Review: Serious Sam 3: Jewel of the Nile (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Serious Sam 3: Jewel of the Nile
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Croteam
Publisher: Mastertronic
Release Date: 10/17/12

It may seem disappointing to have DLC content available day of release, but Serious Sam 3 has something of an excuse for this. Serious Sam 3: BFE is an actual standalone PC title that has been available since about November of last year, and Jewel of the Nile only recently released as an expansion for that particular release; as such, the DLC release coincided with the XBLA release of the game itself, so, hey, might as well push out the DLC to go along with it. Jewel of the Nile is theoretically a solid expansion to the game; it adds in a three level campaign for those who are interested in continuing the single player experience, while also attaching a fully functional online competitive play mode to the game, allowing players to take it to their friends Serious Sam style. Granted, the pricing structure is a little weird; the PC version of the expansion is ten dollars to the fifteen it costs on XBLA, while the PC game is still forty dollars compared to the fifteen it costs on XBLA, so you could buy both components for the cost of the PC game on XBLA if you wished. Whether or not you’re going to find it worthwhile to spend fifteen dollars on Jewel of the Nile, on the other hand… well, that’s a different story altogether.

Note: as there is a full review of Serious Sam 3: BFE available that discusses the mechanics of the experience in full, this review will be strictly dedicated to what content Jewel of the Nile brings to the table. As such, for any discussions on the mechanics of the core game itself, please refer to the above linked review.

Jewel of the Nile, as noted, breaks down into two content additions: a fully functional three chapter campaign that stands alone (sort of) from the main game, and a fully functional multiplayer versus component. As such, we’ll treat these components separately and discuss them independent of one another, starting with:

THE CAMPAIGN.

Jewel of the Nile takes place during the events of the actual game, in-between the ninth and tenth chapters (The Power of the Underworld and The Lost Temples of Nubia to be exact). As we join the plot, Sam has powered up the Time Lock, but en route to his well deserved rest and relaxation, the EDF comes to him with a new mission. It seems the Time Lock has failed to start up, and he has to head to Philae to engage some sort of failsafe that involves traveling all over creation (relatively speaking) and finding lots of statues and stuff. On a plot level, the plot of Jewel of the Nile is a good bit more self-contained than it the plot of the main game, but more importantly, Sam’s dialogue, both by himself and with Quinn, is a lot more entertaining this time around. The writing is a lot more amusing on purpose here, and Sam comes across as a lot more interesting in this game than he did in the main game, largely because his dialogue is better written. It’s still not compelling in a conventional sense, you understand, but it’s less “amusing because Sam’s a satirical meathead” and more “amusing because Sam says actually funny things”, which is an improvement.

The campaign is spread out across three levels, each of which has a major objective to complete. The first chapter is set on one fairly decent sized island, and the major goal has you running around to different parts of the island, collecting various weapons that around the island (since you start with squat) and finding five statues to place so that you can move on. The second chapter is a more conventional level in structure, which involves finding a hidden statue in a tomb full of puzzles so that you can collect a disc to resolve the issue with the Time Lock. The final chapter is basically a straight up “kill everything that moves” level that allows you a chance to play around with the jetpack without having to deal with a massive boss monster at the time, though after you’ve resolved the Time Lock issue there is also a giant boss monster to kill, because why not? The campaign adds no mechanical elements to the game to speak of, though it does add in a new enemy, highlight enemies that don’t get much time in the main game, and makes two of the hidden weapons (the laser gun and the sniper rifle) main weapons to play with so you’ll be able to spend more time with them. In those regards, it’s a fine expansion pack, and it’s not bad if you take it in that context.

If you take in the whole of the experience however, the campaign, in the most charitable way I can express this, is not at all very good.

For one thing, while it’s nice that some of the hidden weapons are given front and center treatment this time around, the fact that virtually no new content is added to this expansion, relative to its price, is annoying. One new enemy and a boss you’ll see once does not a worthwhile content addition make, and some kind of new gun would have been useful and fun. Further, while the laser gun is okay, the sniper rifle is basically only useful because the game sticks a bunch of harpies into the campaign for you to shoot; otherwise you’ll basically never touch the thing, which is annoying given that the campaign gives you a whole lot of ammo for it, doubly so since you can’t carry a whole lot of ammo for it anyway. That things like the Gatling gun and the cannon are relegated to hidden weapon status as a result becomes annoying in a hurry as well given how useful they are in the main campaign; if you’re going to sub out weapons to showcase hidden weapons the player never uses, don’t sub out the useful weapons. It also bears noting that the campaign is basically three hours long, at the most, and two of those three hours will be spent hunting for key items, which is basically completely counter-intuitive to what the franchise is best at. The entire first stage involves running all over the same island, backtracking like crazy to find five statues in order to move forward, and it’s annoying at best and excessively lazy at worst. The second chapter features a temple that involves, and I can’t even believe I’m typing this about a Serious Sam game, a timed jumping puzzle that is the absolute worst both in a general sense and relative to the game itself. Oh, and the final boss is basically just a gigantic version of the Mancubus-looking monsters, the Scrapjack, with a cannonball firing arm that will kill you in one hit and a Mjolnir hammer, which is cute, but adds nothing to the experience.

