|Platforms||PC (reviewed), Stadia|
|Release Date||September 24th, 2020|
The Serious Sam series has become something of a cult classic over the past few decades. Like Duke Nukem, it is a first-person shooter with a hero that spits out frequent one-liners and aims to blow up every enemy in sight—insert “same energy” meme here. Though I had never played a game in this series, the release of Serious Sam 4 felt like the perfect time to do so. I prepared for the game’s release by playing a few chapters of Serious Sam 3, knowing that it is almost ten years old. I enjoyed what I played. Sadly, when I finally got my hands on Serious Sam 4, I discovered that not much has changed in the last decade.
Spiritual Themes: The plot of Serious Sam 4 is about Sam Stone and his crew looking for the Holy Grail, which is an alien weapon in this game’s world. Players will also spend time piloting what is called the “Popemobile”—a giant mech robot. One of the characters is a Priest that wields a shotgun. I do not feel that it disrespects religion but instead uses it as a vehicle for humor.
Violence: This is a violent first-person shooter. Players take control of the titular character and shoot hundreds of grotesque mutants and aliens with various weapons, including assault rifles, shotguns, and other heavy weaponry. Blood splatter occurs when the player kills enemies, and some will even explode into pieces. Some enemies attempt to kill the player by rushing at their target with explosives in hand as well.
Language: Characters frequently use foul language in the game, such as words like “Sh*t,” “f**k,” and “a*shole.”
Sexual Content: One of the enemy types is topless with their butt exposed. A member of Sam’s team expresses his desire to be a porn star. Lastly, a conversation occurs during a mission that implies that Sam and another character had sex.
Drugs/Alcohol: The characters make references to drinking alcohol on multiple occasions. One of the characters also mentions “doing blow” during a conversation.
Serious Sam 4 receives an M (Mature) rating from the ESRB.
Serious Sam 4 takes place as Sam’s crew is searching for the Holy Grail after learning that it can help their fight against the alien invasion. The team travels to Italy and recruits a shotgun-wielding Father Mikhail to help them find the Grail, an alien artifact. The presence of Father Mikhail brings some positive dialogue while the rest of Sam’s friends are foul-mouthed soldiers out of a lost action movie. Honestly, the characters and writing are the highlights of my experience.
The dialogue had me laughing out loud in the first few moments of the game. One of the first scenes includes a conversation with Sam and his team in which he claims that The Davinci Code has no literary merit and says Philip K. Dick is his favorite author when asked. Then, one character proceeds with the question, “Wait, Sam reads?” One of my favorite dialogue pieces is when the team explains how one-liners work to Kenny, the rookie. Lastly, when Sam nears the location of Father Mikhail, he says, “One Ecclesiastic Extraction, coming right up!”
Serious Sam 4 makes plenty of references to parts of The Bible and the Catholic religion, but it does not strike me as offensive—which I did state in the content guide. I have enjoyed the humor because while it can be crude, it also seems much smarter than that, not just in a self-aware kind of sense. This seems like a step in the right direction and doesn’t feel like they went utterly all-in with a gore-fueled potty mouth festival. While I have other frustrations with the game, I didn’t hate every second I spent with it because of the humor.
We got a very traditional FPS in Serious Sam 4, and I was disappointed that not much has changed from its predecessor—which is nearly ten years old. Players will need to find health, armor, and ammo to survive, which is a nice traditional touch. The conventional traits make the game challenging, but that can be mitigated by finding upgrades for the skill tree. Players will be collecting a wide range of weaponry and secondary equipment, much of which has returned from previous games. Retaining the old-school feel of an FPS is the right choice, and while some new ideas exist, I feel like none of them advance the genre in a way I can appreciate.
The most significant feature that Serious Sam 4 is trying to showcase is its new Legion system. This mechanic brings more enemies on the map to stand in your way by coming at you in hordes. I admire the concept, but I find myself doing too much backpedaling for survival instead of mowing down my enemies. In recent years, developers have been finding creative ways to bring forward momentum to the genre. In Sam 4, I find myself taking too many steps backward as this mechanic does so figuratively.
Again, I do find the Legion system fascinating as I watch how enemies behave. I appreciate the series for the enemy types and the memorable encounters I have had with them; I can say the same for this game. Many enemies from previous games make a comeback, such as the Gnaar, the beheaded, and many more. To the Legion system’s credit, there’s something extra anxiety-inducing about hearing a massive horde of beheaded kamikazes screaming “AAAAAAAHHHHH!” as they rush toward you. I particularly enjoyed taking on the Werebulls; something is satisfying about dodging their charge and taking a shot at them to watch the death animation as their bodies slide to a halt.
Another category that makes Sam 4 feel like a mixed bag is the graphical presentation. Many environments range from a striking amount of detail and nice textures, to merely existing as large empty spaces for battle. The lighting successfully helps keep the game close to modern standards. The enemies also look great, while our heroes’ character models look cringy as if they were brought forward from the previous game, if not worse. Speaking of Serious Sam 3, even though improvements have been made in level design and to the engine, Serious Sam 4 doesn’t look all that much different.
As someone who doesn’t have a ton of experience with the series as a whole, the continuity between sequels seems all over the place as well. Serious Sam 4 is a prequel to Serious Sam 3, which is also a prequel to the first two games. That order seems more confusing to me than the Star Wars movies and tells me I shouldn’t worry about the timeline much and have fun. All you need to know is that aliens are invading the earth and that you’re the man for the job.
However, you don’t need to shoot evil aliens all by your lonesome self, either. There is an option to play cooperatively online with your friends. I can see how Serious Sam 4 could be more fun with others, but I, unfortunately, don’t know anyone else that owns the game to test out this feature. Some of my best multiplayer memories have come from playing some decidedly average video games with friends, and Serious Sam 4 could be that for your squad as well. Although, that $40 price is a little steep and might be a great purchase when it goes on sale.
I wanted to like Serious Sam 4 more than I did, and I think this series might be best left forgotten. It makes an admirable effort to be more than an average first-person shooter but doesn’t do enough to escape that identity. I want to tell FPS fans to give the game a try for themselves because it is genuinely funny, but the price tag and my overall experience keep me from doing so. This series seems like it is long overdue for a revival that fans aren’t getting, and this isn’t it, chief.
Review copy was kindly provided by Devolver Digital and Tinsley PR
The Bottom Line
Serious Sam 4 makes another attempt at being more than an average first-person shooter, but didn't have enough ammunition to blow me away.