The Serious Sam franchise – spanning over 20 years – and the team behind it at Croteam has faced many challenges from the war in Croatia, gaining publisher support – thanks, Devolver Digital – and hard financial times. Tough times demand discipline and innovation and Croteam has used a formula throughout each FPS title that forces players to learn and respect the habits of the AI and “dance with enemies and projectiles”. They also want you to have a lot of fun and reward you by facing you with challenges that at first may seem way too hard but through practice can be overcome. These traits are all enveloped in the main character of the game, Sam Herbert Stone, or commonly known as Serious Sam. Sam’s approach leaves no stone unturned, and, his softer side opens his character arc to relationships and deep thinking. Serious Sam 4, available on PC and Google Stadia, follows the formula and improves on the Serious Sam engine as well as introducing new systems to improve the aesthetics and increase the scale of battles using the Legion System.
THE MENTAL WAR
Serious Sam 4 is a prequel to Serious Sam 3 – a nine-year wait, outdoing Doom’s seven-year hiatus before Doom 2 – and dives into the narrative of the Mental War where hordes of Mental’s army are taking over city landscapes and beating the crap out of what’s left of humanity. Sam leads the Earth Defence Force and gives what resistance they can to Mental’s siege of Earth. Within the game, it’s a simple plot although, for those of you who’ve followed the franchise or want to dive deeper into the story, it provides ties to Serious Sam 3 and brings back some weapons, characters and enemies not seen since Serious Sam 1. If you don’t want to invest a lot of thought into the story, you can supplement it with a slaughter fest of well-designed enemies.
SERIOUS SAM IS FALLING IN LOVE?
The fourth instalment of the franchise goes between Italy, France and Russia. Sam joins familiar faces from Series Sam 3 as well as new characters that provide combat assistance but leave the heavy lifting to you. When Sam and the team temporarily disbanded, Sam is also joined by a French resistance team that help out to kill off crowds of enemies. Each team member has unique personalities and provides comic relief. Sam’s relationships with the team differ from potential love interests to developing friendships. The game doesn’t delve too deep into these bonds but gives it enough attention to draw your interest.
“DOUBLE THE GUN, DOUBLE THE FUN!”
The lifeblood of Serious Sam is the impressive fast-pace with vast amounts of enemies and massive levels. Serious Sam 4 increases the size of maps to open-world scale – although you don’t explore them too much – and the number of enemies. Croteam implement there Legion System later in the game to process large-scale battles with thousands of enemies on the map.
The design in the smaller levels encourages you to explore to find secrets, ammunition, armour and rewarding side objectives. If you choose not to complete the side objectives you can leave weapon upgrades behind which can make the game much harder so, it’s worth your time. The characters in the side objectives also give insights into the developing story and are refreshing to meet, and, more Sam banter is too good to forgo.
The progression from small to massive levels forces you to develop different strategies and techniques for each. A smaller level design encourages you to use the world objects like ruins for cover. A massive map influences your running style like zig-zagging, circuit running or running backwards, and, you have to be very precise with your movements and timing to survive. At times I felt like the movement mechanics were that of a sports game – ironically Croteam’s first game was Football Glory. One of the levels uses mood lighting to create a dark horror-like atmosphere but unfortunately gives an underwhelming challenge.
NETRICSA is featured in the game like previous titles and provides some useful information, stats and the S.A.M. (Sirian Artifact of Might) system that is a skill point tree that you can use to improve your melee or long-range combat. Most of the S.A.M. eggs that give you skill points you will get through completing missions, or, you can also find them as secrets.
GADGETS? GIVE ME MORE
Serious Sam 4 introduces new weapons as well as favourites from previous instalments. The majority are super rewarding to use and give a nice visual detail upgrade compared to Serious Sam 3. The first time introduction of gadgets play their part but aren’t necessary in order to finish the game. The feeling of using the life saving H.E.A.R.T gadget or clearing enemies using a Crystalized Black Hole gives the momentum of the game a kick. Vehicles are a must due to the scale of maps and give some relax time from holding down the shift button – my pinkie finger was in pain. The movement mechanics are underwhelming although they show off some hilarious enemy deaths and the satisfaction from using the Pop-mobile mech makes up for it.
DRUMS, DRUMS, DRUMS
The soundtrack of the game is a highlight as well as the dynamic music system. The music reacts to the momentum and tension of the game adds a special touch. Its heavy drums, great guitar riffs and solos and “Hollywood” style theatrics are well done. Some of the guitar solos are thanks to Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck. The timing of the music did seem off at times, and, the repetitiveness of the same song did get a little irritating. The sounds are also impressive in particular the sounds of enemies and guns. After finishing Serious Sam 4, the sounds stuck out to me. While brushing my teeth, I reminisced the sound of the Minigun. And while driving down the highway, I heard Beheaded Kamikaze. All were put to rest when I remembered the soothing tone of voice actor John Dick who returns once again to voice Sam Stone.
THE LAST SAY
Although the game is not polished – on two separate chapters, world textures and characters were rendered red, a case I could not find on forums – the game gives a lot.
The game is challenging, exhausting, rewarding, and, a tonne of fun. You can see that a nine-year wait and focus shift on Croteam’s The Talos Principle, has put a slight dent in Serious Sam. However, a scratch on a franchise that is in PC folklore with a supportive community behind it will not stop it.
Croteam has had to catch up with current standards of game engines, visuals and mechanics and has faltered as it lacks shine but the gameplay, music, sound, narrative and deeper angle of Sam’s character development gives it something else.
Croteam’s story is inspirational. They have developed a lot of their technology with a small team – face recognition using their own built app, software and iPhone X, object scanning was developed themselves – and have given fans of the series a title worth waiting for release. If you are a newcomer to Serious Sam like shooters, the faults may put you off but, I encourage newcomers who enjoy arena shooters to give Serious Sam a go.
Note: The game was reviewed on the MSI GS75 Stealth
- Epic FPS shooter
- Rewarding gameplay
- Great OST
- Classic Sam Stone banter
- Online 4 player co-op
- System glitches
- Dated visuals/mechanics
- Simplistic level design/choices
- Repetitive music in-game