Serious Sam 4 PC Review
After nine years, Croteam are back with a new main-line Serious Sam game. Originally titled Serious Sam: Planet Badass, I wonder if they were worried people would think it was just a spin-off, or a VR collection; where the franchise has found some success in the last couple of years – and with good reason! Mowing down fields of aliens coming from all angles with a massive array of explosive weaponry is an awesome time in VR. It makes everything seem fresh and the sheer volume of enemies, something the series is particularly famous for, feels even more exaggerated when you’re actually standing there, face-to-face with the onslaught. Serious Sam 4, on the other hand, is nothing like that. Instead it’s stale and completely outdated from the very first level. There is a complete lack of innovation or interesting development, either in the story or the gameplay, and might I remind you Doom Eternal came out this year. The shadow from Doom (2016) was already daunting but then Eternal somehow still managed to beat the odds and take it further. Next to that giant, many, many games fall short but SS4 isn’t even in the running. It is painfully average.
My main playthrough was done entirely in co-op. Even the worst games can be a great laugh if played with a buddy but somehow Serious Sam 4 doesn’t quite get that right, either. For some reason when playing in co-op there’s no death penalty outside of the respawn timer increasing, making it impossible to lose. Instead of overcoming the challenges by trying and trying again, it’s very easy to just kind of give up and keep respawning, taking out a few more enemies each time, chipping away at the armies of the alien lord Mental (who still doesn’t show up in this latest iteration). Due to this, I wholeheartedly recommend playing solo, which I went back to do out of sheer curiosity. It is way more interesting to have to try to survive many of the insane fights and the different benefits of each weapon play a significant role, whereas co-op makes them feel interchangeable. Using a shotgun to sidestep and take down bulls, taking advantage of the lock-on function of the rocket launcher to blast the long-ranged heavy-duty enemies, and saving the rare area-wipe grenades for those especially intense situations is where Serious Sam 4 does its best work.
Still, whilst the large array of weapons are certainly fun to play around with, the mindless combat and absence of meaningful abilities or maneuverability makes it easy to feel the grind, especially because of how many of the same types of enemies spawn at once. I mean, there are a good amount of different enemy types throughout the game (although I couldn’t tell you if any of them are new), but when forty Kleers appear every fight, they get old fast. Or worse, a hundred screaming Kamikazes – another franchise classic that start off funny but quickly become noisy irritations. All this against boring backdrops and huge, open, but totally empty areas paints a pretty bland portrait of a relic of a bygone era. I remember pointing out that I couldn’t ‘ping’ an item for my teammate, and although not totally necessary I found that to be just one of many missing quality-of-life features present in most titles these days. Many game design choices seem to have been stunted by what is ‘classic’ instead of what is good.
It’s simply no longer reasonable to ask players to run for ten minutes across a map (even with the old-school FPS movement speed) that is void of anything interesting or interactive, just to set the scene for a big fight – that’s not how games work anymore, it’s not enough. We expect more content and less filler. We want more developed, interesting worlds. Yet, sadly, it’s clear absolutely no attempt was made to breathe some life into the environments and I often felt like the same, generic locations could have been built out in no time using the Unreal Engine, or other similar tool. It’s no surprise that the story is uninspired, too. It’s about Sam’s team of generic freedom fighters trying to overcome their addiction to awful, obsolete one-liners long enough to hunt down a MacGuffin they need to stop the big bad, which we already know fails (being a prequel to a prequel). It’s hardly going to win an award for writing – it’s a Serious Sam game, meaning everything that happens is tailored specifically to set up a bad joke and give the players a reason to shoot more stuff. Once again, though, ‘that’s what Serious Sam is’ just doesn’t cut it these days.
I suppose fans of the franchise might still enjoy this latest addition but it’s mostly a nostalgia trip now. The games industry is incredibly fast moving – growing, evolving, and constantly out-classing itself year-on-year, and Serious Sam has been left behind. In this way it reminded me a lot of Duke Nukem Forever, which interestingly came out the year Serious Sam 3 did, back in 2011. Besides the addition of a tacked-on skill tree and upping the crazy amount of enemies on screen, not much else has been done to help pull Sam out of irrelevance. It’s a nice thing to remember where we came from and marvel at all the advancements made since then but we don’t need new games to help us do that, unless they’re going to shake up the formula or take it to the extreme using the best of both worlds, like Ion Fury. Serious Sam 4 had the opportunity to go a little wild, to try some new things, and yes, potentially fail. Instead it chose the cowards way out and did almost nothing, making it a better benchmark test than a video game.