Serious Sam, alongside the likes of Duke Nukem, was once an icon that towered just as tall as any FPS hero back in the day. Some would argue that our man Sam has had his time to shine, but a fourth and upcoming mainline title will argue otherwise. There’s no denying that Serious Sam has made quite an impression in the world of gaming, with appearances, inspirations and references being injected into other games as the years go by. I Hate Running Backwards is no different, starting out as regular arcade shoot ’em down.
In fact, the very title is taken from the original Serious Sam games, something Sam would often utter when running backwards for excessive amounts of time, you guessed it; I Hate Running Backwards. The aim of the game is simple. Use one of the many characters within (swept up from various Devolver Digital properties) including Serious Sam himself, to take down a dizzying onslaught of enemy variants. Why the hell would you be doing any of that? Well, the game doesn’t really relay much in the way of a story, put it that way.
Sam, along with his buddies, find themselves stuck in mixed space-time continuum, ultimately leading to a battle against the giant Ugh-Zan and his never-ending army of monsters. This setup allows the game to take you to some fairly interesting locations, from the likes of the deserts of Egypt right up to the Aztec jungles, with deadly boss battles awaiting an encounter at the end of each location. Mercifully, the game grants you access to a variety of weapons, pimping you up for the hordes of enemies that are gunning for you.
Much like the hero roster, enemies are also lifted from Devolver Digital properties. This means that you can expect to see foes such as the iconic screaming headless kamikazes and more. The enemy variation here, grouped with needing to tackle foes in different ways, is quite a nice touch. Unlike the traditional shoot ’em up, the perception of gameplay is reversed. Rather than enemies coming from the top of the screen to the bottom, enemies come from the bottom of the screen to the top, where you’re endlessly running backwards.
The game throws in a range and perks and power-ups to make the adventure somewhat more bearable, but that doesn’t save it from becoming far too repetitive, far too quickly. Local co-op play sadly doesn’t do much to shake that off, irrespective of making it slightly more fun. The same can be said about its procedurally generated, fully destructible worlds, something I’m often quite a fan of. Initially, I was quite drawn to the experience, won over by its charm and humor; farting donkeys, freezers and other like-minded wacky perks.
I Hate Running Backwards only allows you a set amount of health and when it’s depleted, you’re set back to the start of the game. Rather than starting afresh, the game shakes up its map layout. This mashes up the enemy variations and the layout of each world as a result. This is both a blessing and a curse. You see, while it’s nice to see that the game alters its design frequently, it makes trying to learn the mechanics and enemy behavior a nightmare. The removal of trial and error in place of perseverance and endurance, just wasn’t fun.
This is especially true when you’re face to face with a boss, not knowing how the hell you’re expected to take it down or even hurt it. Sure, blasting away at enemies with firepower often gets the job done, but this game requires a tad more than firepower. It would have been nice to see a light tutorial or the occasional tip make an appearance, that’s for sure. Firepower will eventually leave you dry of ammunition unless you can find some more via destroying the environments to reveal hidden goodies; ammo, extra lives and so on.
If you find yourself out of ammo you’ll revert to your baseline weapon – a pistol, which is often slower and weaker than the more capable of weapons. There’s thirty four in total and you’ll need to keep playing the game to unlock them all for use in the game, located within glowing green crates on the map. Perks, on the other hand, require collecting a certain amount of yellow blocks. I’m not entirely sure what these represent, but they’re yellow, they’re blocky, so I call them the very original name of yellow blocks. Clever, no?
Once you’ve killed a set number of enemies or destroyed a set number of buildings, you’ll gradually see your yellow block count rise. This will gain you access to select from up to three (out of twenty eight) perks that will remain active until you die. Players will also find temporary power-ups; shields, infinite ammo and the usual gimmicks. Rounding this off is the ability to utilize a special attack, unique to each character, that will help clear up the screen of enemies in one way or another. This meter will gradually fill-as-you-kill.
Once figured out, the controls of the game remain simplistic and accessible, if indeed some trial and error is needed first. Not everything is about running here, in fact you’ll also get access to some vehicles throughout play. Furthermore, each distinct character comes with their own stats too, catering for a small band of play-styles. What baffles me the most about I Hate Running Backwards is that there’s clearly a lot of depth when it comes to the selection pool of characters and items, but the gameplay itself remains puddle deep.
The game just doesn’t evolve enough to stand the test of time, irrespective of its altering characters, large enemy pool, decent weapon, perk and power-up selection and the inclusion of daily challenges. It doesn’t matter what you take to or what you pick up, you’re still doing the same thing over and over, stage in and stage out. It doesn’t help matters that the game doesn’t look all that great. It’s colorful and well set, using some good colors and effects throughout, but it gets very boring to observe before long.
Arguably the most annoying aspect of the game is its difficulty curve, or lack thereof. This is hard to truly judge given the procedural generation, but I Hate Running Backwards plays at its absolute worse when you’ve given heaps of enemies and barely any ammo. Throw in the DIY learning curve and this soon becomes more frustrating than it’s worth. The audio and soundtrack also begins to drag-on before too long, ultimately making for a shoot ’em up that has great potential, but fails to truly deliver in the departments that it needed to.
I have no doubt whatsoever that this game will go down well with fans of its genre, but for me, it became far too tedious and repetitive for me to enjoy it after its initial allure. I Hate Running Backwards also comes with some very minor performance issues on Xbox One consoles, however, the developers assure us that performance issues are being addressed in a post-launch patch. This is expected to arrive within the near future, pending Microsoft’s certification process. When all is said and done, this could have been better if its very structure was more streamlined.
I Hate Running Backwards’ deep pool of characters, weaponry, power-ups and unlocks will no doubt capture the attention of fans of the genre. Its procedural generated content ensures that subsequent runs, for the most part, remain fresh and engaging. It’s a shame, however, that most of this is almost completely undermined by its repetitive foundation, steep difficulty curve and lack of evolving gameplay functionality.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.