In short: if you’re buying the expansion for the multiplayer, or for the whole package, that’s… well, we’ll get into that later, but if you’re buying it for the campaign expansion only, you really shouldn’t.

THE MULTIPLAYER.

Jewel of the Nile also adds in nine competitive modes (eight when playing offline) for you to frag your friends in, locally in split-screen or online through Xbox Live. The mode offers a fairly robust mix of staples in the genre, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, but it also offers some less regularly seen modes to compliment the mix. Instant Kill is a “one shot one kill” mode where everyone has sniper rifles and whoever hits first kills the opponent, to keep things frantic. My Burden is an objective based mode, where one person holds the “burden item” and earns points while doing so, and everyone else tries to kill them to take the item and score themselves. Beast Hunt and Team Beast Hunt (which can only be played online) dump you into the main campaign missions and reward players for killing more enemies than their opponents… as well as for killing other players, of course. Finally, Last Man Standing and Last Team Standing are your standard limited respawn multiplayer modes that play out until only one person or team is left. From a sheer variety standpoint you’ve got a lot of options to fool around with, and you can play these locally with up to four players (two in Beast Hunt) or online with up to eight players, as noted, so if you have a local friend or friends you want to kill instead of team up with, you can go nuts.

In fact, as a competitive multiplayer mode, there’s a lot here to love, except for one small issue that seems almost not even worth mentioning, and yet, I feel I must…

Absolutely no one is playing it.

At all.

I was given the code to review Jewel of the Nile on October 17th, and in the time since receiving this code I have not seen one single game running that I could join or been able to get anyone to join a game I’ve tried to run in about ten attempts. Now, honestly, it’s generally never a good idea to make a gameplay mode separate from the core game, especially if it’s not a mode people are chomping at the bit for, and doubly especially if it’s the same cost as the main game. Jewel of the Nile exemplifies this point, as nearly a week removed from release, when there are people online who have completed the campaign on the highest difficulty setting, no one is playing online to join or invite. Even if a bunch of people jump into the expansion eventually, this could be weeks or months down the road when interest has waned, so there’s basically no significant player base at launch to even test the modes with. I literally had to test them locally because I couldn’t even convince my friends to spend fifteen dollars on the expansion, and hey, they’re mechanically fine enough. Granted, eight person multiplayer seems somewhat limited in this day and age, and there are at most four maps available to play on in any given mode save for Beast Hunt, which only allows four players anyway, but still. On a pure mechanical level the modes work as expected and are fine insofar as variety is concerned, you’ll just have a significant amount of difficulty finding anyone to play with, which is problematic, moreso if you’re looking for Achievements and realize two of the Achievements can only be won online.

IN CONCLUSION.

Jewel of the Nile is an expansion pack that reuses assets from the main game almost exclusively to create a short and largely unenjoyable single player campaign, while attaching a competitive multiplayer mode that only offers eight player support and a maximum of four maps that no one is playing anyway. Assuming more players download the expansion at some point down the line it might be worth the fifteen dollars, if you’re really wanting to play Serious Sam 3 competitively, but it really would have been better served as a pack-in component. Charging, say, twenty to thirty dollars for the entire package would have been a much better option than this, honestly, as the end result is a DLC package most people are going to find to be too expensive for their tastes. Jewel of the Nile is too expensive relative to the cost of the core game to justify its asking price, given that it adds very little, does very little new, and has an extremely small player base to begin with.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: WORTHLESS
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: WORTHLESS
Appeal: WORTHLESS
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
As is noted above, Jewel of the Nile is an expansion pack that reuses assets from the main game almost entirely and, for fifteen dollars, gives the player a short and largely unentertaining single player campaign as well as competitive multiplayer that only offers eight player support, four maps, and a meager player base. The game still looks and sounds fine, the plot is better, there are plenty of modes to play online if you’re so inclined and everything plays as well as it does in the main game. That said, virtually no one is playing this online, there are other games you could be playing competitively online that are far better in terms of features and player base, and the campaign missions are basically poor at best. If this goes on sale for, say, five dollars, Jewel of the Nile might be worth downloading for a laugh, but as it is, an expansion that costs as much as the full game and offers virtually no useful or enjoyable content is not something to be recommended.

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