From Earth With Love
HIGH The Popemobile.
LOW A 500-square-kilometer level with no map.
WTF Flaming Rocket Powered Chainsaw Launcher.
After a misstep with Serious Sam 3: BFE and a decade of VR remakes and indie titles, Croteam has finally found its footing with Serious Sam 4 — the best in the mainline series.
Moving the plot even further back in time, Serious Sam 4 is an FPS set entirely in the future during the war against an evil alien overlord named Mental who’s hellbent on dominating the universe by any means necessary. Players control Sam as he leads a rag-tag group of soldiers through action setpieces and boss battles that climax with a truly enormous battle.
Thanks in large part to the amazing work done by the indie developers who toiled for years exploring the idea of what a Serious Sam game could be, SS4 is the first truly story-driven title in the series. Yes, the vast majority of the gameplay is non-stop action, but there’s an extremely well-written action-comedy framework holding it all in place and making the experience more meaningful by its inclusion.
In Serious Sam and its sequels, players were told that Mental had blown up the Earth and it was Sam’s job to make him pay, but there’s no reason for the player to get emotionally involved in that quest. It succeeded as a launchpad for great action mechanics, but was otherwise mediocre. In SS4, the writers take the time to humanize Sam’s team and add a little depth to Sam himself. Most importantly, they give players a window into how the people of Earth are reacting to Mental’s invasion.
Through audio logs, radio broadcasts, and conversations with resistance fighters, Serious Sam 4 paints a picture of a planet teetering on the edge of destruction, populated by regular people who have been plucked from their mundane lives and forced to fight. In a war between worlds, everyone is a soldier. So, when the campaign opens with a real-time image of thousands of soldiers fighting an endless army of monstrosities, it sells the idea that everything is at stake and pulls the player right into the world.
This brings me, naturally, to what players will be doing in that world — constantly shooting enemies.
While Serious Sam 4 repeats SS3‘s mistake of having too many bland, ‘realistic’ weapons that need to be reloaded with infuriating regularity, this is largely made up for by offering a huge arsenal.
SS4 offers sixteen different weapons, each one with its own strengths and weaknesses. Three kinds of shotguns, four types of explosive launchers, a variety of fast-firing heavy weapons, and two different guns so monstrously overpowered that they essentially break the game, exactly as they’re supposed to. Players who are conservative with ammo for the best weapons will find themselves able to wipe out bosses in just a couple of shots, as long as they don’t mind the many, many swarm battles along the way being considerably more difficult.
SS4‘s third-best feature, after the story and arsenal, is how the developers manage the combat. Most of the campaign is set in and around two European cities, but play doesn’t get bogged down in street-to-street fighting the way SS3 did. This time players can look forward to a great mix of desperate battles in cluttered alleys and huge skirmishes in plazas and arenas. The engine is able to put hundreds of enemies onscreen, and in level after level, the developers manage to craft impressive combat scenarios by mixing and matching enemies in devious ways.
Speaking of enemies, nearly every one of the series’ classic foes have returned, along with a few new additions. Fans hoping to slaughter Kleer and Werebulls by the hundreds will be satisfied, and even the witch, SS3‘s worst enemy, has been redeemed as the developers now realize that an enemy stun-locking players was a disastrous choice in a game all about fast-moving gunplay.
While SS4 gets most things right, there are a few crucial errors — the first are the melee attacks.
Serious Sam 4‘s melee attacks are supposed to ape the function of DOOM’s famous glory kills by rewarding the player with health in exchange for a gory execution. Unfortunately, they just aren’t effective — not only does nearly every one have the same animation, but they earn the player up to a paltry five points of health which will immediately be canceled out by the enemy horde who aren’t staggered by the sight of Sam stabbing their compatriot in the brain.
Even more egregious is the lack of an in-game map. I know this sounds like a crazy request for a Serious Sam game, but SS4‘s levels are a departure for the series. The maps are huge, full of optional paths and secret combat encounters, and it can be extremely difficult to keep track of what parts of the neighborhoods have already been explored.
The lack of a map is even worse on the two open-world levels that offer a huge change of pace halfway through the game. It’s a bizarre interlude in the middle of the campaign, with Sam suddenly having access to vehicles and traversing huge distances between gunfights. I would have liked to explore these levels, but without a map it’s a fool’s errand. There are around 25 secrets hidden in those two levels, and I didn’t find a single one of them.
Serious Sam 4 is, without question, the series’ high point. It provides all of the wanton violence the brand promises, adds a story worth investing in, and still has the time to try out bizarre experiments like the open-world areas, kaiju battles and an extremely retro game-within-a-game. Serious Sam has never been better than this, and the sequel hinted in the game’s ending had better arrive faster than the nine-year-gap since the last one.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Croteam and published by Devolver Digital. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and XBO.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC.
Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 1 hour was spent in online campaign co-op, which is the only multiplayer mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, and Strong Language. Constant bloodshed, characters getting drunk and talking about cocaine, naked female harpies flying around, and, of course, numerous weapons designed to transform enemies into bloody chunks. So no, please no kids allowed.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: As is always the case with Serious Sam games, an inability to hear the screaming suicide bombers will make the game unplayable on anything but the lowest difficulty level. Luckily, the developers have included ‘Tourist’, a casual difficulty level, in which it’s nearly impossible to die no matter how many times a suicide bomber sneaks up behind the player.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.