Serious Sam 4 Review
For all the crap they get, you gotta love a good B movie. Although there are definitely better ways to kill a few hours if you’re the type to enjoy fine brandy, for us normal folk, there isn’t anything quite like killing an afternoon with a dumb action flick. Between the terrible effects, dumb one-liners and almost complete lack of self-awareness in these movies, they’re some of the most fun you can have on your couch if you’re not looking to exhaust all your energy. What makes these observations relevant to this site, though, is that this somewhat popular trend of passively moronic action media has never really caught on in video games. Save for the occasional Devolver Digital game and the rare gems like Bulletstorm, there have been almost no “B games”, an issue that has been made slightly less problematic by the release of Serious Sam 4.
Serious Sam 4, then, is the latest installment in the franchise that did Doom before Doom got its reboots. As the name suggests, you take control of the trying-to-be-serious Sam Stone on an Earth that’s been completely overrun by aliens. This time around, you’re told that in order to save the planet you’ll need to find The Holy Grail for some reason, and without much more of an explanation than that, you’re set loose to make one-liners and wreak havoc across 15 semi-linear levels.
Over the next 10 hours, you play what boils down to a less refined verson of the aforementioned Doom reboots. Each level in the game starts you out in an overly convoluted situation that ties into the main story somehow, where the only way out is to kill thousands of aliens. You use huge guns to kill hordes of enemies in order to get through gates that are arbitrarily locked, all while dodging attacks by double jumping and circle strafing. At the end of each level there’s a big boss that you’ll kill by shooting at it a bunch, there are optional side areas that reward you with gun upgrades and you can find magic space orbs that give you skill points.
None of this is bad, but the problem is that in 2020, Serious Sam 4 just feels dated. Between the seemingly infinitely respawning enemies that require no skill to kill, levels that require little thought to get around and the fact that most weapons need to be reloaded, the game feels like it’s stuck in an era before Doom. Admittedly the core shooting is still stupidly satisfying and the weapons themselves are cool, but these two things don’t save the gameplay from feeling objectively worse than id Software’s game in almost every regard. Considering that the two games have the exact same core set of mechanics, this is a huge issue that should’ve been addressed prior to release.
It’s also an issue compounded by how out of date the game is technically. Everything from a design perspective in Serious Sam 4 seems like it was made in the early 2010’s. The game looks worse than some of the older Crysis games, it sounds eerily similar to 2013’s Rise of the Triad remake and it’s weirdly difficult to get the game to run at a stable 60 frames per second. It’s not very buggy, but considering that the game feels like it’s been in development since 2008, that’s not saying much.
Somehow, then, it falls on Serious Sam 4’s writing to carry the game away from mediocrity, and it manages to do that surprisingly well. With a perfect B-movie-esque story, some amazingly humanised characters and easily the best one-liners this side of Die Hard, the word work here is way better than it has any right to be. It doesn’t quite manage to offset the annoyances found elsewhere in the game, but it’s difficult not to simply put the game into easy mode so you can listen to more dialogue or to see where the story goes next.
Along with this, the game does have some seriously noteworthy setpieces. One mission in particular throws you into a combine harvester, and with country music blaring in your ears, you’re told to simply drive over as many enemies as you want while getting to the next objective. This is fantasy fufillment at its core, and because most missions have sections with similarly outrageous vehicle sections, there’s definitely plenty of fun to be had while playing the game, even when the game’s aforementioned gameplay is so mediocre.
However, neither this nor the game’s writing can quite save Serious Sam 4 from feeling like an almost objectively worse clone of 2020’s Doom Eternal. Dated graphics, bad sound design, annoying weapon mechanics and poor level design feel like obvious things that could’ve been sorted out prior to release. However, because they weren’t, satisfying shooting, amazing quips and fun vehicle sections can’t quite make the game anything more than a bump on the road to one of Devolver Digital’s better games.
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