Serious Sam 4 Review (PS5)

Croteam's long-awaited return to its horde shooter is a fun time, but not without some major faults.

by Elliott Gatica
Serious Sam 4 Review

Google Stadia has finally lifted its exclusivity period on Serious Sam 4, allowing the game to come to consoles. Those hoping to snag a copy of it on their systems are going to be disappointed that Serious Sam 4, a game initially slated to release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles, is not coming to those systems as promised. Instead, you’ll only have the option to play it on PlayStation 5 or the Xbox Series consoles, or of course, PC.

In a time where getting your hands on a new gaming console is as difficult as snagging the latest drop for a limited-run pair of sneakers, this will hurt the early sales of Serious Sam 4. However, given the hours I sunk into the game, I now understand why there is no last-gen port. The game is a beautifully unoptimized mess that is somehow fun, humorous, and in some cases, painful to bear.

“Am I the man? Or am I the man?”

This is definitely an extremely polarizing title, to say the least. Serious Sam 4 is a first-person shooter that has the heart and the gusto of what makes the franchise so great. You assume control of Sam “Serious” Stone, a man probably in his mid-30s, who is basically humanity’s last hope. He bears the task of quelling the armies of Mental, a dark deity of sorts. The premise sounds badass on paper, but it is much more whimsical and hilarious in ways that remind us of the old days.

Sam is pitted against hordes and hordes of enemies of Mental’s army, consisting of wacky and wild anomalies that serve as nightmare fuel or feel like references to other absurd enemies from other video games. While coming at you in droves, you’ll have more than enough firepower to deal with the threats as they come. In some cases, you’ll have enough firepower to take on literal gods!

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Serious Sam, despite the name of the game, isn’t one to actually be taken seriously— pun intended. Despite having the Serious nickname, Sam oftentimes cracks some cringeworthy, albeit hilarious one-liners. These one-liners and his other remarks oftentimes make references to other forms of media or pop culture in such a hit-or-miss- way that, even if the joke falls flat, it’s funny.

Sam’s a one-man army who has a kill count higher than any Call of Duty veteran out there. Of course, he does so while literally sporting a white t-shirt with the bomb logo on it, a casual pair of jeans, and some red Converse, making this game all much harder to take seriously.

All man, no cover.

Like mentioned earlier, Serious Sam is pitted against hundreds of enemies that are part of Mental’s army. They come at you in droves, easily overwhelming you the moment you slip up. Since that’s the case, Sam brings more than just a pistol or shotgun. To an all-out war. To the aforementioned gusto, this is all still preserved. Some guy who looks like an ‘80s action movie reject and throws one-liners at every opportune moment can somehow carry more than ten ordinance weapons on him without even breaking a sweat.

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Unlike many other conventional first-person shooter games, Serious Sam is all about mowing down hordes of enemies in all kinds of space sizes. This isn’t a game where you take cover, reload your guns, and wait for your health to recover.

Like every other game before this, Serious Sam 4 is an arcade shooter at its core. You’ll pick up all sorts of new weapons along your journey, all with their own dedicated ammo pools. You’ll carry an inventory consisting of over ten different weapons and gadgets. Many weapons should be familiar to the fans of the previous games like the minigun, cannonball gun, rocket launcher, and more.

This is also the type of game where there are health pickups. Sam doesn’t recover health passively like you would in a typical shooter where you just have to be out of combat for a few moments. Pickups and inventory management are a big part of the game, and that still holds true.

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“Double your gun, double your fun.”

A plethora of new features have been added to this game compared to the previous three installations of the franchise. Typical Serious Sam games were mostly one-and-done arcade shooters where you pick up multiple guns, destroy your enemies, rinse and repeat.

Serious Sam 4, however, makes use of aiming down sights (ADS) a lot more, skill trees, having more cutscenes, and adding gadgets as a means of taking down your enemies. All the games before it were much more barebones, but seeing how this game has taken many pages out of the AAA games in the industry, it had to adapt.

