Title: Serious Sam 4
Release Date: September 24, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: First-Person Shooter
As first-person shooters strive to be taken seriously, I’m glad series like Serious Sam exist. Other titles have really tried to replicate this balance of over-the-top and engaging, but I don’t think any do it better than Sam. Still, the series has always been a mixed bag; either gamers really love it or really hate it. When it comes to Serious Sam 4, I feel like developer Croteam did their best to make this new adventure one that fans would love and adds a few quality improvements to make it approachable to newcomers. What ends up being left, however, is whether or not 2020 needed a Serious Sam at all.
Serious Sam 4 begins with a rescue mission, right before all hell breaks loose. This action story has everything, explosions, companionship, an antagonist, and our hero, Sam “Serious” Stone. While the story hasn’t ever been the main focus of these adventures before, we get some long moments of dialogue here that attempt to give meaning to the mission at hand. I ended up enjoying these scenes for their comedic one-liners and a sense of pacing. If anything, they allowed new players to make sense of what the hell is going on, but they can also be skipped without missing too much.
Some moments of the story can be jarring as the game takes control away from you at any given moment to play out a cutscene. This often happens, which threw me off several times. It’s even more strange when you pick back up in some random area of the level. Furthermore, these character models and cutscenes just appear dated and almost lifeless. However, these scenes end up being saved by the wonderful voice over, but without that, you have something that looks like a subpar 2016 action game.
I doubt anyone would be playing for the story, though, and I’m glad to report that Serious Sam 4 is a fun time when it’s doing what it does right. Previous adventures struggled with this enemy placement and level design. Thankfully, the developers caught onto this as they turn up the action by sending hordes of enemy waves at you during any given moment. It’s here that Serious Sam 4 shines. The game begs you to turn up the difficulty and try to survive the carnage that it has in store.
I loved the layers of strategy and hail-mary shooting this game requires. It’s very easy to run out of ammo or health, which you learn to deal with during the first few missions. The levels are significantly long and take you to hell and back. Those who take time to explore will find a ton of extras in the form of secret weapons, more ammo, and more encounters. Any time you go off the beaten path, you can expect to find something to help you.
The shooting mechanics take some getting used to if only because they are built around shoot first aim later. While the efficiency of the shooting becomes more comfortable to control the more you play, I think there’s something great about freely mowing down enemies as they run at you. Weapons in the game, both returning and new, offer unique ways of taking down hordes, but I found the shotgun to be the tried and true method of taking down the hellspawn.
There are many returning enemies in this adventure, given that it’s supposed to be a prequel, it’s to be expected. Enemies only want to kill you, and that’s pretty much their one-track mind. They don’t execute strategies or run for cover; they simply want you dead. Even though their AI is minuscule, these enemies can be a bitch to clear out, given the sheer amount spawned in an arena at one time. There are boss encounters too, but as the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
I think what fans will appreciate is how much control they have over their experience within the game. Players can now upgrade Sam using skill points, which see dual-wielding implemented where you can even hold two different guns at once. This layer of customization really adds to the experience as you do your best to survive the onslaught.
Other options are purely based on player preference, customizing the difficulty and fine-tuning specific aspects of the experience are all here. Furthermore, players have tons of options when it comes to graphics and HUD preferences.
One fun feature is the co-op, where players can group up with up to four players and play through the campaign. Still, even in the single-player mode, other NPCs will join the mission, which made it strange that my friend and I were both Sam when I would have liked to play as one of the other characters. If this was an option, we didn’t find it. Regardless, co-op is insane and allows players to explore the levels and work together to survive freely.
The graphics and overall visuals aren’t anything special, but to make up for this, the game is optimized well to handle high FPS and many on-screen enemies. I did encounter some screen pop-ins, and there were times where enemies would annoyingly spawn late, and I’d be surrounded, but that wasn’t a big issue. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is fantastic and really makes the final few stages feel like a real push to save the planet.
The truth is, even if 2020 didn’t need Serious Sam 4, it’s here anyway. The game considers loyal fans through it’s added levels of customization while acknowledging new fans with some narrative moments to get to know this insane cast of characters. Some aspects feel dated in the graphics and AI, but when hundreds of enemies are running your way, none of that matters because all you can think about is what weapon you’re going to use to take out the trash.
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