Serious Sam 4 Review: A Worthy Return With Room For Improvement

8
  • Windows
  • Action
  • Shooter
2020-09-24
SeriousSam4_KeyArt_16x9
Serious Sam 4 Croteam

When you think of first-person shooters, you likely think of games like Call of Duty or Battlefield where you spend half your time in cover hiding from the enemy. You peak and shoot carefully to make sure that you don’t get shot. There is nothing wrong with games like these, but they don’t necessarily fulfill the power fantasy of some players. There used to be games a few decades back where your enemies didn’t hunt you, but you were the one doing the hunting, and no, I am not talking about Doom. I am talking about Serious Sam, the ‘always on the move’ shooter that was developed by some friends and classmates from Croatia.

serious-sam-4-screenshots_qxzm
Serious Sam 4 Photo: Croteam

Their last proper entry in the Serious Sam franchise was Serious Sam 3: BFE, which was released back in 2011. It was a decent game, but not the best from SS. However, developer Croteam is back with another shot. After waiting nine long years, Croteam has finally released its long-awaited sequel, Serious Sam 4. So, how does the latest entry fare? Is it any good, and does it match the quality of its predecessors?  

A Massive Weapons Arsenal

Serious Sam 4 does exactly what fans wanted from the series: tons of enemies and tons of guns. There is no stupid two or three weapon limit here. SS4 lets you carry all the weapons you need to decimate the alien horde.

Serious Sam 4 All Weapons
All Weapons Photo: Croteam

Almost all the weapons from previous SS games are here along with some brand-new guns and gadgets. One new weapon is known as the FRPCL or F.L.A.M.M.E. It’s a mixture of a chainsaw, flamethrower, rocket launcher, and a catapult. Yep, you read that right. Another new gadget is the Black Hole Grenade, which does exactly what you think it does. We also have a friendly flying drone, a health revive, a mini-nuke, and more. Some weapons also have secondary fire modes which can drastically change your gameplay style. 

Serious Sam 4 Weapon
F.L.A.M.M.E Photo: Croteam

With all these new and improved weapons, Serious Sam 4 could have ditched some weapons that weren’t that useful. This includes the pistol, which I never used unless the game forced me. Three types of shotguns is also kind of redundant.

Gameplay

The original Serious Sam games are known for having tons of enemies in an open field all attacking you. SS4 does exactly that, with more than half of the game involving shooting at charging Kamikazes or dodging attacks from Kleer Skeletons. The game emphasizes that you always keep moving. If you stay in one place, you will die from incoming rockets, charging Sirian Werebulls, and more.

Serious Sam 4 real-enemies
Serious Sam 4 Enemies Photo: Croteam

There are a lot of enemies on screen at any given time, and I mean a lot, thanks to the new Legion system. Croteam wasn't kidding when they said they wanted 100,000 enemies on screen at once. There are some scenarios where that is the case, however, you won’t fight all the 100,000 enemies yourself. For most of my fights, I had somewhere around 50-100 enemies on screen, which climbed up to around 200 during the final missions. Even this number can get a little overwhelming, so it is probably for the best that you never have to fight 100,000 at once.

The overwhelming number of enemies can also get a little tiring. There were several times I had finished one wave of enemies and just seconds later another wave of even stronger enemies showed up. Fighting can last up to 15 minutes, and sometimes I just wanted it to end so I could progress. There were times when killing all the aliens felt more like a chore than me having fun.

Story And Characters

This is the weakest part of Serious Sam 4, but what were you expecting? The main synopsis is ‘go get this item so we can do something to fight the main boss.’ This isn’t The Witcher 3 or The Last of Us, where the story is a major factor. Serious Sam 4 acts as a prequel to Serious Sam 3, which is also a prequel to the original. SS2 is not canon, so ignore that. Serious Sam 4’s story is just sort of there if you are interested, but it’s not shoved in your face. You can ignore it for the most part or you can read the codex files for more info on characters and major events. 

Serious Sam 4 Father Mikhail
Father Mikhail Photo: Croteam

The characters are also nothing special. Most of them are quite basic and are so forgettable that you won’t care about them. However, some characters will start growing on you, like Kenny and Rodriguez. The game’s main villain Lord Achriman is also so unmemorable that I didn’t care about him at all. To me, he was just another alien to kill.

Serious Sam 4 Lord Achriman
Lord Achriman Photo: Croteam

By the way, the identity of the Serious Sam series’ primary antagonist, Mental (also known as Tah-Um, Chaad Sheen, or Notorious Mental), is still a secret, so don’t expect any major revelations this time around.

Exploration

Serious Sam 4 Exploration
Side Mission Area Photo: Croteam

This is one game where you don’t expect exploration to really play into things, but it’s still there. There are secrets hidden all over the world that can get you new gadgets and mods for your weapons. You can also find skill points to make your Sam even more buff. Serious Sam 4 also has tons of side missions that can grant you some strong weapons early in the game. Doing side missions will lead you to parts of the map that you might otherwise completely miss. The screenshot above shows an area that you will only see if you choose to do a side mission.

Serious Sam 4 Maps
Massive Map Photo: Croteam

There is one particular level where I spent more time exploring the map than actually doing the mission. The map design was massive and stretched to three to four kilometers. I didn’t expect this from a Serious Sam game, however, I appreciate that it’s there, Kudos to Croteam for this.

