Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Stadia, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: September 24, 2020 (PC, Stadia) 2021 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4)
Price: $39.99 – Available Here
It’s hard to believe that the Serious Sam series has been around for nearly twenty years at this point and even harder to believe that the last time the series saw a new mainline game released for it happened to be nine years ago. Sam Stone has been kept fairly prominent in our minds through the years as Croteam and Devolver Digital have been teasing the release of Serious Sam 4 for some time and now that it has arrived on PC, does this fast paced shooter retain the same style fans hope for?
It is interesting to note that, while the story for the Serious Sam franchise isn’t exactly a deep one, newcomers will not need to worry too much about jumping into Serious Sam 4 with no prior knowledge of the franchise as it is once again a prequel set before even the third game in the series, which was a prequel to the original game back in 2001. Players take on the role of Sam Stone, better known as Serious Sam, as he leads the charge against a massive invasion by the alien organization called Mental that has nearly overtaken the Earth.
Sam, alongside other members of the Earth Defense Force, or EDF (Not the one you’re thinking about), have been tasked with traveling through Europe in hopes of finding an ancient artifact that may hold the key to defeating Mental, the Holy Grail. For the most part players should continue to expect a fairly standard story that mostly serves as a framework for the levels that players will be shooting their way through. Sam and his companions make plenty of great one-liner jokes and hit upon nearly every cliche in the book so the writing style continues to be worth a chuckle every now and again, especially when certain outlandish events, even by this series’ standards, occur.
There are extra bits of information for every enemy type that the player takes down, weapon and gadget they acquire, and mainline character they come across so players who really want to learn more about the series’ lore will be interested to know that that is an option this time around but, as mentioned before, don’t expect things to get too deep unless we’re talking about the pile of bodies Sam will builds up on his mission.
There is a saying that when something isn’t broke, don’t fix it and that happens to be the approach that Croteam took to most of Serious Sam 4‘s gameplay mechanics. Longtime fans should know that this means that players will be treated to a first person shooter that is incredibly quick and features numerous enemies shooting, charging, and exploding at the player all while they run around the field at an incredibly brisk rate of speed trying to survive. Sam moves like a man possessed as he never has to hesitate when running and shooting to stay alive, usually running backwards to do so and there is a good reason for that, Serious Sam 4 has upped the amount of enemy types and enemies in general that players will often end up facing at any given time.
While players will still have to deal with smaller amounts of enemies from time to time or deal with close-quarter combat in hallways, there are just as many areas that feature wide-open battles that can deliver more enemies than I’ve ever experienced in a first person shooter at one time. There can be a feeling similar to the Musou style of games at times but rather than swinging at grunts with a spear, Sam is mowing down kamikaze runners, insectoids, giant bulls, and far worse with a wide array of weapons that players will obtain throughout the game. These weapons include the tried and true shotgun variants, mini-guns that can eventually be dual-wielded, to even more powerful weapons, gadgets, and even vehicles that we won’t mention here. Often combat requires the player to be a bit strategic at times, especially when playing on anything above the Normal difficulty level, as certain enemy types are best taken out with certain weapons and figuring this out during a frantic firefight is a real blast. That being said, there were more than a few times that enemy AI would either bug out and stand there aimlessly or glitch somewhere requiring a reloaded checkpoint to continue.
Outside of the firefights players will find that there are a number of secrets hidden throughout each level in the game as well as clear side-quests that are offered for extra in-game resources. Some of these secrets are fairly simple and can reward things such as extra armor or temporary health boosts while others can be seen more as easter eggs or challenges to undertake. It is worth noting that some of these secrets do appear fairly difficult to find as even scrounging some levels only unveiled a few per run through. It is also interesting to note that Serious Sam 4 features the introduction of some incredibly light RPG mechanics that see Sam breaking alien artifacts that can, in turn, be used to unlock some abilities. Generally these abilities mostly rely on things such as having enemies drop items to being able to dual wield special weapons and really lay the hurt on Mental.
There is also a multiplayer component as well that allows players to take on a story mission either solo or with up to four people at a time. These missions aren’t really balanced the best to be taken on with numerous people and considering everyone plays as Sam and immediately respawns after death, it is clear that there wasn’t too much extra thought put into multiplayer but being able to mow down foes with friends is still a blast despite the barebone implementation.
Visuals & Audio
Graphically Serious Sam 4 is something of a mixed bag. The enemy character models are gorgeous and gruesome at the same time and feature plenty of variety overall in the amount of foes that players face off against and many of them even “gib” into satisfying chunks when defeated with powerful enough weapons. On the other hand the character models for the human characters are a bit disappointing and often a bit lifeless looking with even Sam himself looking rather toned down in nature and while this is a prequel, he shouldn’t have lost that much muscle mass. While the level designs are nicely varied and the travel through Europe allows for plenty of different sights to be seen, most of the designs are only solid looking from a distance and suffer from some rough textures up close.
Once more Serious Sam himself is voiced by John J. Dick which works great as the voice of the character and the rest of the voice work is suitably fitting with the sound effects of the various weapons and signature sounds of some of the enemies remaining true to form. As far as the soundtrack goes, players will find a solid mix of rock that fits perfectly with the intense action of firefights and subtle tunes when simply exploring an area though no singular track stands out as exceptional.
Croteam knew what Serious Sam fans love and has delivered more of it in Serious Sam 4 with what has ended up becoming an excitingly over-the-top first-person shooter that has upped the intensity of the action to an entirely new level compared to its predecessors. The lack of real innovation outside of some new weapons and light RPG mechanics may be a bit disappointing, along with the fact that outside of the story mode and multiplayer story mode there is little else to do except replay levels again, but this old-school style of shooting remains as solid as ever.