Why so serious?
I still can’t believe that the original Serious Sam came out nearly 20 years ago.
Since then Croteam has broken away from their reputation as “the Serious Sam studio” a bit, having given us the universally acclaimed Talos Principle. They aren’t ready to let go of Sam just yet, though.
Serious Sam 4 (PC [reviewed], PS4, Stadia Xbox One)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: September 24, 2020
Serious Sam 4 does what the series has always done: it goes big and casts a wide net.
The titular Sam is leading the charge against a massive collective of intergalactic Mental forces in the swift intro mission, literally fighting an army of troops: a franchise staple. And the fourth iteration kind of keeps rolling with that gimmick, pitting you against screens of enemies at once, with a ridiculous Euro-trip story to boot.
The tone of Serious Sam is somewhere between the Earth Defense Force series and an American action romp like Independence Day. It doesn’t take itself too seriously (ha), but there are elements of grit and plenty of cheese involved. If you’re invested in this series, just know that Serious 4, like Serious 3, is also a prequel — so you aren’t getting too many juicy details you didn’t already know.
In fact, the scale is a tad smaller than I expected. Not every level follows the “hundreds of enemies on-screen” shtick. Most don’t, actually. Some are more focused arena fights. Others are labyrinthine tours. As a whole, it feels like a reasonable mix of openness and guidance. All of this madness happens across a 16-mission campaign, with concessions for co-op play. There’s also a Serious Editor tool coming “within a month or two” as well as “additional multiplayer modes.” Simple enough.
“Reasonable” is a pretty apt way to describe this game, actually, as Serious Sam 4 has little interest in breaking the mold. This is a tried and true FPS, as all you’ll need is a scant few buttons and your trigger finger. You can aim down your sights with the right mouse button (a returning mechanic from 2011’s Serious Sam 3), fire with your left, and bring up the gigantic weapon wheel with middle-click. You blow shit up, then do it again.
But blowing everything up does feel good. Weapons are very responsive, and Croteam does a decent job of allowing the friendly AI to participate so it feels like there’s actually a conflict. The RPG elements also don’t get in the way, as there’s a small skill tree with upgrades like “enemies drop items now,” “deal more damage at lower health” or “dual wield heavy weapons.” There’s some groundwork here for “builds” but for the most part, you just shoot stuff.
If you’re ever confused on where to go (which should be rare, given the linear nature of a lot of stages) you can trigger a small optional breadcrumb trail with a button press. It’s neat, as you can even outrun it: it’s that minimalistic. That minimalism sometimes comes at a cost though. At points, Serious Sam 4 can’t handle the overload of enemies, resulting in some braindead AI just sitting there while you blast them. On PC, I also had two crashes — though they were relatively painless since the game auto-saves often. It can be touch and go, but the engine holds up fairly well regardless of what’s happening.
It’s a simple review for a simple game, folks. Serious Sam 4 doesn’t wildly reinvent the formula; and really, it doesn’t need to. There’s plenty of room for old school style FPS games in an ocean of looter shooters and games-as-a-service titles.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]