Reviews

Seriously fun, seriously… silly – Serious Sam 4 review

It’s crazy to think the last time we had a new main series Serious Sam game was almost 10 years ago. Serious Sam 3: BFE was moderately well-received (72% on Metacritic), and since then there’s been numerous spin-off titles like Serious Sam: The Greek Encounter and Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope. Now, Croteam has returned in full force and brought Serious Sam 4 with them.

I will put it out there now; Serious Sam 4’s story isn’t very good. In fact, it’s pretty average, so don’t expect that you’ll be tied to this game solely for its story. But, of course, like with every Serious Sam game; the gameplay is what shines. Now hold your horses; we’ll get there. Firstly, the story. Humanity is currently under siege by hordes and hordes of aliens, all of which are operating under the thumb of Mental — the iconic and returning villain across the Serious Sam series. The last fighting resistance is the Earth Defence Force, which is led by the one and only Sam “Serious” Stone and his… err… unique squad of commandos. As you can imagine, this game is chock full of timed one-liners (though these one-liners and the rest of the comedy is pretty cringey) and lots, and lots, of blood and gore.

There’s something… cathartic about mowing through enemies with ease

Serious Sam 4 is set across 3 different countries, and you’ll play a total of 16 levels across them (including the 2-minute prologue). Croteam has said that the main idea behind the development of Serious Sam 4 is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” so a lot of the gameplay elements from previous Serious Sam games shine into this one. As a result, cooperative play is back in full force in the 4-play online co-op mode, and believe me when I say it makes the game a whole lot easier when you’re working alongside a team. The new Legion System has been implemented so battlefields can teem with hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies. These hordes of enemies include some new and old foes including the Processed, Belchers, Beheaded Rocketeers, Werebulls, and Scrapjacks. The list goes on, so expect plenty of hard-hitting action and unique enemy variants throughout the whole game.

The S.A.M. system is returning from Serious Sam VR and is a welcome addition. This skill tree has two branches with different implications for each, and each new skill can be unlocked by every Artifact of Might that you will find. Skills include getting loot drops for enemies that you kill, being able to dual wield various types of weapons, reload and shoot at the same time, and mounting a Werebull. Other highlights include completing side-objectives which reward you with either a new weapon, a helpful attachment, or a set of deadly gadgets. Don’t be too stressed to complete those side-objectives though, since you’ll eventually unlock all the weapons and attachments as you progress through the main story anyway.

Nothing better than visually knowing how overpowered you’re getting

The gadget system is where the game starts teetering on ridiculous and overpowered, though that’s no insult to the game whatsoever. Nothing beats being able to slow down time for everything but yourself, and then mowing down any and all enemies around you. Boss fight giving you a hard time? Well then here’s a mini-nuke launcher and… it’s dead. Are those pesky hordes of hundreds of enemies starting to wear you thin because you’re constantly dying? Well, here’s a blackhole grenade that will kill every single grunt on the battlefield. When I mean overpowered, I really do mean that. For example, there’s one level in France where you fight through a large open-cut mine against hundreds of enemies. Without gadgets, it’s a huge pain to get through since you’re battling snipers, Werebulls, etc. To beat it in seconds, I gathered all enemies together with the Rage drink (allowing Sam to run at high speeds) and then tossed a blackhole grenade in between everyone and voilà; everything is dead.

As you can already tell, there’s a ton of content to experience in Serious Sam 4; Croteam really left nothing to spare in their return to the main series. For these highlights, however, I’ll brush over them. The Netricsa display is the central hub where you’ll get all the necessary information on missions, NPCs, main characters, enemies, weapons, and gadgets. Netricsa effectively provides you with backstory and relevant information to the game for new players to the series and acts as a refresher course for veteran players. A helpful waypoint system has also been included. As for other combat highlights, meleeing an enemy will have Sam perform a Melee Finisher, and as you progress through the game you can improve this ability through unlocking specific skills that allow you to perform this action on bigger and badder enemies. As briefly mentioned before, you can mount enemies and use them to crush your foes into a fine paste. Of course, much like the Melee Finisher ability, the types of enemies you can mount depends on the skills you have unlocked.

