Serious Sam 4 Review — ahhhhhHHHHHHH!

Serious Sam 4 is a delightfully old-school first-person shooter that doesn't bring a ton of new stuff to the table but still hits all the right notes.

Serious Sam 4 has to do a lot of work to stand out in a tough shooter crowd. Games like Doom Eternal demonstrate that there is still a place for a gussied-up, old-school shooter in 2020, and that game stands as one of our favorites in recent memory. So can a game like Serious Sam, which seemingly started as a budget knock-off of Duke Nukem 3D, stand up to one of the titans of the FPS genre?

In a way, yes. 

Serious Sam 4 isn't dramatically more than you'd expect from a Serious Sam game, but it does what you'd expect extremely well. It puts you in fun scenarios with plenty of monsters to destroy and plenty of clever ways to destroy them. There isn't quite enough here to knock something like Doom Eternal off its perch, but if you're craving a different style of FPS, you should check Serious Sam 4 out.

Serious Sam 4 Review — ahhhhhHHHHHHHHHH!

It's big, dumb humor that's smart enough to not be grating and smart enough to not act like it's smart enough, which keeps it from getting annoying.

On paper, Serious Sam 4 sounds a lot like other first-person shooters, but it does have a few elements that really help set it apart from other games in the genre.

Protagonist Sam Stone seems an awful lot like Duke Nukem, but he can actually be pretty funny sometimes. The game itself has clever writing with an irreverent, sardonic streak that's reminiscent of games like Borderlands and television series like Archer. Hearing the team banter back and forth about the correct pun to make when launching a mini-nuke is much funnier than you'd think it would be. And Sam's newest recruit, a wet-behind-the-ears soldier named Kenny, is essentially Cyril Figgis.

It's big, dumb humor that's smart enough to not be grating and smart enough to not act like it's smart enough, which keeps it from getting annoying.

Funny writing aside, Serious Sam 4 is also a really solid shooter, as it continues with the formula that long ago helped it stand out from the crowd. Many first-person shooters of this ilk pack you into maze-like corridors, with enemies ambushing you from various alcoves and altitudes. That isn't really the case here.

Like previous games in the series, Serious Sam 4 delights in putting you into massive, open areas and dropping loads of enemies in with you. How you survive wave after wave is up to you.

Teach Me How to Shoot

This design works so well because of how SS4 teaches you without bumbling tutorials slowing things down. New enemies are almost always introduced in scenarios where they're easy to observe and understand. After dealing with a new foe, the next section will throw three or so of those enemies at you, maybe with a little cannon fodder to mix things up. Then, all bets are off.

Soon, you'll enter huge, arena-style spaces with a ton of weapons and armor sitting in the middle. This means it's time to get ready for a real fight, taking it to waves of foes that include the new enemies you just learned about. The first time this happens in the game, Sam even makes a crack about how "usually, a bunch of bad guys appear" when he comes across a setup like this.

The key to success is remembering how to deal with each type of enemy, and prioritizing which to take out first. That's easier said than done when there are hundreds of them sprinting and firing at you all at once, each with different attack patterns and behaviors. You also have to juggle your weapons and keep an eye on your ammo for each. Waste too much or quick-change incorrectly, and you'll probably be loading up your save.

Enemies hit hard in Serious Sam 4, and standing still will get you killed. Kiting is very important, and listening to the telltale sounds they make to assess what's closest to you is even more important. Finding a good choke point and mowing enemies down with some an AR or blowing them up with well placed C4 never gets old. Firefights often left me gassed but exhilarated, excited to see what would happen the next time around.

All of this is propelled by the music. Generally, the score is relegated to quiet background noise, but a few boss fights kick up some serious shredding. The wailing, solo-heavy metal is saved for select moments, but it's really effective when hits, lending power and punch to key encounters.

Nefarious Foes

Weapons feel great and are pretty standard shooter fare, but the different abilities you can unlock and secondary fire methods available for some guns let you put your stamp on things.

If you've ever followed the storyline of Serious Sam, it's certainly... a thing.

Earth has been conquered by an advanced alien army, which has set about conquering the planet and turning people into mind-controlled slaves. Protagonist Sam Stone, a gruff (but surprisingly smart) beefcake, is the leader of Earth's resistance force by way of being really good at killing things.

The alien forces are equal parts annoyed and impressed by Earth's resistance and, like any good cheesy sci-fi plot, decide that toying with our heroes is the best way to deal with them.

There's an awful lot of lore in Serious Sam 4, but none of it is overly compelling. This is a game where you shoot things because it's a shooter, and the things you're shooting are trying to kill you. The plot and lore dumps are not going to win any awards.

Luckily, the foes are varied and interesting. There are flying drones, scorpions with chain guns, hammer-wielding giants, kamikaze sprinters, galloping skeletons, and all manner of other hostiles to subdue.

Weapons feel great and are pretty standard shooter fare, but the different abilities you can unlock and secondary fire methods available for some guns let you put your stamp on things. For example, the grenade launcher can either pack a massive punch into one grenade or fire cluster bombs over a large area.

Let's Get Serious

Not everything is perfect in Serious Sam 4.

The biggest gripe I have is with the game's level design. The "arena" style combat works great, and cramming hundreds of enemies into them makes things harry. But otherwise, level design seems a bit haphazard. There's a lot of wasted space in corridor sections, with paths leading to nowhere and absolutely nothing.

Maybe such a design choice was an attempt to encourage exploration for secrets, but it actually has the opposite effect. I eventually stopped wandering down these side paths, as it seemed to generally be a waste of time.

One of the trickiest balancing acts in a first-person shooter is where the player should go without being overly obvious. Left 4 Dead is a great example of how to do things right: you always follow the light. Serious Sam 4 trips up a bit in that regard, as levels often leave you a bit turned around.

For example, it's tough to tell which doors you can open or where you should head next, even with objective markers. In one early level, the proper direction indicates you should move over an impassable wall. In that same level, there is lava everywhere, but there are certain parts you can walk over without penalty and other areas that will drain your health.

It's all a tad bit confusing. 

Perhaps these are elements that will get patched in future updates, but it's frustrating that you can't easily find the right direction once you're ready to move forward.

Serious Sam 4 Review — The Bottom Line

Pros:

  • Weapons and movement feel smooth and balanced
  • Enemies are interesting and challenging
  • Script is funny and clever
  • Arena-style combat is exhilarating

Cons:

  • Level layout can be confusing and there's lots of wasted space
  • Story and lore can be a bit overbearing, as it isn't that interesting

Serious Sam 4 is a strong, polished, old-school shooter. The massive, open-air firefights are a fairly unique element to first-person shooters, and panicked kiting of hundreds of enemies is the name of the game.

If you want something revolutionary, this probably isn't it. If you've already gotten your fill of Doom Eternal and want another of 2020's best shooters in your library, this is a great follow-up.

[Note: Devolver Digital provided the copy Serious Sam 4 used for this review.]

Our Rating
8
Serious Sam 4 is a delightfully old-school first-person shooter that doesn't bring a ton of new stuff to the table but still hits all the right notes.
Reviewed On: PC

Contributor

Jordan has been gaming and geeking since he was a wee lad. He is a freelance writer and content creator, contributing to SVG, Looper, and Feast Magazine, among others. Check out his stuff on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCExyOMK798p7mCXwSayD2hg/featured and Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/jojotheninjagaming.

Games Serious Sam 4 Genres Shooter Platforms PCStadia Tags first-person shooters
Published Oct. 12th 2020

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