STAFF REVIEW of Serious Sam 4 (Xbox One)

Thursday, December 23, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Serious Sam 4 Box art Back in early 2001 an interesting new shooter emerged onto the market, Serious Sam: The First Encounter. While the world was already used to shooters, I don’t think there was anything quite like Serious Sam at the time. What made it so different was that it had you facing dozens of enemies at a time, focusing on its gunplay and level design as opposed to any real sense of narrative. If it moved, you shoot it, that’s the Serious Sam way and still maintains that to this day. Serious Sam also never took itself seriously (see the irony?) and just gave you access to tons of guns, some of which were quite unique and still iconic to this day.

While developers Croteam have made a couple non Serious Sam games, that’s basically what they’re known for, as it’s a showcase of their own engine, their bread and butter so to speak. With quite a few Serious Sam titles under their belt, the time has obviously come for the latest sequel, especially with the latest generation of consoles now available. Serious Sam 4 takes the classic gameplay formula we’ve come to expect from the series and cranks it up another notch by making the levels much more vast and making hundreds of enemies appear on screen at one time.

Technically a sequel to Serious Sam 3: BFE, which in itself is a prequel to the original game, Serious Sam 4 once again has Sam and his band of comrades taking the fight against Mental’s hordes of endless enemies. I admit, there’s a little more story here than in previous games, though that’s not a very high bar to reach. You’ll be traveling across the globe searching for the Holy Grail, help a Nonna in Rome, exploring vast open fields and of course, shooting hundreds of alien monsters. With 15 chapters to get through, only the hardcore and faithful Serious Sam fans will care the slightest bit about the story, such as finally meeting Lord Achriman. You’ve come here to blast some aliens in the face with some guns, and that’s what you’ll focus on until the credits roll.

Throughout the 15 chapters your goal is to simply get to the end of each, usually culminating in a boss fight of some sorts, some much larger and memorable than others, especially the final boss fight that is easily my highlight of the complete series. Follow the somewhat linear path until you reach a doorway you need to go through. But wait, you won’t be able to go through the door for some reason, forcing you to face off against dozens of Mental’s horde as you try to survive. Defeat all the waves of enemies and you’ll be granted access to progress further in the stage. Repeat this a few times per level and for each chapter and you have a blueprint to Serious Sam 4’s level design. It’s the same gameplay and gating that the series has had for 20 years, so while classic fans will rejoice the gameplay is unchanged, while new players might not be as impressed.

Some elements from their VR outing in the series makes a return in Serious Sam 4, like dual wielding weapons, not only of the same kind, but different as well. This though is gated behind a skill tree system that allows you to customize your Sam to your preferred playstyle. While the series has been simplistic in its design, running from point A to point B while you wait for C to open up, now the introduction of side quests have been added for those that want a little more. While completely optional, these side quests not only add some more playtime but rewards are generally worth it, usually adding a whole new weapon to your arsenal or an upgrade.

Taking place across different continents, the maps are much larger than previous titles. Now though, bigger isn’t always better. This simply means you doing more running from point to point. It may feel like it’s open world at times, especially when you get to the countryside level where you’ll want to take a vehicle to drive to your objective, but aside from the sidequests, there’s no real reason to take the time and explore these vast areas. There’s even a few moments where Sam will get to pilot a mech and destroy any enemies that stand before him, or drive a farming harvester... yup. While it’s cool to see the levels being much larger, they aren’t filled with anything of substance, so it feels empty.

Sam fans will also be glad to know that the staple enemies also make their return, from the iconic headless kamikaze bomb wielders that scream way too loudly, the werebulls, kleer skeletons and more familiar ugly faces. There’s also a couple new enemy types, of which I probably hate the most; I’m looking at you vampires that like to teleport all over the place.

There’s now a skill tree called the S.A.M. (Sirian Artifacts of Might) system. This allows you to improve certain aspects of your Sam based on how you play, generally focusing on melee or ranged combat. How you would play a Serious Sam game primarily based in melee I’m not sure, but the options are there. Each skill takes a point, with the most useful being the ability to dual wield your weapons or being able to mount enemies. It should be noted that you won’t be able to get enough skill points to max out the whole tree though unfortunately.

Like enemies, classic weaponry returns as well, like the shotgun(s), minigun and the iconic literal cannon. There’s a few new toys for your arsenal as well, of which I quite enjoyed the auto shotgun. Some side quests will even offer you upgrades for specific weapons, making them even better in your fight against Mental’s army. There are also gadgets and objects to be found hidden throughout, adding a powerup-like system than can save you from a dangerous situation.

Multiplayer also returns, though with one huge caveat. Older games in the series allowed you to play the campaign in co-op, and that’s no different here, but the player max is down from 16 to 4. That’s fine, I get it, there’s much bigger worlds and better graphics, etc, but there’s one major issue with this; there’s no matchmaking. That’s right, you can only invite people to your game from your friend list, no queuing up for a game with some strangers and a lack of a server browser. I played through the whole campaign in online co-op hoping someone would join, only to realize later that only friends are able to do so. So if you happen to have three other friends who are also Serious Sam fans, great. For everyone else, expect this to be a solo affair. Also gone is versus mode, simply opting for a co-op survival mode, also not playable via matchmaking sadly.

This is without a doubt the best looking Serious Sam game to date, and while that may seem like a compliment, it’s nothing compared to any other modern shooter out recently. Textures for enemies are great, models okay, but animations are quite janky and you only see the same handful of enemies repeated from beginning to finish. Environments are much bigger but lack any sort of character or life. The soundtrack is suitable but quite repetitive, though this is constantly drowned out by gunfire and kamikaze screamers running at you.

There’s some massive load times as well, even on an Xbox Series X. I know I’ve been spoiled with games loading incredibly quickly with the new system, but certain chapters took quite some time to load in between levels. Granted, once the chapter loads there’s no more waiting around, but that initial wait can be quite lengthy. Priced at $51.99 CAD, it’s hard to recommend aside from any of the longtime loyal Serious Sam fans that have been invested for two decades. Granted, Serious Sam 4 is currently included on Xbox Game Pass, which is the perfect price to mindlessly shoot endless hordes of aliens.

Fans of the series will know exactly what to expect; tons of guns, aliens and terrible one-liners. Like a cult movie with a dedicated following, fans will simply get it while everyone else won’t understand; Serious Sam 4 will most likely fall under this type as well, appealing to longtime fans but new players wondering what the hell is going on. Serious Sam 4 is absolutely outdated in its design and mechanics but can be fun in very short bursts for those times you want to turn off your brain and blast away some aliens.

**Serious Sam 4 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 5.5 / 10
Sound: 3.5 / 10


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