Where has the joy gone?
Serious Sam 4 is almost a copy of the previous games in the series, with an additional focus on the story and some technical magic tricks that allow the developer to display a large number of enemies on the screen at the same time. However, none of these things really make any difference to the experience of playing the game itself.
I have so many wonderful memories from the past games. Serious Sam releases have always been a simple affair with lots of guns and lots of enemies, and they are best when played with fast background music.
The franchise used to deliver an even more goofy portrayal of the action of fast-paced first-person shooters like the Doom and Quake series, without the most self-serious aesthetics or even basic allusions to realism. I can̵
Serious Sam returns and repeats
Serious Sam’s last main game was Serious Sam 3: SFOE, released in 2011. This game introduced iron sights and resulted in the formula that barely represented incremental improvements, but the new game doesn’t even go that far. Serious Sam 4 is just more of what I already expected from developer Croteam, which was created with an updated version of the Serious Engine.
The previous games in the series haven’t been broke and their design certainly hasn’t been fixed Serious Sam 4. Aliens have taken over the planet and Sam Stone is here to crack one liners and send them all back to hell. Like the other games in the franchise, this one is yet another first-person shooter with large environments, hordes of enemies to kill, and a variety of weapons, each suited to a specific tactical need, all of which should be used in turn when the action calls for you. I spent most of the time running backwards in the large, open areas of the game, turning back and forth to avoid getting shot, keeping an eye on my ammunition while scanning the level for healing items and armor.
Serious Sam 4 forces me to keep multiple things on mind at once, along with a willingness to change tactics as soon as another wave of enemies creeps in to keep me busy. There are skeletal animals that throw bones and gallop and dive at me to hit my face with their claws. There are the notorious headless enemies who scream (through their necks I think) as they run towards me, holding explosives to make sure I don’t feel comfortable in one place for too long. Belching, vomiting of animals covered with pustules; and much more.
Hostile design has always been one of Croteam’s strengths. Each enemy type is easy to identify even from a distance, and each gives clues of number, direction and attacks through sound and images. It’s a big part of Serious Sam’s magic to juggle each enemy threat without leaving me vulnerable to the next, and that challenge comes to life in this game too.
There is very little real logic going on here. Instead, the game operates on the rule of coolness: Sam can carry all of these weapons at once because it’s cool to have an arsenal. Enemies can move anywhere Sam is in whatever numbers they want because he is supposed to be overwhelmed. In the story, Sam tries to find the literal Ark of the Covenant to save the world.
Why not right?
The problem is, I’ve played this game several times. The effect of being almost overwhelmed while usually barely in control diminishes with repetition. The engine can’t quite keep up with in-game situations or the increased emphasis on supporting characters and conversation. This is especially evident when there is a pause for conversation and everyone’s face is a little absent, or when enemies seem confused by their own numbers and stand around waiting to be picked up.
Why do we need another Serious Sam game now? I don’t know and Croteam didn’t seem to have a good answer either. While id Software has found ways to keep the tone and ideas behind the Doom series intact as it forks into play and design with Downfall (2016) and Eternal fateCroteam seems to like Serious Sam’s experience too much to try something this daring. So we have a makeover from past games with some impressive views full of enemies and not much else.
It’s not bad, but again, the joy of the old games feels like it’s been supplanted by repetition and lack of forward movement. There is simply not enough to allow here Serious Sam 4 compete with the other great first-person shooters of the year. Perhaps hardcore fans will be comforted by the return of a series that has barely changed, even after nearly a decade.
Serious Sam 4 is now available on Windows PC and Stadia, and is coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2021. The game was played on the PC using a download code provided by Devolver Digital. Vox Media maintains partner partnerships. These do not affect the editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. For more information on Polygon’s ethical policy, see here Here.