Contrary to the name, there isn’t much at all that can be called “serious”, in a Serious Sam game. The series has been around for a good 20 years or so, and has carved its niche in the market. If you enjoy shooting hordes of aliens with a variety of guns and using ridiculous gadgets (whilst the titular character relentlessly pumps out one liners) then this is for you. Serious Sam 4 follows the same tried and tested blueprint for the series.
Serious Sam 4 has taken over a year to make the jump from PC to Xbox, and has been optimised for Series X|S in the process. At points it looks pretty, showing off a series of exotic locations from around Europe. However, the engine struggles to keep things moving smoothly with a rapid deterioration in the framerate when the screen gets busy, which is one of the crucial elements of the Serious Sam experience. At one point, the whole game crashed when I tried to access the options menu. At another, my next objective didn’t materialise meaning I had no idea what to do to progress.
Vast open landscapes in which you can see waves of enemies running towards you is another key element of the Serious Sam experience, but sadly when you’re getting about (especially in a vehicle) the environment is rendered right in front of you, in the same way a red carpet may be unfurled at an awards ceremony.
It’s safe to say that there are plenty of rough edges in terms of performance, but putting that aside most of the levels feel like generic PC FPS locations (many are reminiscent of multiplayer maps from Counter-Strike). There are a couple which are much more interesting to explore (such as scaling the medieval architecture of Carcassonne) but unfortunately these are few and far between. There’s a lengthy campaign of 15 levels on offer, which given the lack of variety can prove to be somewhat of a grind.
Serious Sam 4 is all about shooting aliens (as you would expect) but as always there are secrets to be found by exploring in between skirmishes. It’s often crucial to scavenge the battlefield for ammo, armor, health and special items to prepare for the next wave of enemies, and handily each type of item has a colour coded border which can be spotted from a fair distance away.
In essence, this is the pattern which needs mastering to beat a Serious Sam game. The gameplay is very straightforward, unapologetically so in fact. If you aren’t enjoying yourself an hour in, the chances are that this game isn’t for you. Even on the normal difficulty setting, experienced FPS players will find a good challenge here. The curve is fairly gradual too, but by the end you’ll be facing off against literally hundreds of varying enemies all charging directly towards you.
All sorts of nasty creatures will spawn to take you down, ranging from the classic headless kamikaze bombers complete with their distinctive battle cry, to huge metal flying worms and rocket firing mech walkers. There are also a few boss characters to dispatch, which in the round are pretty straightforward encounters.
As well as stocking up, your choice of weapon is key depending on the type of enemies you are staring down over the battlefield. Wielding assault rifles and shotguns is all well and good, but things get a lot more entertaining when you unlock the rocket launcher, devastator rifle and cannon. Using these ludicrous weapons against seemingly endless enemy hordes is what Serious Sam is all about. Although, I am disappointed the Serious Bomb didn’t make its return, despite pretty much being replaced by certain gadgets you can unlock.
These little gizmos are crucial to you surviving some truly epic battles. There are plenty to find, such as grenades which make enemies fight amongst themselves, shots of extra health and my personal favourite, the black hole. This is essentially a grenade, which when thrown, opens up a black hole and sucks pretty much all on-screen enemies into it. This, along with the “mini-nuke”, are very satisfying to use indeed.
Sam does have a few other tricks up his sleeve however, which can be accessed by inhaling somewhat unnerving purple alien gas pods. These allow you to choose one ability, such as dual wielding or item drops from enemies, which then open up a skill tree. Unlocking a few of these will make your life a little easier, but doesn’t dull the challenge on offer.
Overall, Serious Sam 4 is pretty easy to play, However, the weapon wheel makes switching firearms something of a problem. It’s very sensitive and not particularly accurate, and given the nature of the game you’ll be constantly needing to switch weapons. Unfortunately, you’ll often need to try two or three times before successfully switching which costs precious time and often your life in the heat of battle. The same mechanism is used to select your gadgets, but thankfully once selected you can use the D-Pad to quickly use them.
Serious Sam 4 does mix up the gameplay slightly with the inclusion of vehicles and even a huge mech to pilot. Mowing down enemies in a combine harvester is entertaining, but stomping around the streets in a Metal Gear Solid style mech is an awful lot of fun. These minor diversions from the usual gameplay pattern are weighted towards the latter half of the game, almost giving a feeling that they need to be earned. It’s a shame really that they aren’t more evenly dispersed through the campaign, because certain passages of play can be a real slog, even for those like me who enjoy the Serious Sam style of play.
You can switch between first and third person at any time which is a nice touch, as well as laying down waypoints to give you a guide on where to go next. Being honest, the missions are pretty linear so you’ll rarely struggle with this. However, each level does have an optional side mission which, despite just consisting of more shooting, does offer you the opportunity to collect some rare rewards.
Given that Serious Sam 4 is an FPS, you may be wondering why I haven’t summarised the story for you. Well, despite Sam having a supporting cast who have some pretty cringy lines of dialogue, there isn’t much to report here. You can find some audio logs and letters which add different perspectives to things however, as well as plenty of intel on the enemies, weapons and other characters in the game.
The series tells of humanity’s battle against “Mental” and his alien armies. However, the scales never really tip either way and not much is known about the villainous overlord, paving the way for endless shooting with no threat of victory or defeat in sight for either side. This is fair enough, because the game is all about shooting stuff which the loose narrative sets up perfectly.
As well as the main story, there is a single player survival mode. This is pretty self explanatory, although given how many waves of enemies you will deal with in the campaign, you’ll likely not have much of an appetite for this. In a way, the entire game plays like a survival mode anyway.
In terms of multiplayer, you can play the campaign cooperatively online either by matchmaking or with friends. However, I struggled to find a game when jumping on to give it a go, the servers seemingly somewhat quiet.
You know exactly what you’re getting with a Serious Sam game, and Serious Sam 4 is no different. Issues aside, fans of the series should still have a blast with this one.
You can pick up Serious Sam 4 from the Xbox Store