Despite my enjoyment of many old school arena shooters, I’ve never really clicked with the Serious Sam games. The few times I’ve tried one I found them to be overly chaotic to the point of annoyance, with endless waves of enemies barrelling at Sam with no real nuance or tactical play. Of course, that’s the point of the game and it certainly has an audience, it just never sat well with me. So when Serious Sam 4 dropped into Game Pass, I thought I’d give it a go because, well, why not? While the same criticisms can be levelled against it, I ended up having quite a fun time once I got into the flow.
We play as Sam ‘Serious’ Stone, and are firmly plonked in the middle of an alien invasion in this prequel to Serious Sam 3. The story is delivered as ham-fistedly as you may expect from the series, with Sam, Kenny, Jones and more all quipping one liners and very little else. The caricatures of general war game tropes are all here – the newbie, the tough as nails female, the bull headed captain etc – but it’s all played for laughs, and did actually get a few chuckles out of me. In game, Sam and co. quip about the situation around them often, and these were generally the best one-liners or character moments. The story on offer is simple yet fairly generic, and is clearly not the focus of SS4.
That would be the gunplay which is absolutely fucking nuts. Pretty much from the word go, we get absolutely bombarded with headless suicide bombers, alien creatures, giant exploding bloaters, undead horse skeletons, and many, many more varieties. In fact, the most impressive part of the game is just how diverse the enemies are. It feels like every few encounters we’re introduced to yet another new foe that is going to utterly rinse Sam’s health until we figure out where they lie in the combat hierarchy. Those skeletal horse things are right bastards, and one fight saw dozens of them having at me in a small arena which was hard enough, let alone the whacking great alien bulls that then came in to assist them.
That fight kind of surmises my time with Serious Sam 4; enter room, get absolutely bombarded with enemies, die repeatedly, gradually figure out a strategy, and after much trial and error graze through by the skin of my teeth. Rinse and repeat. Again, I know that this is kind of Serious Sam ‘s MO, but even as a fan of the genre I couldn’t help but get tired of the constant assault after a short while. Enemies are so numerous and spawn in all over the arenas, meaning the tried and true back peddling method was just as often the reason for death as I ran into more enemies behind me. It is somewhat impressive the sheer amount of action happening on the screen, and with suitable weapons or power-ups the carnage can be a lot of fun, but other than throw more enemies at us very little changes from one battle to the next.
There are side missions in game to find, often rewarded with a new consumable power up or weapon, as well as permanent upgrades for Sam by finding upgrade points dotted around. While the side missions are worth doing, I found myself ending up just legging it to the reward and back out again with as little combat as possible just to get back on track. As for the upgrades, well, thanks to the incessant enemy spawns I forgot about them for most of my play through as I was just trying to get to the next area. It’s nice that they’re there, but the definitely feel like an afterthought as opposed to a core element to the game.
Checkpoints are regular and generous, but I can’t help but feel that something is off when one of the tool tips says for us to manually reload an earlier auto save if we’re stuck. I didn’t quite get this until a few fights in, where the game had auto-saved me in the middle of a fight where if I didn’t immediately move to the left I died instantly. While the auto saves certainly come in handy at times, times like this left me wondering why bother saving, especially as at other points the game didn’t save even after I’d cleared a room and before I began the next one.
Despite all of my criticisms, when the action was flowing and I was in the moment I found Serious Sam 4 to be quite fun to play. Much like shooters of old, we don’t need to worry so much about reloading or ammo types – just that we have some. Upgrades to the weapons cause even more carnage, and there are usually some AI helpers or health and ammo dropped in from above to keep us in the fight. I also liked how enemy’s attacks can hurt each other, making the battles feel more grounded (as much as an alien invasion can do, anyway). Using the headless bombers own bombs to take out the crowd is satisfying, while having one of the aliens green tracking orbs intercepted by an enemy just before it hits me always got a laugh. Boss fights make great use of this, with one in particular sweeping the arena clear for me while I dodged and weaved them. In short bursts I started to see the appeal of Serious Sam, but without fail the repetitive, endless assault would soon start to tire me out as I craved something different. Having come off of playing one of the best shooter campaign in years in Halo Infinite, this feeling is only compounded knowing that both games are on the same service and are readily available to play. Game Pass means I can dip in and out of Serious Sam 4 as I see fit, but in all honesty I don’t see myself coming back to it all that often.h
Serious Sam 4 almost had me with its fast gunplay and over the top action, but a reliance on sheer, overwhelming numbers and repetition meant that I began to get bored and frustrated far too quickly.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.