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Serious Sam 4 (PC review)

The Serious Sam games have always been about staying on the move, especially when the going gets tough and the odds are stacked against you – and in Serious Sam  games the odds are always stacked against you.

The first Serious Same game graced PCs way back in 2001, and in the intervening years there have been a few games bearing the Serious Same moniker. The series’ core gameplay has always remained the same: throwing countless numbers of enemies against the player, forcing them to keep moving. Circle strafing and running backwards so as to avoid the enemy onslaught and their attacks.

Serious Sam 4 Gnaar

The Serious Sam formula.

Serious Sam 4 continues the playstyle the original bought us – increasing the number of on-screen enemies at one time. After a few hours you realise it’s a relic trapped in the past with gameplay elements that were fun in the early ‘00s, but don’t hold up so well today.

Set in Rome, the game’s lead Sam “Serious” Stone joins the Earth Defence Force to help defeat alien dictator Mental and his murderous alien army. That’s it: That’s the story. From the get-go, it’s evident that almost 20 years since the first Serious Sam game came out. Croteam’s game strategy hasn’t changed: it’s still shooting wave after wave of enemies in linear city streets or in wide open and flat arena-style encounters, running backwards and circle strafing. I couldn’t help but think that Croteam missed a great opportunity to inject some new gameplay that would bring the Serious Sam games into the modern age.

I mean, look at a franchise like Doom: It has evolved with the times and is still as relevant today as it was when it first appeared. The same thing can’t be said for Serious Sam 4, which offers the same formula hoping that developer Croteam hopes will make a splash in 2020. I don’t think it will.

Serious Sam 4 Chaos

Fun like a Rollercoaster.

I’m not saying Serious Sam 4 isn’t fun at times because it can be. For the first wee while, it’s actually quite entertaining. Constantly running around, blasting large acid-spewing beasts, orange jumpsuit-wearing zombies, screaming headless bomb-holding kamikazes, vampires, alien soldiers – all making a beeline for Sam. It’s genuinely fun squaring off against a multitude of foes. Your health gauge threateningly low and wondering whether you’ll make it out alive. After a while, though, it just all blends together, repeating the same pattern over and over again. However, it does now offer optional side missions, which is a new addition to the series.

Sam gets to battle Mental’s forces with some great weapons and there are some great set pieces, but it takes a while to unlock some of them. So in the opening levels you’re squaring off with a pistol, knife and two types of shotgun, which is fine when you’re  up against a handful of enemies but makes for a rather frustrating time when the numbers increase tenfold.

Serious Sam 4 ScrapScream

Does Sam take today’s PC Serious(ly)?

Graphically, Serious Sam 4 looks rough, with buildings and structures generally  angular and blocky and levels seeming less interesting than those earlier games. Overall it’s lacking the charm of the Egyptian themes from one of the first games.

NPCs are particularly ugly and forgettable, for the most part, and the voice acting ranges from merely OK to cringe. Even Sam sounds like he’s a poor man’s Duke Nukem, spouting one-liners that occassionally hit the mark. However, it is refreshing to have a videogame hero battling an alien invasion that isn’t a muscle-bound, highly armoured space warrior.

Technically, frame rates seemed pretty good with my i5 8400 and Radeon RX580. Then suddenly after a few hours, the game just refused to load a save game – four times. Instead it remained remaining stuck on the level loading screen, the progress bar empty after several minutes. An Alt-Tab to try and get back to the desktop revealed a hidden error message, forcing me to hard reset my PC. I decided to delete it after that as I’d had enough.

Serious Sam 4 is fun for a little bit and it will likely appeal to old-school fans of the original. With so many better shooters out there worthy of your time and money, there’s just not enough to recommend it.