There are numerous signs of the apocalypse; dogs and cats living together, an alien invasion that threatens the entire planet, and me reviewing a Serious Sam game. In all seriousness, you know it’s a bad year for AAA combat when I’m deleting lemons like Vanguard and Battlefield 2042 to make room for Serious Sam 4. As someone who favors the slower more tactical gameplay of games like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, Serious Sam is quite possibly the last game you’d expect me to play, let alone enjoy, but there is something refreshingly tactical about managing a huge assortment of weapons while combining ammo conservation, gadget use, and lots of backpedaling amidst some of the most epic carnage you can experience outside a Michael Bay movie.
It’s been twenty years since I dabbled around with the original Serious Sam game. At the time it was more of a visual tech demo than anything else. I remember exploring Egyptian architecture while blasting endless swarms of crazy monsters into bloody giblets. Now, two decades later, I’m pretty much doing the same thing only with much better graphics and in a new location. Makes me wonder if I missed anything in parts two and three? So apparently these incompetent aliens are still trying to take over the planet after all this time, but one man in a skintight T-shirt with the ability to carry a dozen weapons and hundreds of pounds of ammo around in his jeans’ pockets keeps foiling their plans. As alien overlord, Mental prepares to unleash his final assault Sam must lead his resistance fighters into battle to save the planet.
Serious Sam 4 is structured around thematic chapters set in unique locations with multi-part objectives and usually two or three optional side missions, but come on…are they really optional? Are you really going to skip major portions of content highlighted with glowing arrows and blue signage just to stay on mission; especially when those side missions are usually home to some of the better weapons and upgrades in the game? For those with a competitive streak, these chapters are also scored based on performance and completion time, but unless you are intentionally speed-running the game I wouldn’t stress over the clock. Playing on the normal difficulty I never once beat the par time for any level…came close a couple times but never beat it. For me, surviving the chapter and unlocking the next was reward enough.
Serious Sam 4 has a fun little story that opens with Sam driving through Rome in his military convoy of Humvees with chopper escort when aliens launch their next attack and shit gets real. Sam and the only survivor of the convoy, Kenny, emerge from the wreckage and must fight their way back to the resistance while navigating the monster-filled streets of Rome. Kenny is the first hint of the new cooperative element of the campaign that allows for up to four players to save the world. There are areas in the solo game where AI teammates will fight alongside you. Unfortunately, none of my usual online gaming buds were even remotely interested in playing this with me…something about some small-time indie shooter called Halo Infinite, so I was left to save Earth alone…not the first time.
You quickly learn that Serious Sam 4 is all about reflexes and weapons management. You start off with a lowly pistol but a few hours into the game you will have a double-ring of weapon slots with everything from single and double barrel shotguns to assault rifles, grenade and rocket launchers, C4 sticky bombs, and a powerful sniper rifle. You also get some nifty gear like life injectors, a serum that speeds you up while reducing your damage and inflicting quad-damage to your enemies, and even a gadget that summons a black hole to suck up an entire battlefield of enemies…use cautiously. The game is structured with all of these battle “arenas”; some quite obvious like the actual Colosseum, while other combat ensues in the city streets or amongst ancient ruins. Enemies just portal in from all sides, even behind you, so there is no time for planning unless you die and reload and know what’s coming.
Knowing what weapons works best on what monsters is critical. Charging bulls require multiple double-barrel shotgun shots while one or two rockets will drop them instantly. Those skeleton Kleer go down with a single double-barrel blast while the screaming Kamikaze guys go down with simple AR fire. Some encounters will put you up against wave after wave of hundreds of enemies of changing types forcing you to constantly switch weapons for optimal effectiveness. Mid-size and large bosses will stampede into battle that often require the big guns while simultaneous fighting off the supporting grunts as you circle-strafe or backpedal your way to safety while timing your reloads and performing the occasional side-dodge.
Originally released last year on the PC, I played Serious Sam 4 on the PS5 for this review and found the experience enjoyable enough for what it is, a purely reflexive and instinctual arcade shooter where the only tactical decision required is, “do you bandage your trigger finger before or after you play”…correct answer is both. The DualSense works pretty well in the broad sense of combat, but there is a certain level of imprecision built into the analog sticks that makes sniping at distance a major pain in the ass. It doesn’t help that enemies have instant awareness to your location once you shoot that first target or cross that invisible trigger line. Trying to peek out, scope, and fire before taking a hit yourself in problematic, especially if multiple snipers are lurking about the rooftops.
Technically, Serious Sam 4 looks fine and sounds amazing. Every monster has their signature sound from the bone rattling Kleer to the screaming Kamikaze – just wait until one of those gets stuck in the environment and is screaming for an entire ten minute battle until you can hunt him down. The voice acting is campy and fun with Sam’s gravelly voice stealing the show – that man must smoke six packs a day. While not entirely next-gen I can see why it takes the power of the PS5 to get the game running as good as it does. There are LOD issues with architecture and shadow pop-in as well as texture loading issues mostly visible after a camera cut or cinematic. I can imagine a super-powerful PC could muscle through most of these, but for a console shooter of this magnitude it’s still mighty impressive.
If you are looking for an epic arcade shooter loaded with insane amounts of crazy weapons and monsters then look no further than Serious Sam 4. In the absence of Duke Nukem Sam is the only wisecracking hero left for this generation, and while he is a man of few words he certainly delivers on explosive action. With a great solo mode, co-op campaign, and a scoring system to encourage future replays, you can expect countless hours of carnage as you save the world…again.
If you want to see Sam in action you can check out the first three hours of gameplay in our First Look video.