The first few hours of Serious Sam 4 provide the sort of dizzying joy I always crave in mindless first-person shooters. Sure, I love a good story as much as the next person, but sometimes you just want to point, shoot, and repeat. And that’s precisely what Serious Sam 4 does best. And as soon as you’ve finished destroying a group of goons, creeps, and monsters, there are more aliens waiting for their own chance to stomp you into the ground. If you’ve played the previous installments of Serious Sam, then you know what to expect from this experience. Croteam and publisher Devolver Digital understand what fans want, and they’re not really interested in screwing up a winning formula.
Obviously, if booking an extended stay with Serious Sam 4, you shouldn’t anticipate much of a plot. Sure, aliens have taken over the world, but the titular hero journey isn’t particularly noteworthy. In place of an in-depth story, you lots of weapons, mountains of ammunition, and a never-ending supply of cringy one-liners. Sam’s goal, of course, is to wipe the aliens off the planet and save humanity — that’s pretty much all you should expect. Which is fine, really, because telling a strong, satisfying story isn’t something that the Serious Sam franchise has ever done exceedingly well. The plot provides a loose framework for lots and lots of shooting, and the fourth mainline installment doesn’t stray from this setup. It’s all very Michael Bay in its execution, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible.
Serious Sam 4 certainly delivers plenty of entertainment value, even if the action does get a bit repetitive after a while. But that’s the nature of this otherworldly beast: Fans line up to blast away at wave after wave of aliens, without such complications as exhaustive cut scenes or needless exposition. And you’ll definitely have plenty to battle here, as Croteam stuffs the game to overflowing with the franchise’s iconic villains, as well as a few new surprises. The simple “aim, shoot, repeat” mentality may seem overly simple when compared to other similar offerings, but the game excels at providing you with a pure rush of adrenaline, especially when you’re surrounded on all sides of vampires that fling horrifying spirits and raging bulls that will quickly deplete your health and armor. Whenever I thought I’d started to grow a little weary of the Sam and company’s one-note shenanigans, the story shipped me to another locale and dropped me in the middle of another breathless onslaught of mayhem. Oh, and you get to pilot a mech at one point during the campaign, which is quite nice.
Did I mention that the pope owns the aforementioned mech? Yeah, that’s definitely a thing.
Serious Sam 4 relies on a pretty interesting hook: It strives to deliver an insane amount of enemies on the field of battle at one time. Instead of a small cluster of creatures who want to rip your asunder, you’re frequently faced with overwhelming odds against a staggering number of different enemies. For anyone who’s played musou games, this isn’t anything new; taking down hordes of foes is just another day at the proverbial office. However, this is really the first time I’ve seen a first-person shooter employee this mechanic on such an overwhelming scale. Without giving too much away, the opening scene, which tosses Sam in front of a humongous alien army, is a sight to behold. Naturally, you’ll eventually get used to the mayhem as the levels wear on, but the buzz is definitely strong while it lasts.
This time around, Serious Sam 4 incorporates a very light RPG system that allows you to boost our gravelly-voiced hero’s abilities by essentially absorbing mysterious alien orbs scattered around the maps. It’s not a very comprehensive system, to be perfectly honest, but it adds a delightful dopamine kick when you slowly increase the things Sam is capable of doing while squaring off against his adversaries. Could the game have lived without it? Without a doubt. The Serious Sam series doesn’t really need this type of system, as the previous installments have always been about using your own skills and capabilities to overcome impossible odds. That said, I’m a sucker for collecting junk and leveling up, so I’m not going to complain about it. But it is a little pointless in the grand scheme of the alien invasion.
One thing I will gladly complain about is the writing and the characters. Although I don’t necessarily have a problem with Sam (he’s always seemed like a B-grade version of Duke Nukem, who was nothing more than a B-grade hero anyway), I instantly grew tired of the banter between Mr. Serious and his partners in crime. Ten years ago, I would have welcomed their action-movie archetypes, but I’m not so forgiving anymore. I’m sure they’re supposed to be parodies — right down to the new recruit who can’t deliver a proper one-liner when he slays an alien — but for some reason, they annoyed me more than anything else. Thankfully, you won’t have to spend a lot of time getting to know these clowns. The cut scenes are breezy, giving you just enough exposition to lay the groundwork for the next over-the-top set piece.
I’m a simple meat-and-potatoes dude when it comes to my first-person shooters, so Serious Sam 4 accommodates my tastes with near-perfection. The game runs and looks fantastic, and you’ll barely have time to catch your breath in between skirmishes. And while the RPG-style system and the ludicrous banter between Sam’s pals leave much to be desired, they don’t detract from the game’s over-the-top sensibilities. That said, I highly doubt that Serious Sam 4 will bring new fans into the fold; if you hated the franchise in the past, chances are this won’t do anything to change your mind. And that’s perfectly okay. In a world stuffed with all types of shooters, there’s something out there for just about everyone. Serious Sam 4 caters to a specific type of FPS player, and those fans shouldn’t have anything to complain about.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Devolver Digital.
Serious Sam 4 doesn't deviate from the other entries in the mainline series, and that's perfectly okay. The fourth installment looks and handles perfectly, though some players may succumb to the repetition before the campaign concludes. That said, it's still an absolute blast to play, and it should keep fans busy for quite some time.