Croteam’s Serious Sam is back! Through publisher Devolver Digital, Serious Sam 4 is now available on PC and Stadia – we played it through Steam.
About two decades ago, the market was being filled with all kinds of different first person shooters all looking for their own little niche to own. Obviously there were the big military shooters like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, but you also have things like SiN and Clive Barker’s Undying, all catering to different audiences. Personal favorites of mine were Painkiller and Serious Sam, mostly because of how they emphasized fun and mindless shooting over story and intrigue, which you’re simply not always in the mood for when playing a shooter.
I most fondly remember the very first Serious Sam game, as subsequent sequels changed the look and feel of the franchise. Serious Sam 4 is a welcome return to the tone of that first game, and as such reconnects with us with Sam’s original cheesy charm. It’s delivered with more of a narrative take this time around as well, which helps in framing Sam Stone through more than just one-liners – something that always reminded me of Duke Nukem 3D back in the day. In addition, this also helps Serious Sam 4 in how it makes the game feel less than just a random sequence of absolute carnage.
The advances in technology that we’ve made since the last Serious Sam game also mean that you’re getting a lot more on-screen detail this time around. This is true for all the monsters that violently explode in a shower of blood and body parts, but also for the scenery. Where previously we would traverse open spaces, Sam Stone now also fights his way through urban areas, which is a refreshing change and provides a few nice changes in pace throughout the campaign.
Things also get mixed up through the use of various vehicles in the game, which get you around some of the larger areas but also include over-the-top “solutions” to your alien problem by letting you plough through bad guys with a harvester in true 1992’s Braindead style (though that was a simple lawnmower). It’s just one example of the crazy over-the-top stuff that fans love about Serious Sam, and it’s here in spades due to some outrageous weapons and vehicles.
Serious Sam 4 is also much less of a solo affair than it was in the old days, with the ability to play the campaign in online co-op – bringing a layer of cooperation to what is usually a mayhem-filled experience. The offline campaign also introduces this to a degree, thanks to the presence of AI-controlled teammates in certain sections of the story.
None of that makes Serious Sam 4 a deep experience though, and although the visuals have been significantly improved you shouldn’t go into this expecting something like 2019’s Modern Warfare either. Sam Stone is a bit of a caricature, and the visuals reflect this by foregoing on some of the finer nuances that people have come to expect. Players come to Serious Sam for fast-paced carnage, and that’s what they get in Sam 4 as well – with smooth framerates as long as the game doesn’t crash or briefly stutter. While the foundations are solid, the launch version of Serious Sam did seem plagued by the need for a few patches.
Fueled more by nostalgia than a need or desire to evolve, Serious Sam 4 was developed with those aspects in mind that fans loved about the original game. It’s not going to draw you in if you weren’t a fan of that style before and it doesn’t change the formula in any significant way, but fans of Sam Stone won’t mind.