Think of this as a journal system

All the weapons in Serious Sam 4 are a blast to use, and, again, are unlocked as you progress through the game. There are a total of 15 different weapons and 8 unique gadgets to utilize as you fight Mental’s forces. You already know some of the gadgets, such as the blackhole grenade, mini-nuke launcher, and Rage drink. As for the weapons, expect Serious Sam’s arsenal. To name a few, the weapons include the double-barrel shotgun, assault rifle, grenade launcher, and the returning SBC Cannon. The SBC Cannon is the most fun, yet it’s only unlocked towards the end of the game. Shooting a comically huge cannonball out of this thing never fails to amuse, and it’ll tear through enemies with ease. There’s so much more to unlock, and, depending on the weapon, there are also attachments for them as well. For example, the rocket launcher starts off shooting only a single rocket each time you use it. But, after either completing the side objective or unlocking the attachment later through the game, you can increase its shooting capacity to 5 total launchable rockets. Couple this with its homing missile ability, and you’ll melt every single enemy you meet. My list really scratches the surface of what you can find and use, but all will provide you with enough firepower to destroy hordes of invaders. Plus, they’re just so goddamn fun.

But, you’re likely wondering the big question; as with the insane number of hordes to render on-screen, and the detailed graphics of the environment and character models, can this game run well? I’ll state it now, I installed and played this game off an HDD, with a PC that runs a stock GTX 1070, 16 GB of RAM, a stock Intel Core i7-6700 CPU, Acer KG271UA in 1440p. As I say with all my PC reviews, my machine is very middle range nowadays. It’s good, not great, and is definitely a solid middle-ground for testing PC games. Not everyone can afford the new RTX 30 series, nor a 10th generation Intel processor. So, bearing that in mind, can this middle-of-the-range PC run it? The short answer is: yes. But, there are a few things you might want to take into account before buying. I ran this on both the lowest and the recommended settings that the game offered for my PC. On the lowest settings, we get a much higher overall frame rate, but interestingly enough there were still plenty of framerate drops when rendering in the vast hordes of enemies. While I noticed it didn’t drop below 60fps on the lowest settings, it also was typically sitting on 144fps (capped). That means you’re getting over 80 frames lost per second while you fight the endless sea of enemies. If you have a lower-tier PC, you might expect to see something closer to 30fps.

Serious Sam 4 would have run a whole lot better if it had better performance settings to tinker with

On the highest recommended settings (check the above image what that was for me), Serious Sam 4 ran no higher than 100fps. Do note, much like on the lowest settings, I did have plenty of framerate drops when enemies began being rendered into the battlefield. Once they were fully rendered in, however, the game didn’t drop below 50fps once. I believe this is due to the newly crafted Legion system. Hats off to Croteam for being able to render in thousand enemies without the game crashing and BSODing your computer. Nonetheless, do install this game to an SSD if you have one.

But, while the game runs rather well, and looks very pretty, it does fall short in a few areas. Unfortunately, it does have a lot of issues that mar the experience. For example, even on the highest recommended settings, I noticed that the rendering distance was rather short, and it was very noticeable when textures were going from minimally-to-fully rendered. Since there’s not a whole lot of performance settings to mess with, I couldn’t fine-tune the game to how I’d like it. It also made loading into a level take some time. It wasn’t exceptionally long, but long enough for me to start noticing how much time I spent staring at the loading screen and the same half-dozen quotes.

This poor guy was stuck inside the entrance, and couldn’t deal any damage to me.

One of the major things I noticed was that there were no invisible walls whatsoever. That means with some maneuvering you can fly past level barriers and skip all of the enemies. That’s great for speedrunners and exploiters, but if you just want to experience the game you might find yourself accidentally skipping fights that you don’t want to skip because you got launched over a barrier by a charging Werebull. I also found that enemies may not despawn if you decide to bypass them. Eventually, they’ll catch up to you and get stuck outside the level entry barriers dotted around the place (they kind of act like visual checkpoints through the game). The only time I noticed bypassed enemies were despawned was when I hit certain in-game cutscenes. But, if they weren’t despawned after those cutscenes, then they might forget about you and not attack you anymore. Honestly, it’s a bit of a dice roll of what you’re gonna get when you inadvertently skip fights in this game. In reality, this sort of thing acts as a detriment to the gameplay since you quickly realize “oh, I don’t need to be fighting all these hordes, I can just run past them and finish the level”.

One of the other major things I noticed was how large the game calculated the enemy model was in comparison to Sam. As a result, Sam can run through small gaps that enemies can’t. In one moment in the game I was surrounded by no less than a hundred enemies, both flying and grounded, and was strafe running to take them out. Getting down to my last bit of health, I found a small gap that I could run through that enemies couldn’t follow. I just stood there and bided my time until I had a hefty amount of stuck enemies, and blasted away. While that’s fun for the first five minutes, it also makes it pretty dang easy to beat huge arena fights when you literally cannot take damage and detracts from a rewarding experience in a big way.

