"We have no idea what they're going to put in there", Take 2 tells us of Serious Sam developer Croteam. "Sometimes the testers have to take screenshots of what they've seen just so anyone believes them. Last month one of them found a secret awning hung up high on a skyscraper. It was an in-game picture of Sam with his jeans round his ankles, taking the most luxurious dump. He was even giving a thumbs-up." Not so much an omen perhaps, more a sign of what Sam's plans for the competition come November.
"Somewhere along the line, first-person shooters forgot that they were supposed to be just that. Look back at the original Doom. It was non-stop. That's where Sam is coming from, where he's always come from in fact." We're surprised. When fighting waves of exploding clowns we defy anyone to know where they're supposed to be coming from.
Sam knows though - he's been here before. Back in 2002 Croteam developed Serious Sam, a brash, ultraviolent budget shooter which spawned something of a cult following with its outlandish characters and non-stop stampedes of enemies. It was the cure for itchy trigger-finger syndrome.
Poor Sam though - just when arch-nemesis Mental looks like he's gone for good, the spirits of the Sirian elders summon Sam to help them. A mysterious medallion of dazzling power has been broken up and scattered throughout the farthest corners of the universe. Seven worlds, 42 levels and endless enemies are all that stand between Sam and Mental regaining his powers. Time to fetch the cannonball gun again, then?
Playing Serious Sam II for the first time is a little like firing a nailgun into your own head. From the outset the forces of Mental are out trooping the colours, 50 on screen at any one time. It's the only FPS we can think of where you spent more time walking backwards than forwards. The endless waves of bad guys, the paper-thin plot, and brightly coloured visuals are just the tonic, but Croteam is being careful not to simply rehash what we've seen before.
New weapons are being introduced that may well have those testers rubbing their eyes and taking screenshots. The most noticeable is the erm, parroty-homing-bomb-thing which conveniently flies over to a target, drops a bomb, then comes back for more. If however, he doesn't find anything worth blowing up, the stupid bastard will come fluttering back, and drop the bomb at you. There are over a dozen weapons, ranging from a new plasma machine gun (spatters enemies blue before dissolving them), to the revolving pump-action shotgun.
Sam himself has new skills too, such as 'Serious Strength'. Thanks to some gloriously daft interpretations of what physics can do, when Sam powers up, he can rip chunks of scenery from around him and hurl them like weapons. He can pick up market stalls, boulders, vehicles, and anything that isn't bolted down, then send it careering across the screen, knocking everything over like skittles. We picked up a barrow and rammed it into a hole through which were pouring bad guys. They all backed up against it, then we rolled over a fizzing cannonball and the whole lot went up, raining down all kinds of fillets and organs a few seconds later.
For the new instalment, Croteam has been conjuring up an assortment of inventive and original enemies, ranging from ankle-biters to cloud-munchers. If it isn't small rocks suddenly sprouting legs and turning into scuttling bombs, it's a giant set of mechanised legs controlled by a detached T-Rex head. A detached T-Rex head that smokes cigars.
And although we've run screeching from robot spiders the size of 747s, those are only the 'medium-sized' enemies, apparently. We caught the faintest glimpse of an end-of-level boss before a cut-scene kicked in (Croteam didn't include them on our preview version so as not to spoil the surprise), and he was terrifying. Well, his ankles were, anyway. Word has it Croteam has submitted an application to the Guinness Book of Records, in the 'biggest videogame character' category.