Serious Sam 4 Review
Serious Sam 4 is the mainline sequel to the long-running shooter franchise developed by Croteam and published by Devolver Digital. You play as Sam Stone, a super soldier fighting against the alien hordes sent by the alien warlord Mental to subjugate Earth.
In this installment, Sam and his squad have gone to Italy to search for the Holy Grail believed to hold the secrets to the immense power that the aliens want. Now, it’s a race against time to claim the magical item to turn the tides of the war. That and delivering the best one-liners after a sweet kill.
Coming off from a fantastic Halo Infinite campaign run, I was itching for more shooters and I didn’t have to wait too long as Serious Sam 4‘s console release had dropped almost simultaneously with Halo Infinite. Best of all, it also came out Day 1 on Xbox Game Pass, allowing many to try it out for free.
For those wanting to purchase the game at full price, it heartens me to know that the full Serious Sam saga is included with the bundle – from his humble beginnings to this latest installment.
Madness? This is Italia!
Serious Sam 4 starts off during the final mission of the game. Sam, in dire straits, fends off literally an entire army in an open warfare scenario a la Battlefield. After seemingly taking a mortal blow, we flashback to the start where Sam and his friends are searching for the Holy Grail in Italy to stop the most recent invasion by Mental. From the get-go, we already get a feel of what kind of game we’re playing.
The lampooning of popular shooters from the 90s has been the Serious Sam franchise’s bread and butter. The banter between characters will make attempts at different types of humor, from sarcastic humor to breaking the fourth wall, so the jokes will land at some point depending on your taste. Some of the dialogue can be crass, but it doesn’t devolve (heh) to cringe (looking at you Ubisoft). Despite the fact that the comedy does wear thin after being fed to you throughout the course of your campaign, there are some pretty cool zingers, one-liners, and memorable moments to keep you going.
Despite that, the main campaign of Serious Sam 4 is probably the best thing it has going for it. You could totally feel the effects of an invasion, but it doesn’t sensationalize, keeping the tone light. There were some scenes that could’ve used more tact, but for the most part, it comes part and parcel with what the writers are going for.
The Serious Sam 4 campaign runs roughly around 30 minutes per mission depending on how many side quests you plan to complete, with the full campaign being 8-12 hours depending on difficulty level. Upon completion, you can opt to bring a friend along for a co-op option allowing for more replay value as you scour maps for extra secrets and complete the many quirky side stories the game litters every level with.
Seriously, this is madness
If there’s one word to describe the action of Serious Sam 4, it’s “insanity”. Hordes of alien forces and reinforcements will bombard you from the start of the game and it just keeps escalating. If you’re not prepared for a loud boomer shooter experience (Doom Eternal comes to mind), it can get overwhelming fast.
Serious Sam 4 leans hard into its boomer shooter roots and gives you all the guns and ammo you need to wreak havoc. While many of them work like a charm as they’re meant for crowd control, there were some guns that rely on precision which is quite a puzzling addition to this style of play.
Precision play is another story for Serious Sam 4 as the gameplay trains you to run and gun. Sniper rifles especially are tough to get a feel for and finding your target on the scope is dizzying. Shooting from the hip is certainly the way to go and most of the time, I defer to a double-barrelled shotgun, which hits my targets with more precision during a run and gun scenario than a sniper rifle.
You’ll be bombarded with all types of aliens, both familiar and unique to the genre. While many of the cannon fodder are quite easy to manage, there are a few that are really frustrating. Kamikaze bombers rush at you at all sides, but the audio design makes them more annoying rather than challenging (more on that later). Flyers and snipers are also incredibly annoying as they are skinny and skittish that sometimes I have to rely on hitting them on a fluke than actually hitting them with a precision weapon.
However, there are times where the swarms in Serious Sam 4 can be therapeutic. When managed properly, you can go on a power trip taking out swaths of enemy forces with different weapons switching from one crowd control gun to another. Add the dual wield of two different weapon types and it becomes a symphony of carnage where one hand can be holding a minigun and the other firing explosive cannons on all cylinders.
Method to the madness
When we get down to what makes Serious Sam 4 tick, so many elements could’ve used a little bit more polish. Besides the controls not being intuitive, there were some dated choices in how gun switching works. It actually gets worse when you’ve chosen to dual-wield, because getting the right gun combination takes a lot of guesswork to set up. The “use” button (to open doors and interact with objects) is also awkwardly mapped on the Right Analog button where most shooters have it mapped on the face buttons, which can make it confusing.
Progression can also be frustrating in Serious Sam 4 as there are various issues that make moving forward in the level unclear. At times, the compass can be unreliable because it leads you to a place where the objective can’t be reached. When you use your GPS tracker, it leads you to a dead-end making you go around in circles. Then, there are areas in the map where you would have to clear the map of enemies for the automated doors to unlock, but they don’t make that clear on how many enemies you have to kill or where you would have to kill them.
Speaking of the dual wield and melee in Serious Sam 4, they’re gated behind an arbitrary skill system that requires you to collect alien orbs that unlock skills. It opens up the dual wield skill mapping as well as being able to melee larger enemies, use environmental melee weapons, or even ride certain enemy types as mounts.
This design decision is quite baffling because it just adds more busywork to an already busy game. It can be seen as a way to get you to do the various sidequests or search for the level secrets, but even that is just unnecessary padding when they could’ve just made those skills available on the get-go, respecting Sam Stone as a hero.
Finally, the audio design is probably one of the aspects that really breaks the game. Considering there’s some banter going on with Sam and his friends, you can barely hear it when the action gets heated. Throw in those kamikaze bombers and other screaming enemies and they just became unnecessary migraine-inducing noise. It probably isn’t a good sign when you try to play the game without audio and enjoy it better that way.
What We Liked:
- Starts off strong with the FPS parody, strong set pieces throughout the main campaign.
- Campaign co-op is good with friends for better replayability.
- Previous games bundled with Serious Sam 4 adds value.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Comedy wears thin really fast.
- Gunplay and crowd control in the game is lopsided with a focus on run-and-gun, making precision play frustrating.
- Control scheme isn’t intuitive, works better for first person view, difficult to play on third person view.
- Various progression issues with an unreliable compass and some unclear objectives.
- Audio design is lopsided, loudness are in varying degrees, and most are annoying.
Verdict: Wait For It.
There is a lot of fun that could be had with Serious Sam 4, however many of its design issues make it a loud, overwhelming, and unbearable mess. There are some really great moments in this game with some entertaining cut scenes and many moments where it becomes a genuine run-and-gun fest. However, it feels like the game takes a good thing and gives you too much of it. While I appreciate all the extra content with the launch, a lot of it feels like unnecessary padding.
There are many points in the game that, when given a bit more polish, could’ve made it a more entertaining experience. Some of the banter between the characters really land, but if I can’t hear them over all the noise and lost concentration over precision play, feels like a big missed opportunity. Serious Sam 4 could’ve just opened up all the skills so we could use the dual wield, mounts, and melee to our heart’s content, going all out with its mayhem.
The audio design of Serious Sam 4 could’ve been fine-tuned so the gun fights would’ve been more exhilarating than frustrating. On top of everything else, there are just too many elements that end up frustrating the player.
*Serious Sam 4 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with a review code provided by the publishers.