In recent years, classic '90s shooters like DOOM and Wolfenstein have been resurrected to critical and popular acclaim. With the likes of DOOM once more acting as a benchmark for shooter excellence, there was understandable hype in a small but still-loyal community when Serious Sam 4 was announced in May of 2020. Serious Sam 4 comes from a respectable pedigree, even if Serious Sam 3 had a lukewarm reception, but unfortunately the newest entry from developer Croteam falls disappointingly short of its potential.
Serious Sam: The First Encounter came out in 2001 and was an instant hit. It parodied tough-guy main characters like Duke Nukem with deadpan comedy, but it also had its own identity, with players facing off against massive, sky-blotting foes and teeming swarms of enemies that are still impressive today. Serious Sam 4 seems like it tried to stay true to those roots, but in the process failed to do anything that wasn't done better in previous games. The game is still decently fun and has a few saving graces, but it may have missed the mark too wide to warrant a $40 price tag.
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Serious Sam 4 is extremely impressive for the first few minutes. The first fight players face is a massive battle with literally thousands of enemies. Serious Sam always had huge numbers of enemies, but the opening sequence suggests that this game will expand on that feature to epic proportions. Then, the player's minigun joyride is cut short by the big bad, and Serious Sam's story begins a few days prior to the events of the opening sequence.
The shock and awe of the opening sequence's incredible scale lead only to disappointment. After those stunning first minutes, the next several hours of the game bring the player into relatively small levels with just a smattering of enemies that bring all of the game's faults to the forefront.
It appears that making an engine that can handle so many enemies at once meant that graphics and animation had to be tuned down, but that really shows in the slower-paced, close-quarters areas that make up a large portion of the game. The visuals look about a decade old and the initial levels feel uninspired, with a lack of polish that borders on unfinished. Each level is scattered with hidden items to pick up, but most secret passageways lead to nothing, and one promising hidden area just led directly out of the map's bounds.
The strengths of this game lie in large, open areas crawling with hundreds of enemies that force the player into an action-packed dance to avoid screaming kamikaze bombers, charging skeletal beasts, and huge laser-hurling monsters. Later levels slowly begin to play into those strengths, but it comes too late and too slowly to prevent the game from getting tedious beforehand. If the engine is capable of massive battles with hundreds or even thousands of enemies, it's odd that the game didn't deliver those sooner Why not throw the player into the action right away and let the game's admittedly great upsides outweigh some outdated graphics and sparse level design?
In a good level, players will have a huge open area to explore, wave after wave of enemies to juke, dodge, and weave between, and a few key spots of cover to duck into and find a health item or some ammo. The exceedingly gruff main character offers a bit of comic relief when he can get a word or two off between the constant action that steadily ramps up to a frantic crescendo. It seems that most of the game, though, is riddled with sloppily animated and questionably voice-acted cutscenes, and level design that doesn't play to the game's strengths. The good parts are too few and far between.
There is some joy in the cheesy story, almost like watching a B-movie that's so bad it's still entertaining. The experience could have worked as a parody to other shooters, but the poor level design and inconsistent quality smack of missed potential overall. At the very least, four-player co-op is available, and playing with a small group of friends might be just what Serious Sam 4 needs to ascend from 'lackluster' to 'janky-but-lovable.' Unfortunately, with a $40 price tag, most players would be better off buying Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter and The Second Encounter if they want to re-live the glory days of the franchise.
Serious Sam 4 is out now on PC and Google Stadia. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.
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Read NextAbout The AuthorRobin Meyer-Lorey(269 Articles Published)
Robin has a passion for games, tech, and entertainment that stretches back as far as he can remember. From big-budget shooters and RPGs to quirky casual titles, anything with focused design and engaging flow is in his wheelhouse.MoreFrom Robin Meyer-Lorey