Serious Sam 4 review: Stuck in the past

Nostalgia won't be enough here.

Serious Sam 4 Hero
(Image: © Digital Devolver)

Somewhere between Doom, Duke Nukem, and Quake lies Serious Sam. The underdog for almost 20 years, Serious Sam built a cult following by promising fast-paced, arena-style combat with an arsenal of weapons and a badass protagonist spewing one-liners with every headshot. A budget title in comparison to its contemporaries, Serious Sam often skipped out on the production value, doubling down on its gameplay gimmick — more enemies on screen and bigger, badder guns to kill them with.

Serious Sam 4 marks the return of Sam "Serious" Stone and his alien killing antics and promises the same chaotic arcade-style shooter fans are used to, but does it deliver? Unfortunately, Sam is unable to circle strafe his way around dated gameplay, poor pacing, and an unbelievably bad presentation.

What I like about Serious Sam 4

Serious Sam 4 Hordes Of Enemies

Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas (Image credit: Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas)

At its core, Serious Sam isn't a complicated series, and Serious Sam 4 continues that trend. You won't find the trappings of a modern FPS here. In Serious Sam, the best strategy is often to hold down the trigger and never stop moving. The campaign leans into this and feels like a b-list action movie, complete with cheesy one-liners and quips that made me laugh as well as roll my eyes to the back of my head. It's corny and mostly inoffensive, never veering into anything too crude like Duke Nukem did.

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CategorySerious Sam 4
TitleSerious Sam 4
PublisherDevolver Digital
GenreFirst-Person Arcade Shooter
PlatformsPC, Stadia
Game Size42 GB
PlayersCooperatively with up to 4 players
Xbox Game PassNo
Launch Price$40

Serious Sam 4's biggest draw this time around is the sheer size of its battles. Using the Legion System, Croteam can create large scale set pieces that feature thousands of enemies on screen at once. While they're mostly cannon fodder, there is an undeniable feeling of awe as you watch hordes of screaming enemies run across the horizon and straight toward you. There's plenty of weapons to shoot and plenty of enemies to shoot at.

New additions to the Serious Sam formula include branching paths with optional objectives that lead to gadgets and weapon attachments. The weapon attachments unlock alternative fire modes, while the gadgets offer offensive and defensive bonuses to Sam.

Certain gadgets, like the black hole and mini-nuke, were incredibly fun to use but don't appear as often as you'd like. Sam also has a skill tree that can be upgraded as you find Sirian Artefacts of Might, or S.A.M. These additions encourage players to explore the maps in between firefights.

The game can also be played with three other friends in a highly customizable coop mode. It's a far cry from the 16-player coop featured in Serious Sam 3, but it works. Croteam also promises to release the Serious Editor tool, which will allow fans to mod the game, shortly after launch.

What I don't like about Serious Sam 4

Serious Sam Shooting Monsters

Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas (Image credit: Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas)

Unfortunately for fans expecting this game to be a step forward for the series, Serious Sam 4 is a mess. You can tell immediately from the opening scene to the end credits. There's a distinct lack of polish throughout the game that detracts from the overall experience. Character models look nice enough, but their janky animations and thousand-mile stares make it feel like I'm watching mannequins that have sprung to life. Sometimes they don't even blink! The audio is also poorly mixed. Sometimes audio comes in too loud, too low, or doesn't match the subtitles at all.

Janky animations and thousand-mile stares make it feel like I'm watching mannequins that have sprung to life.

Environments don't fare much better either. Serious Sam takes you across Italy and the French countryside, but you'd be forgiven if you couldn't tell one from the other. Textures fail to load in properly, objects pass right through characters, and the physics are all over the place.

In my playtime, I watched bodies skate across the landscape at top speed or die in place with no animation at all. Sometimes they even miss their cues during cutscenes. Serious Sam 4 has an unfinished, lifeless feeling that permeates through the game. None of these issues are game-breaking, and a day-one patch launches along with the game, so there's a chance these issues could be fixed. If not, maybe the mod community might be able to save Sam from himself.

What year is it?

Serious Sam 4 Mech

Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas (Image credit: Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas)

You might be able to see passed these glaring issues if the gameplay was solid. Alas, Serious Sam 4 suffers from some serious issues in this department as well, particularly in its pacing. The opening hours of Serious Sam are seriously slow, and by the time you get a stacked weapon loadout, the chapter ends, and you're forced to start the next chapter with nothing but your pistols. This happens at the start of every chapter. Serious Sam is supposed to be a fast-paced run and gun arena shooter, so when the game slams on the breaks like this, it's incredibly jarring.

Serious Sam 4 also has a problem with artificial difficulty spikes that add another blemish to this game's laundry list of issues. The game isn't inherently difficult, but sometimes the checkpoint system will lock you in an area where you might have low health or ammo after a difficult wave.

At one point during a later stage, I was running from enemies when a checkpoint was triggered. I died, and every time I restarted the checkpoint, I immediately died again. I was stuck in a death loop for so long that the game suggested that I go back and load an earlier save file.

When I finally reached the end of the campaign after about 10 hours, I was exhausted, and not from defeating an alien horde or saving the earth, but from having to endure a surprisingly ugly, sometimes frustrating, and mostly boring game.

Bottom line: Should you play Serious Sam 4?

Serious Sam 4 Cannons

Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas (Image credit: Source: Windows Central / Zackery Cuevas)

In its current form, Serious Sam 4 is a disappointment and a missed opportunity. Nine years have passed since Serious Sam 3 was released, but you wouldn't know it after playing Serious Sam 4. Developer Croteam's "it if works, don't fix it" approach keeps the problems that plagued older Serious Sam games intact while ignoring changes in the gaming landscape since the last release.

Serious Sam 4 could've been a reboot of sorts, reintroducing the game to the masses like DOOM did when it launched in 2016. But while DOOM 2016 captured the run and gun gameplay of older games with unmatched polish, Serious Sam 4 is plagued by flawed pacing, artificial difficulty, and awful presentation. Couple all of this with a $40 price tag and you're better off with any of the older Serious Sam games.

Serious Sam 4 feels like a hollowed-out shell of what a Serious Sam game is. The game is functional, but the gameplay and visuals are noticeably outdated.

Zackery Cuevas

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. I like playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.