Title: Serious Sam 4
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Available on: PC, Google Stadia
Version Tested: PC
Official Site: croteam.com
Release Date: September 24, 2020
Where To Buy: Steam Store
Serious Sam is one of the few games that’s keeping the “horde shooter” FPS sub-genre alive to this very day that not even today’s Doom can recreate. The concept is simple: hundreds of enemies on-screen, wide areas to maneuver, and try not to die. Easy to learn, hard to master. After Jewel of the Nile, it shouldn’t be too hard for Croteam to mess around with the formula in the latest entry Serious Sam 4. Unfortunately, they took one hop forward and two hops back.
Serious Sam 4 Has Major Malfunctions…
The game instantly opens with you, as Sam “Serious” Stone, and thousands of faceless Earth Defense Force members already facing down waves of Mental’s alien horde in a very large, chaotic open field. This scene sets the stage for Serious Sam 4‘s and particularly, the Legion System, a “trick” that lets Croteam put in 100,000 AIs on one map. Alas, after just a few seconds enjoying the mayhem, Sam got knocked out by one of the big baddies. A flashback ensues, and things can only go downhill from there.
To get back into that point of time again, Sam and members of the EDF have to navigate through Rome first. That means the game is mostly set in urban areas, so most of the time it feels like you’re railroaded into specific routes with barely any puzzles. Go through narrow corridors, sometimes take one or two detours for secrets or keys (or side-quests), get to a courtyard littered with items, a fight breaks out, rinse and repeat. Not saying the older Serious Sam titles didn’t have “obvious arena” segments but the implementations were much better.
Did I just mention “side-quest”? Yes, Serious Sam 4 adds a few new features to the main game — with mixed results. As a first in the series, aside from hiding bonuses and deadly traps, Croteam also added side-quests that will give you extra toys to play around with. From combat drones, chainsaw launchers, time stoppers, to a miniaturized black hole, you name it. You can choose to ignore them if you wish, but they’re extremely helpful for thinning out Mental’s relentless armies.
Another addition comes in the form of AI teammates. While your teammates’ banter isn’t something to write home about, you will miss the additional firepower and distraction when they’re not around. The skill point system from the Serious Sam VR spinoff also makes a comeback, that I personally feel has no place in this game. The only progression system Serious Sam has ever needed is weapon upgrades. You get dual-wielding by finding another set of the same weapon. When you thought you already got overpowered, the game still manages to throw you even more powerful weapons at your disposal like the attachment for Lasergun. This kind of progression works great already. Adding on the skill system takes away from the dumb fun that Serious Sam is known for.
The last big addition is vehicles that come when the game areas open up into the countryside. Mowing down enemies and shooting armed hitchhikers in the face on a harvester is definitely one of the highlights of Serious Sam 4. There’s also a giant mech you use to take out numerous enemies. It’s a shame this doesn’t use the Legion System better, but who doesn’t love using a powerful mech?
While the vehicle section is a nice change of pace, it comes too late and doesn’t get used enough. Only four of the chapters feature vehicles. Most are jam-packed in the middle of the game, leaving the beginning and end much less exciting. A shame since the huge maps made to accommodate vehicles end up being an utter chore to drive/walk around through when there are no enemies. There’s so little time to enjoy Serious Sam 4‘s attempt at breaking the horde shooter formula in a fun way. The pointless wide, open maps for vehicular combat and side-quests seem like leftover ideas that got thrown in at the end. Maybe Croteam was thinking about making Serious Sam 4 an open-world FPS, but its effectiveness is abysmal.
A bit nitpicky, but the multiplayer mode being limited to four-player co-op instead of 16 players damages the novelty of the franchise. Being able to run around the world of Serious Sam is a blast with others, especially up to 16 players. It isn’t helped by various visual issues. Dead bodies sliding around, Arachnoid glitching, waypoint that goes through walls, missing mission markers, or Pyromaniacs and Harpies that suddenly vanish into thin air when dropping in from the skies. It all feels so unpolished and unfun.
…But Still Provides Serious Fun
But when you do trim out the fat and unfortunate glitches, Serious Sam 4 still delivers good-old FPS fun. Every weapon feels snappy, powerful, and has its own place in the sandbox. Enemies get gibbed all the time, from simple headshots to getting rolled over by explosive cannonballs. Although they can’t compare to the old classics such as Headless Kamikaze or Kleer, the large enemy variety in this game is welcomed. Even the Snipers, which work like less durable Arachnoid Hatchlings, add something fresh and enjoyable. They all combine to create a chaotic puzzle you have to solve quickly on the battlefield.
The boss fights are spread evenly through the 15 levels and each of them is fun enough. The humongous Swamp Hive in particular was the best boss fight in the game. And although a bit janky, the final boss puzzle still manages to give Sam one last surprise to play with.
Thankfully, Serious Sam 4 also runs extremely well on mid-range hardware. I can play through the game in 60-80 FPS with only occasional FPS drops when the scene got too intense. And just like any other Serious Sam title, this game has lots of graphical options that you can tweak to your liking. That includes the “kid-friendly” gore option.
Verdict: Serious Sam 4 hides a perfectly competent horde shooter game behind a handful of half-baked ideas that bog down the game quite a bit. Still, its simple-but-hard-to-master gameplay is always great for a quick burst of explosive fun. Time to grab some friends and get serious.
- Exciting opening
- Hundreds of enemies on screen
- Wide variety of enemies
- Weapons that feel powerful and fun to use
- Runs well
- Varied bosses
- Vehicle sections too short
- Some maps were pointlessly huge
- Legion System wasn't properly showcased