Music And Sound Effect

The music of the original Serious Sam games was downright phenomenal. I remember listening to The Grand Cathedral (Corridor of Death) as a child continuously. SS4 had some big shoes to fill here, and it did the job amazingly. The music of Serious Sam 4 is much better than I initially expected. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to fight so many aliens if it wasn’t for the music. When you are exploring, the music is slow and sets the mood just right. The music then ramps up when you are fighting aliens. The soundtrack greatly compliments the situation you are currently in. I can’t thank the developers enough for bringing back some of the original Serious Sam tracks to rock out to.

Serious-Sam-4-Kamikaze
Kamikaze Photo: Croteam

The sound effects in Serious Sam 4 are also quite good. Every alien type has a distinct voice and audio queues. The classic ‘AAAAAAaaaAAA’ of a charging Kamikaze and the footsteps of the Sirian Werebulls lets you know that they are nearby and you need to get ready. The skeleton-like audio of a Kleer still terrifies me as well.

However, the sound of the actual guns isn’t something to write home about. I hoped that the guns felt more loud and punchy, but they left me underwhelmed. Speaking of guns, the animation and effects of the guns could also have been improved. This is an important aspect that feels overlooked, as you spend most of your time playing Serious Sam 4 shooting.

Optimization And Performance

Serious Sam 4 Performance
Performance Photo: Croteam

I played Serious Sam 4 on a mid-range PC with an i5 9600k paired with a GTX 1070 and 16GB of RAM. My hardware felt a little short of the recommended system requirements. From my experience, optimization is a mixed bag. For the most part, I was able to play with 70FPS, and the number of enemies on screen didn’t affect my framerate at all. There could be 200+ enemies on screen and I was still able to play without lag or stuttering.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t always like that. There were some specific parts in some levels where my framerate would tank to 50 or even into the 40s. In one particular level, my framerate went as low as the high 20s. This is a big problem in a fast-paced shooter. It’s also weird that a level where there are 100,000 enemies does not affect performance, but a random normal mission will tank your framerate. Reducing the graphics setting helped a little bit on these levels, but not by much. A day one update seems to have addressed some of the performance issues, but can still be an issue on certain missions.

However, you can change your API to Vulkan for a 10FPS boost. With Vulkan, I was experiencing screen tearing, so I went back to DX11. There is also a DX12 option if you are interested. Changing Serious Sam 4’s API doesn’t restart the game, so kudos to the developers for figuring that out.

Bugs And Issues

Other than some performance issues, I didn’t encounter any game-breaking bugs. Serious Sam 4 is a finished game that you will be able to enjoy without worrying about any Serious bugs (did you catch that?).

Serious Sam 4 Bugs
Hilarious Bugs Photo: Croteam
 

However, some minor issues can still be patched out. One of them happened during a cutscene, which you can see in the screenshot above. On some rare occasions, I would choose a weapon from the weapon wheel and the game automatically selected a gadget. This bug can get really annoying, as I ended up using a gadget I didn’t want to use in the heat of battle.

Verdict

After the mediocre Serious Sam 3, I was a little worried about the sequel. However, I still had hope. Even with all its faults, Serious Sam 4 delivers. It is a classic return of the franchise that SS fans have been waiting for. The corny dialogue and one-liners from Sam feel funny and surprisingly aren’t that cringey. The ability to dual-wield different kinds of weapons makes the gameplay more interesting and dynamic as well.

Serious Sam 4 Legion System
100,000 Enemies Photo: Croteam

The Legion system is impressive and jaw-dropping. Actually seeing 100,000 enemies on screen at once blew my mind. It felt like I was watching the final battle of Avenger’s Endgame. I hope more games adopt this amazing feature.

Even though Serious Sam 4 is not much of a looker, (honestly, it feels like a 2015 game) it still looks clean and impressive. Serious Sam 4 is also the lengthiest game in the franchise. I played on Easy, which is the second difficulty out of five, and it still took me 12-13 hours to complete. Playing on Normal will push your playtime to 15 hours or more. Some of the shortfalls of the game can be forgiven as it’s not a proper AAA title, and only costs $40. I want Serious Sam 4 to do well so that the next sequel can be bigger and better. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait nine more years for it.

Serious Sam 4 Third Person
Third Person Mode Photo: Croteam

Oh, and did I mention that the entire game can be played in co-op mode with up to four players? Not only that, but you can also play in third-person mode if you prefer.

I wanted Serious Sam 4 to be to its classic as Doom (2016) was to its classic. SS4 is not that, but it is the next best thing. After finishing the campaign, I felt tired and exhausted and just wanted to go to bed. But, the next morning all I wanted to do was install previous Serious Sam games and start all over again.

PS: So, we have Doom, Wolfenstein, and Serious Sam back. Can someone make a new Duke Nukem game already? Or at least one that isn’t as horrible as the 2011 reboot?

REVIEW SUMMARY
Serious Sam 4
8
A Worthy Return With Room For Improvement
Serious Sam 4 get's lots of things right, but it also gets some things wrong. Overall the game is an improvement over its predecessor. The open-world design emphasizes exploration, the massive arsenal makes killing aliens more fun than ever.
  • Great Gun Play
  • Massive Map Design
  • Four Players Co-Op Campaign Mode
  • Emphasis On Exploration
  • Lit Soundtrack
  • 100,000 Enemies On Screen
  • Outdated Graphics
  • Some Performance Issues
  • No Multiplayer
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