An example of one of the issues with Serious Sam 4

As soon as you start the game, there will be two massive issues you’ll notice with the characters. One; facial animations are on par with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and two; character animations are really stiff. For the first one, it’s kind of funny, because the characters will show no expression in their eyes and their mouth will move around weirdly on their face. Sometimes, it doesn’t even look like the lips match the lines they’re delivering. Second, their eyes are strange. Like, really strange. It’s like Croteam thought to use a chihuahua’s eyes as the model for the majority of the characters. As for the stiffness of the character animations, this is more jarring than it is funny. There’s nothing natural about the way they walk; each limb seems to work independently of another. As a result, characters walk like they have a gun to their back at all times. It’s a strange blend that makes this game seem like it was designed for the 2012 era but has graphics like 2018-2020.

Do they creep you out as much as they do me?

There were a few smaller bugs I found as well, but instead, I’ll touch on these briefly. The pump-action shotgun doesn’t need to be reloaded, whereas all other non-heavy weapons do. Due to zero invisible walls, you can pick objects up through gates and other barriers. Subtitles also don’t always match up with the audio, may display the same line twice, or may glitch in a fight and show both the current and previous cutscene’s lines. Some of the cutscenes make no sense. In one memorable cutscene, Sam has no parachute but has to jump out of a plane. Then in the next shot, he has a parachute attached and open. Lastly, the hands of an NPC doesn’t always match up to the object they’re using. Sometimes a character might unholster a weapon, and the weapon will float in the air and phase through their hands.

Given all the weird little issues with the game, does that mean it’s bad? Hell no! This game is incredibly fun, and there are so many things to praise about this game. For example, teammate AI is incredible. That means even if you can’t play this game cooperatively, playing it solo does not mean it’s a Sisyphean task (Call of Duty NPCs take note). Alongside teammate AI is the level design. It’s as if Croteam went over each level with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that no matter where you are in the game, you’ll experience something fun and interesting. I never got bored of admiring the environment either; it’s as if it stretches on forever. Plus, the music! It’s well-tuned for your pleasure as you carve through hundreds and hundreds of enemies. Couple all of these details together and you have an exceptionally tailored, detailed, and immersive experience.

A very handy tool to inform the player how well they did, plus everyone loves an end screen high score!

When I said there’s plenty of content, I really did mean it. Other than smashing this game cooperatively or solo, and unlocking skills, weapons, gadgets in the process, there are secrets to be found, vehicles to drive through scores of enemies, and plenty to explore. For vehicles, other than coasting through the French countryside on a cruiser motorbike you can also drive a Combine Harvester, allowing you to mow down enemies with ease, and the Popemobile, which is a ginormous mech that shoots rockets, bullets, and drops a field of grenades. There’s a lot to experience in the game, and it’s even more fun with friends (not to mention, a lot easier). At the end of each level, you’ll be welcomed to a loading screen that displays each of the levels, as well as giving you a level score and overall game score. It also breaks down how many enemies you killed, secrets unlocked, and how much time you spent completing each level. It’s something games don’t typically include nowadays, but it’s super handy and gives you a good idea of how well you played.

Playing a text adventure in a 2020 video game was a strange, yet funny experience

Serious Sam 4 is a step in the right direction for a series that hasn’t seen a new game in 9 years. There’s plenty of content to enjoy, and all of it can be experienced with friends (do note, there’s only online co-op, not local co-op). The weapons, vehicles, gadgets, and skills all provide an entertaining experience for all parties involved, and it will keep you tied to the game for hours on end. My only concern with this game comes with its immersion. While the graphics, level design, and environment design are amazing, they do get overshadowed in cutscenes by wonky character animations, chihuahua-like NPC eyes, and hands that aren’t attached to the items that they are using. But, if you’re only looking for an experience where you can carve through thousands of enemies without breaking a sweat, or want to relive what made an older era of FPS games great, then look no further.

75

Good

Serious Sam 4

Review Guidelines

Serious Sam 4 has done seriously well for a series that hasn’t seen a mainline game in nearly 10 years. Croteam went all out on this one and has filled it to the brim with rewarding gameplay, hidden goodies, and a great soundtrack to boot. Unfortunately, there are a few kinks in this pipe, such as the sub-par story, weird character models and animations, and other gameplay bugs. But no doubt, you’ll only be interested in carving through hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies with a huge arsenal of skills, weapons, and gadgets, and that’s exactly what Serious Sam 4 has done so well.

With a deep interest in writing, Ben followed that into a Journalism degree. As an avid lover for gaming, he is constantly expanding his library with console, PC, and VR games. He's obsessed with stealth games and loves hunting down the smallest of details inserted by devs.
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