, blue Biomechanoids fall with a well-placed rocket, and charging bulls can be dodged and pummeled from behind… or the player can stand his ground to let off a double-barreled shotgun blast at the last second. And no Serious Sam game would be complete without the series’ trademark Beheaded Kamikaze soldiers screaming as they run straight for you. Sound effects are carried over from the main series, so enemies sound like they should, as does Serious Sam, who is once again voiced by John J. Dick.

Per series conventions, hordes of enemies can be found waiting for Sam to get within killing distance, and sometimes they teleport in from nowhere. In addition, following the dungeon-crawling foundation, there are some enemy generators in the form of nests that spawn droves of harmless crabs, and solar-powered transmitters that spawn enemies indefinitely until they are destroyed. There are also areas where Sam must destroy electronic equipment represented by a tight cluster of lights, and each time he knocks out one of the lights, a couple of enemies teleport into the room, giving him the option to play it slow and safe, or spin up his minigun and deal with enemies and electronics alike with a hot spray of bullet butter.

In following with dungeon crawling traditions, Sam has one additional trick up his (tight, muscle-filled) sleeves: a dodge roll. This has a substantial impact on gameplay, as Sam is now able to extricate himself from situations where he would otherwise become surrounded, although this maneuver does make Beheaded Kamikazes less of a threat, as Sam can now dodge roll away to put some distance between himself and his volatile adversaries before unleashing hot holy hell in their direction. Traditionally, these enemies have a slightly faster running speed than Sam, so failing to destroy them in time – or poorly timing your reloads – was cause for a substantial loss of health. A secondary meter drains as Sam performs dodge rolls, preventing him from using the move infinitely, but it recharges quickly.

Breaking with the series’ PC roots, the player is unable to manually save his progress, and instead must rely on the game’s auto-saves. Additionally, the player has a limited number of chances to make it through a level before he runs out of lives and must start again from scratch (although the occasional hidden pair of sunglasses acts as a 1UP). This design unfortunately penalizes players for taking risks and participating in one of the series’ hallmarks… namely, walking into what is obviously a trap, letting everything rip, cycling quickly to whatever weapon still has some ammo left in it, barely escaping with Sam’s skin intact, and then hunting for every possible healing item and bit of armor to limp into the next area.

Here, it’s possible to simply run out of chances and be forced to try again. Furthermore, levels are enormous, often taking more than an hour to complete, requiring quite a lot of repeated gameplay upon death. For a game that is known for piling on the difficulty, springing surprises on the player, and suddenly unleashing gigantic terrifying bosses, there are plenty of chances for Sam to get turned to pudding with little warning. There are even a handful of insta-death obstacles that can turn your smile upside down as your favorite quip-spewing time-hopper drops his health meter to zero in the heat of battle. For those seeking assistance, players can team up with friends for up to 4P online co-op, or up to 12P in Survival mode, and there are also deathmatch and team deathmatch modes.

Levels are entirely open in design, allowing players to retrace their steps across the entire map if they so choose. Sam moves from the series’ traditional beginnings in Egypt before heading over to Greece, Turkey, and finally to a somewhat less terrestrial location. Level transitions take place on a colorful map with a Family Circus-style indirect route from one place to the next, along with a brief description of the challenge at hand, which is supplemented by updates from Netricsa as Sam makes discoveries and encounters new enemies.

As it typical of the series, there is no map, and finding your way forward is generally a matter of wandering around until you find an area that isn’t littered with dead bodies. Backtracking to find color-coded doors that correspond to color-coded keycards isn’t terribly difficult, but there is a level that requires Sam to search every corner of the map for four parts that are required to repair a plane. There is no indication of where to look, and once you’ve killed every enemy you can find, there’s no record of where you’ve already been.

Spread throughout the levels are yellow stars (also earned by levelling up), some of which are hidden behind objects or on the other side of breakable walls, but many are placed in areas that require the player to slay additional enemies. Collected stars can be spent on upgrades that include increased damage for Sam’s pistols, increased melee damage output, exploding enemies, the ability to do more damage when your health is low, speed boosts after killing enemies, and even a tradeoff upgrade that lets you deal more damage in exchange for taking more damage.

Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour was developed by Crackshell, which previously developed Hammerwatch. The game’s credits include Jochum Skoglund, Niklas Myrberg, Christian Nordgren, Victor Ankarberg, Angelo Geels, and Jonas Gustafsson. Music for the game was composed by Damjan Mravunac, who previously provided music for the main Serious Sam games and numerous other titles.

The game was published by Devolver Digital, which has published a number of 2D indie games including Serious Sam: Double D XXL, Luftrausers, Broforce, Foul Play, Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike, Hotline Miami, Hotline Miami 2, Titan Souls, Not a Hero, Ronin, Downwell, Enter the Gungeon, Mother Russia Bleeds, The Swords of Ditto, Minit, The Messenger, Crossing Souls, Gato Roboto, Katana ZERO, Carrion, GRIS, and Witcheye.