It honestly feels like a mixed bag here. In one case, new weapons in a Serious Sam game are always fun to use. However, the game making use of things like ADS is something that doesn’t serve too much of a purpose. There are so many enemies to clear out; using ADS disrupts the flow of the game and oftentimes feels like an easy trap into death.

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The skill trees are a nice addition, though. They allow for some variety in your builds. You can choose to go for a melee build, though it is a rather risky one, or you can go for an all-out gunner build. The skill trees even allow you to dual-wield guns, even the more ridiculous things like launchers and miniguns. This is where it’s at in terms of the quality of life additions and new features in Serious Sam 4. The name of the game is to simply gear up with the most powerful weapons and mow down hordes of wacky enemies, delivering hilarious dialogue along the way.

However, it seems like each new addition is a trade-off. The story is a nice addition to Serious Sam 4 because every other game before it only had minimal cutscenes. This game has full-fledged cutscenes, dialogue, and NPCs to actually make the player care. It does work at times but feels like a very loose and uninspired version of something like Borderlands.

Every character has their intro cutscenes and a tiny blurb to give us an idea of what role they play in the grand scheme of taking down Mental. The intros are basically the game as Borderlands as well, with the freeze-framing and dramatic effects.

The name of the game is to simply gear up with the most powerful weapons and mow down hordes of wacky enemies, delivering hilarious dialogue along the way.

“Hey, didn’t I kick your ass two rooms back?”

One of the ongoing weaker aspects of Serious Sam is that the game gets rather repetitive after a while. You’re oftentimes traveling through derelict streets of a foreign country or ruins. Things start to all blend in from the first level unto the last. Enemy variety eventually starts to get stale.

The formula of Serious Sam is basically in this order: encounter enemies, find a new weapon, fight new enemies, then a boss, and repeat. Of course, there will be newer and more powerful weapons to give variety to your gameplay, along with funnily delivered dialogue.

Serious Sam 4 does definitely try its hardest to break away from that monotony, but then things get repetitive in other ways. There’s much more exploration along the way, like introducing the use of vehicles. However, the controls are so stale and slippery, it gets tiring to get them to even work properly.

“Seriously, is that the best you can do?”

 

This game has had an exclusivity period with PC and Stadia for over a year and it has been quite an unoptimized game. Through time, it does seem like the game has had a fair amount of fixes implemented, but it still tends to not be at its best. Even on modern generation consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X, the game has some noticeable frame rate issues, screen tearing, and rendering issues.

On consoles that boast stable frame rates of 60 and above and 1080p picture qualities, Serious Sam 4 does struggle to run smoothly. That isn’t to say that it’s prevalent all throughout. The game can definitely handle moments when hundreds of enemies are running at you, throwing projectiles, and blowing up to smithereens. It’s just that the cracks are visible and not something you can easily write off in the grand scheme of things.

Finally, the lack of controller customization options makes the game rather difficult to adapt to. There aren’t even presets in the game like there were in past Serious Sam titles.

The Verdict

Serious Sam 4 on consoles is a beautifully fun mess. It’s more Serious Sam, which isn’t a bad thing, but there are performance problems that cannot be overlooked. The game has somewhat stood the test of time, trying to adapt the characteristics of games in the same genre, but it starts to create an identity problem for itself in the process. The game tries to maintain its arcade-shooter roots but then starts to feel like a conventional FPS game, which it strays away from its core fanbase.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

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Serious Sam 4

  • Score: 3 / 5
  • Available On: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S/X, PC (Steam, Stadia)
  • Published By: Devolver Digital
  • Developed By: Croteam
  • Genre: First-person shooter
  • US Release Date: December 7, 2021 (consoles)
  • Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
  • Quote: "Serious Sam 4 on consoles is a beautifully fun mess. It’s more Serious Sam, which isn’t a bad thing, but there are performance problems that cannot be overlooked."
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