The Serious Sam series is anything but — that’s the joke. It’s ridiculous, slightly absurd, and just a touch to the left or right of being truly great. It’s a franchise that tries to throw as much as it can at a player and gives them just enough equipment to get out of the situation by the skin of their teeth. For those scratching their brains, trying to remember if they’ve ever played one of these before, you’ll remember it as soon as that first horde of guys with bombs for hands comes screaming toward you in Serious Sam 4. It’s even scarier when they harmonize.
No one is showing up here for the story. As someone who has played every main title in the series, I figured this had to be some sort of alternate reality or reboot, but it turns out we’re just in a prequel. Other than this giving the developers, Croteam, the chance to play with some different characters, there isn’t too much to note. The world has been overrun by an evil alien dictator and the player is going to take control of Sam Stone to make sure he and his team can make them pay. Fire guns. Kill the aliens. Have fun. It couldn’t be simpler.
What Serious Sam 4 provides is some badass action. It may seem repetitive to some: enter area, shoot everything, cross the threshold into a new zone, run away and shoot again, with the occasional vehicle or mech section to try and keep things inspired. I was never bored and nothing felt truly monotonous, even fighting the same enemies over and over again. The weapons are fun and some of the boss fights were nice and hectic, keeping me engaged and satisfied to reach that calm after a big battle.
The controls are tight, standard for the first-person shooter genre, and easy to use. The weapon wheel can be a bit annoying at first, sticking or not pulling up the highlighted item, as well as having a small glitch where I couldn’t immediately turn left or right for a moment after exiting that menu. It was odd. A more substantial complaint I have is how the game doesn’t seem to reward creativity. In several areas, the designers wanted the player to approach a large group of enemies a specific way, but trying to find a way around them or a different path of assault wound up in disaster. The enemies I thought I had skipped simply rushed me a few moments later while I was still finishing off the first group and rolled over me. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but it felt like a light bit of railroading.
I enjoyed the talents as well, when I could find the points to upgrade them, and using those along with Sam’s growing arsenal is a pleasure. There are main story objectives, which are noted by yellow markers, and several side objectives, shown with blue symbols. Sometimes the side quests are tougher than the main encounters, and they aren’t always rewarding, but select ones are how Sam gets extra upgrades for his weapons. The main game isn’t very long, depending on the difficulty the player chooses and how much they die on the larger encounters, but for those who enjoy the gameplay, it won’t take much encouragement to go back through the game again.
Things can get difficult after those first few sections. More enemies come, stronger ones start rushing Sam in packs, and the various types of enemies mix to create more of a challenge. When everything hits, the fighting gets rough.
The game offers many checkpoints, but when death occurs, it respawns Sam a bit back with little to help him succeed, expecting the player to simply figure out what they did wrong. This sadly causes several death loops, where a bad save will have the player dying almost as soon as they spawn. The game addresses this though and recommends reverting to a previous save, and thankfully players are allowed to make manual saves at almost any time. One time I died on a secondary mission, just as the final enemy and I killed each other in a glorious showdown. The cutscene began to play as if I had won, but when it finished, the game told me I had failed and started me back at the previous checkpoint. That’s a good way to sum up Serious Sam 4’s difficulty and its glitches: amusing, a tad frustrating, but laughing makes it better.
Serious Sam 4 is absolutely gorgeous in some areas. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed with how vibrant parts of the game looked and the smoothness at which it ran. It looks like butter in motion, and still has a fresh car smell even when it isn’t quite perfect. The few odd rendering moments, pop-ins, and rushed textures that don’t shine in some of the distance shots do very little to take away from the game’s overall presentation. I liked the tweaked appearances for some of the enemies and many of the levels are colorful, if not lacking a bit of creative detail for the large environments themselves. The audio itself is more than serviceable, with a couple of tracks really getting me pumped to fight, but I wonder how many new players will be annoyed by the countless one-liners, meaningless banter, and, of course, the endless screaming. At least the humor is genuinely funny in a few parts.
When I first started the game, everything seemed to run like silk. I had a few small issues and sometimes it wouldn’t recognize my Xbox controller (forcing me to play with keyboard and mouse), but for the most part, nothing worth railing on. There was a day one patch that seems to have changed that. Now, I keep encountering a slew of technical difficulties.
I have been knocked out of bounds and off the map three times, but that was more humorous compared to falling down two mystery holes I couldn’t get out of. The AI is solid, but now enemies get stuck or die and decide to still stand in place until I clear the area, and then there are, of course, some more noticeable animation glitches now. Before the patch, I was ready to say that Serious Sam 4 was running surprisingly error-free on my Intel Core i7-8700K and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070, but where would be the fun in that, right?
There aren’t too many options worth noting, but I was glad to see they included some motion sickness accessibility along with a few other basics. I was excited that the HUD size could be increased, but doing so makes the text run off of the screen and in some instances — like upon death — has informative text smashing into each other in a garbled mess. It shows that these assistive tweaks were added, but not optimized to run smoothly with the rest of the coding. I’m not surprised, and this doesn’t hurt the game much, but it’s something I hope to see addressed more in the future.
I had a lot of fun with Serious Sam 4 and was excited to jump back in each time I booted the game up. Part of me just needed an FPS that didn’t require any thinking but still made my heart race and my butt clench at times, without having to care about the lore, and that’s probably the best way to play it. It’s an entry that adds to the series and lives up to the name, but, honestly, the most important thing I learned from this game is that Sam’s favorite author is Philip K. Dick.
A Steam key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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