Review – Serious Sam 4
I want to preface this review with a disclaimer that the review build we received came with a warning that there are some issues. With this warning also came an assurance that a launch day patch is on the way to fix a bunch of issues. So the majority of my time with this title was with the review build. However, the launch day patch did come out a day early so I was able to spend some time in it and assess a bit more. Unfortunately, the patch seemed to fix some issues, but introduce others. Serious Sam 4 needs more love, but it’s not all bad. There is a legitimately good Serious Sam game here.
Serious Sam has never been a series known for its engaging story, and Serious Sam 4 follows that tradition, mostly. The game is technically a prequel to Serious Sam 3: BFE, but there is really no need for it to be. Strangely, Croteam tries to force in story elements and long drawn out cutscenes that end up bogging down the experience. Essentially, any time spent not shooting things will bore you. Shorter cutscenes that serve as a transition between levels are fine as they provide opportunity for one liners. However, the long drawn out cutscenes only serve as a way to let you realize just how ugly the human models are and to observe the visual bugs.
The balance of chaotic destruction and respite spots never quite finds its groove. While later in the game there are less frequent stops, the pacing never seems right. The first couple chapters felt like a slog since enemy counts are lower and there are more stops for story and character intros. However, even when things start ramping up, there just seems something a off. I think it’s the level design.
Serious Sam 4 is based in Rome, which has its perks and leads to some great moments like piloting the Pope’s mech. Unfortunately, this means that the majority of the time you’re being funneled through cramped city areas. It funnels you through until you eventually get to a courtyard with an obvious fight. Around chapter nine the game opens up into the countryside where you get to ride some vehicles. You may have seen the trailers showing off the Serious motorcycle and such. These sections are fun and a nice change of pace, but short lived. Only a couple chapters feature vehicles, which is a shame because it’s the only time Serious Sam 4 somewhat breaks the mold. It’s also pretty obvious Croteam recycled a ton of assets from The Talos Principle.
Where Serious Sam 4 shines is where all Serious Sam games shine, in its gameplay. When everything is firing on all cylinders and there are hundreds of enemies coming at you, it’s a blast. The chaotic fights and crazy weapons make every battle engaging and heart pumping. For the most part, the enemy designs are what you’re used to from the series. However, there are a couple new enemies that stand out, like the vampires. These enemies will transform into bats to move around the battlefield to surprise you from behind. Then in a glorious burst of flame, they burn away when you dispatch them. Unfortunately, not all the new enemies stand tall to the classic.
Besides new enemies, there are some new aspects to the game design. During each chapter there will be side missions you can complete. Usually these will take you off on a side path and challenge you with a large battle, but reward you with cool items. Some items and weapons can be completely missed if you do not do these side tasks. The rocket propelled chainsaw gun, rage drinks, grenades that slow down time, warp shards that open black holes; all of these I found only by completing the side missions. For the most part I enjoyed doing these as it meant more fighting and more weapons. However, some take you so far away from the main areas that it ruins the pacing with tedious travel time.
Skill points make their entrance into the mainline series (previous only in the VR spin-off) with mixed feelings. I can see how they wanted to add these in to create a sense of progression. However, they’re also the reason why things feel very slow in the beginning. Unlocks include abilities to gain life from melee, dual wield weapons (even heavy ones), use environmental items as melee weapons, and even ride some of the enemies. I of course decided to go down the guns skill tree, but that meant I left out melee options. It would have been nice to have enough skill points to unlock everything or just give me everything from the start and let me kill things.
Another thing that was heavily boasted about for this title was the Legion System. This is the system that was going to throw thousands of enemies at you at once. Massive hordes of aliens as far as the eye can see. Well, you only get a tease of it in the very beginning in a scripted sequence and at the end battle. On the surface it has a cool effect. Unfortunately, there is a lot of trickery going on here if you look too hard. Cardboard cutouts, enemies not even shooting, half animations, etc. The main battles still offer hundreds of enemies on screen at once, but the Legion System is a lot of smoke and mirrors.
While there is a good Serious Sam game in here with some fun moments, I have to mention its performance issues. There are A LOT of performance issues. As I mentioned above, I did spend some more time with the launch build and it’s the only reason why the score isn’t lower. The launch patch seemed to fix my crashing issues and some of the very bad pop-ins during cutscenes. Before the patch, I had five random crashes even while running the game in safe mode. The cutscene pop-ins were horrendous and some textures wouldn’t even load. For the most part, these issues seem to be fixed, but there are still some bad pop-ins.
Post patch performance issues still persist, and while it did fix the crashing and some issues, it actually introduced other problems. Massive frame drops are extremely common throughout the game and at times they aren’t even from a horde. Items in the environment sometimes don’t even load, body chunks will stretch across the screen, and sometimes enemies will freeze in place. One of the new issues that came up from the patch is every time I zoom in with the sniper, the framerate tanks to the 10’s. There are still far too many issues present in here that bog down the experience.
There really isn’t anything impressive about the visuals here. Croteam definitely recycled assets from The Talos Principle and for the most part they look fine. However, with massive areas come a heavy amount of pop-in and LOD transitions. It’s most notable during the countryside levels with wide open environments. When you’re moving fast paced destroying aliens into gore chunks it looks nice. Enemy models have a high quality look about them and that is important since they’re always in your face. However, human characters look drastically last gen and up close textures are severely lacking.
Sound design fairs better, but is still a bit of a mixed bag. There are some great rock tunes in here during fights that will get the intensity up and have you pumped. The down times however, have very light and playful tone in some areas that just doesn’t fit. General sound effects are fine from the wide variety of guns to the enemies attacks, growls, and death cries. Don’t expect any high quality voice acting from any of the cast, but I’m a sucker for Sam’s voice and the cheesy one liners. Listen, I’m not playing Serious Sam and expecting The Last of Us Part II quality of writing. When Sam is fighting a tentacle monster and says: “What am I? A Japanese school girl!?”, I laugh. Outside of the low brow comedy, there really isn’t much else to appreciate here.
Honestly, it hurts me to have to give this game such a bashing, because I do enjoy the series. There are some good things about Serious Sam 4, and some fun moments. Unfortunately, it mostly feels uninspired in its overall design. However, what really kills the experience is the severe lack of polish and quality control presented here. This needs more time in the oven and that is why even if you’re a fan, I suggest you wait on more patches.
Visually Serious Sam 4 is completely hit or miss. In the mix of the action with blood chunks flying everywhere and enemies jumping all around it can look nice. However, as soon as the action stops and you can observe the environments, or during a cutscene, there are some wonky things going on.
The general gameplay is solid, just like the series is known for. Fast paced, chaotic battlefields along with the array of weapons leads to some great times. Unfortunately, bugs really kill the experience. Enemies get stuck on environments and zooming in with the sniper tanks the framerate to name a couple.
Sound design is a bit of a mixed bag, but overall okay. Don’t expect any great voice over work from any of the cast, but Sam’s voice always brings a smile to my face. The soundtrack is actually great while in battle with some heavy rock tunes to bring the intensity, but the rest of the soundtrack doesn’t fit well.
This one is tough due to the sheer amount of bugs, glitches, and crashes I experienced. Serious Sam 4 starts off slow, but it finds a groove mid way through. It then sets up some cool moments in its final few chapters with large scale fights. Unfortunately, the hordes of aliens wasn’t the only thing I had to fight with this game.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Serious Sam 4 is available now on Google Stadia and PC. Launching later on Xbox One and PS4.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16gb RAM.
A copy of Serious Sam 4 was provided by the publisher.