Serious Sam 4 review. Let's be kleer, Sam is back.

 


In the videogame pantheon of heroes there are many protagonists that stand out with their own clear style. In the category first person shooter defending against large inhuman invasive forces there is Duke Nukem, Doomguy and Sam Stone, aka Serious Sam. Started in 2001 Serious Sam was loaded with all the tropes and one liners of the nineties as we just had survived y2k and moved into a new millennium. A small team out of Croatia had developed their own game engine and introduced us to a game where you would fend of hordes of relentless enemies with an arsenal of insane weapons. It also brought us the art of running backwards and the iconic screams of the headless kamikazes with bombs in their hands ready to explode and many other monsters. After 9 years Sam is back, with a new engine, larger open areas and more hordes to plow through on your way to save earth. 

Serious Sam is a prequel which takes place during the Mental War prior to the events of Serious Sam 3. As a member of AAA ( the Alien Artifact Agency) and the Earth Defense Force, Sam and his band of misfits is on a urgent mission to find the Ark of the Convenient which is believed to hold a weapon against the alien invaders. Time it ticking and the pressure is on as they are perused by the mental and try to  save  what remains of earth and its inhabitants. As you progress through the story Sam has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as he and his gang point out videogame tropes and point out the importance of great puns and brutal one-liners.


Gameplay
Serious Sam's gameplay is straight forward and simple. Grab the biggest gun you see and start taking out the hordes of alien invaders before they overwhelm you. The game is fast, real fast, especially when sprinting or when you take a certain powerups. You will need this speed. There is next to no verticality in the game, unlike the latest Doom games. Sam fights is battle on good old Terra Firma. That is not to say you will not have to defend from upon high,flying harpies, converted apache helicopters or well placed ranged combat from towers and hilltops afar will try their hardest to get the best of you. It is hard to focus on those as you being chased by wave after wave of highly aggressive hordes. Run, reposition, dodge and shoot, make sure you do not get flanked.  If you have played Serious Sam before , you would know what to expect. This is just dialed up to 11 and to get a real feel for the tension it brings it is a game you want to play on normal or higher for the right challenge.

The levels take you across Italy, France and Russia and range from city streets to massive open fields. There are plenty of hidden items to find for those who like to explore. And each massive area will have a side mission or two to take if you want. It will take you on a solid detour but the reward at the end is usually worth the trouble.

The flow of the game has its calm moments , broken up by hordes to break through which usually involved backtracking a bit to keep the waves in front of you. Then there are the area fights which involve doors that are locked until you fight of wave after wave of Mental forces. And indeed Sam takes notice of this pesky door situation throughout the game.  Running backwards is a tactic that returns, but is slower then sprinting forward and you have to retreat regularly in order to get a tactical advantage. Barging in full steam ahead is a recipe for disaster.



There are plenty of weapons to choose from , the usual guns are present  , machine gun, pistols, c4  and of course the double barrel shotgun is a good ol' reliable to fall back on. other weapons get more creative such as an old fashion canon ball canon or a rocket propelled chainsaw launcher. Some real powerful items are more rare but their result is absolutely devastating. launching a miniature nuke to melt everything in sight or launch a portable black hole that sucks all the Mental and then implodes with a satisfying crunch you cannot help but smile. Due to its power and scarcity it is probably best to keep them as a final resort if you can. From time to time you get to control various vehicles to move around the enormous maps, including an enormous friggin pope Mech pope mobile. All this had me giddy with excitement as I stomped around the city mowing down the alien invaders. Running over aliens with a combine as a country diddle played was as satisfying as you would think it would be.


As you progress through the game you will also receive skill points from artifacts that can be assigned to a skill tree. It is not a large skill tree such as in RPG's but it does offers useful new abilities such as dual wielding, better melee etc. So look around for crates that hold these skill upgrades for you.



Multiplayer
Lets face it, play together is more fun and Serious Sam has had some great coop and pvp options in the past. In this latest game there is no 16 player coop or PVP at this time. You will have to do with 4 player teams for now. You can play through any level you completed and set various customizations such as friendly fire, enemy strength, health item respawn etc. And playing with a friend is still incredibly fun. Hopefully we can see more online gameplay options in the future.

Presentation
The devs at Croteam brought in the big guns and recreated their game engine to support massive environments with multiple paths, hidden treasures and an insane number of enemies on screen at the same time. Their claim is that the game can support over 10.000 enemies at once and in the opening moments this is on full display. It is impressive to see and it does not last long enough to really appreciate, leaving you wanting for more. Through 16 levels Serious Sam brings the game to an impressive crescendo full on war in the final battle of the game. Sure some graphic fidelity is turned down at this point but you cannot help but stand in awe of the thousands of warriors on a sprawling battlefield running at each other as massive mechs and demons move among them.

In terms of graphics, the game is both impressive in sheer performance , design and colors, with nice skyboxes and awkward. In terms of character designs and animation things feels a bit stiff and odd, and the eyes are all freaky, like someone is wearing the wrong skin. In contrast the alien designs look great and the designs work much better. The modern look of the classic monsters as well as the newly added varieties all feel unique and colorful. The mega bosses you are fighting are equally great and impressive as some of them seem to cover most of the map , the sheer size is absolutely amazing. 



The weapon sounds are punchy and feel like they have an impact. Each enemy has a unique sound as well as a clear indicator what is coming your way and what direction it adds to the visuals and makes the whole package.  Supported by a strong soundtrack varied from orchestral symphonies to shredding guitars that build a great atmosphere it is only the voice acting that feels a bit out of date and wooden. It works though and clearly everyone has a good time. During battles the dialog between characters is hilarious and worked better for me then during cutscenes. Especially during the dramatic moments I was not buying it, but the jokes and one liners were excellent and really showed off the different personalities. 



Not for the younger ones
Serious Sam contains a lot of blood and giblets. Especially when the larger enemies explode a glorious gory display of parts fly across the areas staining all around it. If you are not a fan of this you have an array of changed you can make from changing the color to changing the blood into flowers or rainbow colored stars. Or you can even turn it all off and enemies will simply disappear when they are dead.  Just keep in mind if you turn this off to make it more kid friendly that it does not censor the language or remove any drug references etc. As usual ESRB ratings are there for a reason, but I like that these options are included so it allows you to make adjustments that are right for you. If you are a parent that would like to share the game with your kid you can now better decide what the right move is for you.



Final thoughts
Serious Sam 4 is a game that had me grinning , giddy, and screaming with excitement throughout the my time with it. It has options for every player from the casual player to the hardcore completionist. The story might be generic, but it is not about the story, we all know Sam is our hero and we get to play as him (or one of the team members in co-op) and kick some alien butt. The sheer numbers of enemies is impressive and overwhelming at times , even if you have played a Serious Sam game before. Being able to jump back into an earlier save and rethink your approach in seconds allows you to be in a better position to move forward and set yourself up for success. 
In a game with many good games being released I am happy Sam is here to take me through a carnival of shooting, stupid fun and take my mind of the world. I got lost for hours in pure FPS bliss. Serious Sam 4 is maybe not a perfect game but it IS the perfect game to close out the summer and pull us through the rest of the year. 
Sam is back and is seriously fun!



Game information:
Title: Serious Sam 4
Developer: Croteam
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release date: Sep 24, 2020
Platforms: PC (Stream), Google Stadia,
Review platform:  PC (Steam)
ESRB: Mature : Blood and Gore, Drug References, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language


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