Serious Sam 4 – Let’s Do The Time Warp Again
When a game’s opening starts with a battle against an uncountable horde of menacing creatures, a minigun with an unlimited supply of ammo and some b-grade action movie one-liners you know one thing for sure, “Serious” Sam Stone is back in action. The ever-present ass-kicking human saviour from Croteam has finally gotten around to saving the world again, killing a whole load of aliens in the process. But the question has to be asked, in the era of Wolfenstein, Doom Eternal and even Shadow Warrior, has Sam moved with the times or is he still stuck in the past?
Well, the short answer is no. Sam is still Sam. But the slightly longer answer is, that’s ok. Because you know going in that this is, for want of a better description, another Serious Sam game. If you are unaware of Sam’s past, here’s the skinny. The Serious Sam games are all about one thing, a ridiculous number of enemies on the screen and a vast array of death-dealing instruments to take them down. This is twitch FPS at its fastest, but most basic. This still holds true in number 4 and how you feel about that concept will go a long way to determining your feelings towards the game. There are no fancy special powers like in Shadow Warrior and no executions to keep your health up ala Doom, this is pure shooting.
That all being said, it is one hell of a well-oiled machine. The sheer number of enemies on-screen at any one time easily eclipses any other game in the genre and it all runs at a buttery smooth 60fps without a stutter. To achieve this some sacrifices have been made and Sam and his cohorts are the prettiest looking characters as a result, but when you are trying to kill a horde of charging Kleer skeletons who has time to stop and take in the view. Speaking of Kleer Skeletons, a whole host of Sam’s old foes make their return. The Headless mad bombers (who still bring a smile) werebulls and chaingun wielding scorpions are all back, but I was impressed with the number of new enemies thrown into the mix as well. It would have been very easy for Croteam to sit back and simply update old enemies, but they have gone above and beyond in the variety of monster to shoot.
The structure of the game is very linear, though most levels are enormous with massive open areas to navigate while mowing down the never-ending wave of baddies. Sprawling fields, an evacuated Rome, old strip mines and even the colosseum are playgrounds for mass enemy extinction. Just like the old games, Sam bases itself on, they are all chock full of secrets and easter eggs. It is worth exploring everywhere, especially on the occasions when a side mission becomes available because your time invested is always rewarded with a wonderful new gadget of alien obliteration.
Throughout the campaign, you have two constant companions, your massive array of weaponry and Sam’s constant stream of bad 1980’s action movie one-liners. If you get a giggle out of Arnie movies like Commando and The Running Man, you are sure to get a few belly laughs here. If, however, that sort of thing never amused you, prepare to roll your eyes so hard they may never return to their original position. In this adventure, Sam is joined by a few faithful companions, who have their own schtick, some like rookie Kenny are quite likeable, but others lean too far into the masculine soldier stereotype and just become annoying. Thankfully, in the grand scheme of things they are a minor part of the game.
While killing invading aliens is an enjoyable solo pursuit, doing so with a partner in crime is even better. I had an absolute blast with my son playing together and the game adjusts wonderfully to the extra person in the action. I can’t really say how the netcode ran, as we were playing on our local network, but I can say in these ideal conditions especially, it is the best way to play the game. There is just a joy in playing this sort of simplistic shooter with a good buddy (or your firstborn) that makes it very easy to overlook any of the ageing design choices.
Serious Sam 4 isn’t completely stuck in the past though. There are some modern touches like a variety of vehicle-based encounters, including a couple of mech levels, an Uncharted 4 style open map on a Harley and various car and ATV traversed routes. The Mech levels are a lot of fun, with the massive robots of death suiting Sam’s bombastic nature, sadly the other vehicles are a bit on the wonky side, being a little hard to control and as a result are quickly forgotten. There is however one level featuring a combine harvester and a host of possessed humans that is quite memorable. I am sure you can imagine the results of that encounter.
Overall Serious Sam 4 is exactly what you expect it to be, nothing more and nothing less. An endless seething wave of alien malcontents to obliterate with stupidly large weaponry. Croteam have made exactly what fans of the franchise want, but it is easy to see that they have missed opportunities to make a more modern-feeling game, opportunities that Doom and Shadow Warrior took and that is a bit of a shame. But all that aside, there is no denying there is pure shooting joy to be found, it just won’t change your perception of Sam one way or another.
Serious Sam 4 was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Devolver Digital
Dad, Gamer, Writer, Husband all rolled into one big ball of random matter.
Editor of Player 2, Matt spends his time yelling at strangers as they walk past, imploring them to visit Player 2. Sadly this tactic hasn’t yielded any significant results but he keeps on trying regardless.
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