The Serious Sam games are first-person shooters that don’t require players to think too methodically but more so require players to be constantly on the move, usually backwards while strafing, using quick reflexes to avoid and destroy the thousands of enemies thrown in Sam’s face. Each title is relentless, with each new game adding more enemies to slaughter, with Serious Sam 4 easily throwing tens of thousands of fodder throughout its 10 hour campaign.
The Serious Sam franchise is now 20 years old, first appearing on PC in 2001 and console in 2002. Throughout the years Sam has starred in 14 titles and spin-offs, with his long-time developers Croteam, along with Digital Devolver releasing a 10-year-old sequel to Sam’s last numerical outing with Serious Sam 4. Released only on PC and Google Stadia last year, it has now comes to consoles, dropping on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
While the new entry is a numerical sequel, the events precede the last game where the invading alien horde has already taken over Earth. Sam leads a team of ragtag resistance fighters in the hope to find the Holy Grail to turn the tide of the galactic war. While the story is shallow, voice acting stilted and cutscene models hard on the eye, the story has its charm and campy dialogue that brought smiles and a few chuckles. While Sam is front and centre, I found his resistance team more entertaining and welcomed their zany conversations whenever they were involved.
The gameplay of this newest entry has barely evolved since 2001 and this will divide those who want a change up in the series. Serious Sam 4 continues to move the player to arena after arena, each flooding the player with wave after wave of enemies. To succeed Sam must use much of the various arsenal provided while both retreating and circle strafing enemies. The gameplay has previously been called out for its repetitiveness, but it is the frequently changing enemy design and weaponry that keeps it fresh. There are a ridiculous number of enemy types on the screen at once. This makes the player keep a close eye on their weaponry and prioritise certain enemy types with certain weapons. Each enemy type is well designed and even though most will straight up storm the player, some will attack in different patterns, such as the Bloodsucker who teleports and swoops in or the Reptiloids who need to be sniped off from distance.
The weaponry is satisfying, with fifteen different weapons, such as an assault rifle, a number of shotguns (the auto shotgun being my favourite), mini gun, homing rocket launcher and the fan favourite bowling ball type cannon. While it is easy to get caught in the panic of rushing hordes, Serious Sam 4 has a method to its madness with frequently changing the right weapons for the job. This is highly needed on the normal or higher difficulties. Sam also now gains perks throughout the campaign, with one the perks unlocking dual wielding where the player can have combinations of different weapons making constant swapping less of a requirement. Other perks include stronger melee damage and more health. Also included in the players arsenal are eight gadgets which can turn a losing battle into a tight win. Sam can use health on the fly, a decoy that enemies focus on, a bomb that slows down time and a blackhole that sucks enemies into it. These are an entertaining addition and players can experiment with what they’d prefer to use.
Also majorly entertaining are the vehicle sections, with our hero mowing down enemies with ease in massive mechs. These sections are a nice change in gameplay. Also, new to the mission structure are optional side missions. These missions are generally short and just push the player off the linear route, but offers some new weapons, gadgets and even entertaining interactions with the quirky characters Sam runs into. Every time I found a side mission, I was eager to check it out, but be warned that the difficulty ramps right up when side missions are attempted. The overall difficulty is also generally brutal on the normal difficulty for one player, with arenas constantly being short of health, and many battles will have the player gritting their teeth through that one more run.
What makes the game easier is playing with friends, as having a group of up to four mates makes the normal difficulty less of a hefty challenge. Playing with friends is the best way to play. Coordinating the epic hordes as a team while still having some tight challenges is a real entertaining time. It was great to have our own banter, while Sam was dropping his own one liners. A nice little feature allows the players to change their avatar with some wacky characters fitting the tone of the series.
The graphics are nothing to gloat about. The blocky textures of buildings will remind the player of games of yesteryear. There were a few times enemies got trapped in walls or clipped through them chasing down the player. Although the enemies’ models are all pretty good and as mentioned the number of different types is impressive. The stilted animation of character models in cutscenes is at times laughable and while some will be quick to write the game off because of it, they also fit the tone and I cared less about the models and surprisingly more about the genuine comedy and story the game tries to tell.
The sound in Serious Sam can get irritating. The Beheaded Kamikaze screaming enemies are back and anyone who has witnessed them in any of the games know how annoying the constant scream of these bull rushing enemies can be. Towards the back end of the campaign, I started to feel the same thing with the games combat musical riff, which out stays its welcome. The music and sound effects are not terrible, just repetitive as is the gameplay loop.
I must applaud the accessibility options in the game. They include five difficulties, health regen tweaks, customised controls, custom visuals for the visually impaired and audio for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Croteam have made Serious Sam 4 with all gamers in the back of their minds, and this is a major addition. Also included is the option to remove or substitute blood and even gibs, (exploding enemies). If the player wants green blood, flowers or candy canes and stars flying from mowed down enemies, they can choose it. While this may tone down the gore and profanity can be turned off, Serious Sam 4 is not for children.