Despite being anachronistic in most ways a game can be, all of the stars had aligned for the series known as Serious Sam. The successes of both 2016’s Doom and Devolver Digital as a publisher in recent years left the window ajar for this bravado-soaked action hero to, on attempt number four, become a household name at last while denying yet another alien advance. Unfortunately, “Serious” Sam Stone is such an outrageous shitheel, it’s impossible to find him or his crusade the least bit enjoyable.
Because he’s at least respectable of the women he encounters during his campaign, Sam doesn’t quite plunge into Duke Nukem levels of degeneracy. With a pair of gas station sunglasses, a Henley shirt as well as a combo of daggy jeans and red sneakers, Sam isn’t the king of cool the game sells him as. He’s a rapid-fire punchline merchant and his humour relies on one-liners, puns and dad jokes to match his fashion. Even putting Sam aside, the game’s eight-hour campaign is a tepid push through Europe and serves to bridge the gap between the second and third games. The whole thing plays out like some alternate-universe Indiana Jones film starring Arnie where it’s aliens instead of Nazis and the biblical artefact is the key to saving everyone. I don’t expect this particular, poorly-paced lost chapter of Serious Sam is one that’s been long sought after. Not only does it feel inconsequential it’s also staggeringly dumb.
Serious Sam 4 plays a bit like the reinvented Doom, only without the verticality and arena variety. It’s a slick, highly-responsive shooter that feels exceptional in hand and the game offers a constant drip-feed of new weapons to reduce the alien forces to gibs with—though it also inexplicably strips Sam of his arsenal mid-game and once again nearer the endgame in some feeble attempt to neuter our hero, almost as if we’d been given too much too soon. Many of the game’s arenas are flat and one-dimensional, leaving most of the enemy forces on one plain, relatively easy pickings despite their vast numbers. It’s this lack of variety that sees the gloss of Serious Sam wear off after only a couple of hours. There’s still a tremendous sense of scale that developer Croteam has managed to achieve, whether it’s the relentless, magical rendering of what felt like hundreds of on-screen enemies at once or the behemoth boss encounters that, context-be-damned, managed to spice up the ludicrous, over-the-top campaign on offer.
The army that opposes Sam balloons in numbers just as quickly as his arsenal does, it feels as though the game introduces a new thing to kill every other minute. The problem is, except for one or two variants that demand a shred of tact, holding down the mouse button is as much finesse as you need to absolutely liquify everything on the screen.
The game might not propagate strategy through combat, though it does encourage exploration to a degree as it offers several optional objectives as Sam ground and pounds his way through Europe. They’re often the same, brief bouts of wave defense that numb the mind during the mainline quest, though instead of a simple, sweet escape to the next level, Sam is gifted even bigger gadgets to use such as a literal black hole that, like a Chux wipe, leaves the warzone spotless. The game isn’t afraid to go to some insane places and I do applaud it for that, it reminded me a lot of Saints Row in that regard. There’s also an upgrade tree that is bound to embolden Sam throughout the fifteen missions and it’s surprisingly not tied to the amassing of XP. Instead, it’s bound to collectibles found in the world—a fleeting classic touch.
A fairly unremarkable score aside, there isn’t an aspect of Serious Sam 4’s presentation that isn’t offensive. The character models are expression-free and the animation feels half-baked, it’s hard to see Sam as some force of change when he walks as though he’s in desperate need of relief only Triple B cream can provide. There’s some value in the game’s environments as the beautiful, sweeping farmlands of Rome and France look delightful though the game’s action-packed campaign even takes us to the heart of Italy, to spill blood on the Colosseum which is realised in surprising detail. Looking at it, it’s hard to believe this game was in development for eight years, though I expect there were a few creative reboots in there, I can’t help but feel it could have at one point been a pisstake of id’s Doom because a large part of Hell’s cast feature here. Everybody knows what they say about imitation, but these similarities feel a tad egregious.
Given Doom’s success, I think it’s clear that Serious Sam had a directional shift that put it more in line with id’s reboot. It got little right in this transition and though there are things that seriously impress me about Serious Sam 4—its steadfast performance under the duress of a full-scale alien invasion being one of them—it’s the things it gets wrong that most will remember.
THE PC VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Serious Sam is a series that has long alluded me and I’m starting to think it might have been for the better. Although this fourth iteration might feature some staggering, titanic battles and silk-smooth gunplay, its existence feels like a clear reminder that it’s often best to let the past stay dead. Serious Sam 4 is an excavation from a long-outdated era that is more Duke Nukem Forever than it is Doom.
The shooting does handle quite well
The sheer scale of the huge battles is quite staggering