Serious Sam 4 releases today on Google Stadia and PC through Steam and GOG, reviving one of the most intensely absurd franchises in the video game industry. Whether you played the original Serious Sam back in 2001 or the previous entry, Serious Sam 3 in 2011 or not, this review will keep you up to speed with how worth the fourth installment is. Are you ready for a “serious” Serious Sam 4 review?
Let’s start by saying that Serious Sam 4 is a prequel to the original series and it follows Sam into his seemingly first expedition against the Mental horde. We see old characters coming back, including the one and only Hellfire. The game is set in Italy and yes, you’ll even get a cool fight right in the Colosseum. Overall, Serious Sam 4 is short, with 16 total levels which, depending on the difficulty mode you choose can span from 10 to 20 hours. Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s jump into the fun stuff.
Serious Sam 4 at first glance is a totally new game. New visuals, a new arsenal of weapons, and intuitive controls. This is a breath of fresh air for all revitalized franchises. However, these are the biggest changes you’ll find in it. Croteam clearly states that “If it works, don’t fix it” and that’s exactly what the developers did. They took the classic Serious Sam formula, spiced it up with fresh graphics and cool enemies and the game is good to go. For me, it was a short and sweet experience although it got a bit tiring at times.
Through the 16 levels in the new Serious Sam game, you’ll unlock a variety of weapons including shotguns, an energy weapon, sniper rifles, and more. My all-time-favorite weapon will be the cannonball which got me out through some pretty bad situations towards the end of the game. Note that those weapons can even get upgrades to their firing modes by completing side missions. Apart from the weaponry, you get gadgets like S.A.M Rage and C-4 which will prove useful depending on your difficulty. For the purposes of this review, I played the game on Easy, so I didn’t get much of a chance to use all weapons and gadgets to their fullest.
The S.A.M upgrade system unlocks some cool abilities to use during your playtime, letting you do the cool stuff everyone wants in a Serious Sam game like mounting enemies, double yielding, and more. It will be interesting to see if Croteam decides to expand the skill tree even more post-launch and make Serious Sam 4 even sillier than it is now.
Let’s go to how the levels actually play. Here’s where I was a bit disappointed. Most levels are set in Italy and you get to play through city streets, rooftops, bridges, castles and as I’ve mentioned before, Colosseum. Croteam has even added a cute detail to show their commitment to making the game feel like it is in Italy by adding some Fiat 500’s along the way. I appreciated that a lot.
The sad thing is that I had to look out for such details since otherwise playing each stage was a cold grind. After a while, I memorized what types of enemies will swarm in after each wave, felt good about blowing the brains of monsters up, and then moved on to the next stage without feeling a sense of achievement. This could be due to the character of the game so I cannot deem it as a negative. Clearly though, Serious Sam 4 is mostly destined to be played by old-school franchise lovers and not a newcomer like myself.
I still remember some of the stages that gameplay changed up a bit. I rode a huge mech, crushed enemies with a huge corn mower, and jumped on top of a giant enemy to expose its weaknesses. All those things don’t happen in just any game. Rest assured, Serious Sam 4 is fast and satisfying in fights. I did stumble upon some bugs here and there, something that the developers reassure fans that will be fixed on a day-one patch. What I did not like in the way the game works is that shotguns had a surprisingly long-range, so much that I could take out snipers with the automatic shotgun. I’m pretty sure this should not be happening and the game should make me use the sniper rifles for those enemies.
The last thing I’d want to cover at this point is the variety of enemies in Serious Sam 4. There are more than 20 different types of enemies rushing towards you in each stage and some of them are super satisfying to kill. I liked how I could tell what weapon I had to use for each one of them. However, some were super annoying. For example, I hated the bulls which kept knocking me over from all directions and the bombers whose screams had me muting the game every now and then. Overall, I’m satisfied with the enemy selection. If I had an enemy ban though, I’d clearly ban the bombers so that I can play the game without muting every now and then (aftermath laugh).
There’s clearly a huge upgrade in graphics in Serious Sam 4 in comparison to its predecessor. Everything is made with the latest standards in mind, all assets are sharp and detailed and I don’t have any particular problems on that aspect. Look a little deeper though and you’ll find some things that are a bit off. Despite the cool map graphics, characters share pretty much the same characteristics and are a bit off and scenes shot from afar look distorted. I’m not that picky when it comes to first-person shooters. However, experiencing things that result in eye strain is not optimal. Undeniably, I would expect some more polishing from a game weighing at 45GB. Although maps are dense in details, the flaws in the polishing areas show.
In terms of performance, Serious Sam 4 did fell into the trap of super high performance that creates a huge gap between resolution and rendering levels. This means that even though the game supports 4K at high framerates, the mid and low graphics settings bring the sharpness of what you see way lower than what I would expect. Don’t get me wrong. I found performance to be great but I have to sacrifice more of the extra high-end features to achieve that.
Even with a little bit of hardware strain though, I have to give it to Croteam for their absence of bugs in gameplay. Even though there are some bugs in cutscenes and enemy deaths, I didn’t experience any of nerve breaking in-game glitches. We know that making such a chaotic FPS is hard work and Serious Sam 4 achieved it.
Overall I did have a great time in Serious Sam 4. I wouldn’t say that it’s one of the games that will stick with me for weeks. Blowing up monsters did come with its fair share of satisfaction though. If you were a fan of the original series and want a game to blow off some steam without paying too much attention to its story, Serious Sam 4 is perfect. Don’t go in with too much expectations though. It will definitely ruin the fun and that’s the most of what the game has to offer.