Serious Sam 4 Review – Same Old Sam, Few New Tricks
It’s been ten long years since Croteam released the last Serious Sam and a lot of things have changed in the shooter genre. Instead of single-player experiences players are now drawn towards multiplayer competition in the numerous battle royales on the market. The release of Serious Sam 4 swims against this popular gaming trend opting instead to return players to a bygone era of plentiful guns, even more plentiful enemies, and a badass, wisecracking protagonist. Does returning to this era of shooter work? See my thoughts in the Serious Sam 4 review below.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
Serious Sam 4 puts players back in control of the titular character Sam “Serious” Stone, a t-shirt wearing, pun dropping Captain of the Earth Defense Force. The Earth Defense Force is a small military organization that is locked in battle with Mental, a mysterious alien overlord, who is hell bent on destroying the galaxy to complete a once every hundred thousand years cleanse. Although Serious Sam 4 is numerically a sequel, it is actually a prequel to the events of Serious Sam 3. This means you get to fight in the often alluded to Mental Wars. To reach this war you need to complete the game’s 15-episode campaign where you travel across various locations fighting aliens in Rome, France, and even Russia.
When I first loaded up the game the first thing I noticed was the graphics. While they are visually passable they are in no way groundbreaking. In most of the levels you will notice flat assets and strange character models of both Sam and the NPCs around him. The character models in particular look and move like they were designed years ago. Things like the melee attack, jumping, driving vehicles and even some lip-sync are just comically bad at times and feel no better than what you would see in previous titles of the series. While there are a ton of graphic options to tinker with to get the game looking better it never really seemed to pop out at me visually no matter what I adjusted.
Graphics aside Serious Sam 4 has attempted to modernize its levels to play out as large open-world maps. These large levels feature vehicles you can drive along with hidden secrets to find and side objectives to complete. This added size means there are more reasons to explore every corner of the map and more to do in-general than previous games in the franchise.
A large reason for these open areas is to accommodate the new legion system which allows for more enemies to be on screen at the same time. Barring the end-game battle I never really noticed a major increase in enemies compared to previous titles in the series. This is unfortunate as much of the selling around this game is around how many enemies can be on screen at one time, but it never really translated in my experience.
With that said the pivot to more open-world type of environments is a welcome new direction for the game but doesn’t fully reach the heights of current modern gaming. Many concessions players may be use to in large open area games are somewhat absent with the most egregious being a simple map system. While there is a way-point system available I found it doesn’t really provide the same experience as being able to view a map showing where you’ve been and haven’t been. My other complaint about these large areas is they sometimes feel rather empty with little to nothing around besides trees.
Like other games in the series Sam wields a large assortment of weapons ranging from handguns to cannons to deal with the 30+ enemies in the game. Many of these weapons come directly from previous games, but feature new alternative fire modes and the ability to dual-wield everything. Alongside the arsenal of weapons there are a number of gadgets you can unlock to aid you on the battlefield ranging from a throw-able blackhole to a holographic decoy. All of these can be accessed through the new weapon wheel that has been added to help facilitate changing weapons and gadgets quickly on the fly. Sam can also be upgraded by finding skill points to improve how effect he is in combat.
As with the previous titles in the series the core combat gameplay is really the highlight of the game. Shooting hordes of enemies with different weapons and deploying gadgets that clear the battlefields to a thumping soundtrack is still as fun as it was ten years ago. Combat challenges you to be on your toes to avoid enemies which means constantly being on the move by either strafing, sprinting, or jumping. This movement is fast and fluid but lacking in a few actions that would further elevate the chaos in the form of sliding and mantling.
Overall I can say Serious Sam 4 plays it insanely safe. The game is exactly what fans have come to expect out of the series in both good and bad ways. Although there are little bits of modernization in the form of graphics, the legion system, open-world type maps and some tweaks to combat these modernizations don’t fully bring it to to the level of similar style shooters you can play like Doom and Shadow Warrior 2. As a game with really fun core gameplay it’s unfortunate to see so little done with a game years in the making. The lack of any real advancement or overall polish just leaves you with an overall average, forgettable experience.
Code provided by Croteam and Devolver Digital.