Serious Sam 4 Review (PS5)

Serious Sam 4 Review: Serious Sam is a Serial Slaughterer

 

Are you tired of carefully preserving ammo, cowering behind cover and taking measured shots? Serious Sam is back to save the day as he runs around like an Olympic sprinter, throwing highly explosive C4 around like rice at a wedding. The Serious Sam series is known for a less than entirely serious take on the FPS genre, showing an affinity for classic genre staples of wanton destruction seasoned with a goofily fun narrative.

Serious Sam 4 starts Sam off in the middle of Rome, travelling with a convoy of hoo-rah military stereotypes, trying to fight through hordes of alien invaders and help to liberate Earth from the extraterrestrial yoke. Not having played a Serious Sam game before, I didn’t know what to expect from the gruff-looking protagonist. When his compatriots were talking about the Da Vinci Code and asked his opinion on the famous book, Sam replied “No literary merit” I genuinely laughed out loud. Though the shades wearing hero has a craving for destruction as deep as his gravelly voice, he often shows surprising intelligence and sensitivity, which often works not only for comic effect but also to give the narrative real heart beneath the bombast.

 

 

Speaking of bombast, practically from the first time I gained control of Sam, my senses were assaulted by a litany of destruction. The music roars with thrashing guitar riffs and monstrous baddies explode into a shower of gore when blasted with Sam’s shotgun, leaving streaks of blood scattered across the barrel if you’re close. Every combat is an overwhelming sensory overload as massive waves of hundreds of genetically perverted mutants charge at you with their fangs and claws bared. One enemy in particular, the series’ iconic headless suicide bomber, runs full speed towards Sam, carrying a bomb in each hand and screaming at the top of their lungs(?) in a constant agonizing cry. When you shoot one of them whilst they are charging at you in a squealing, cacophonous horde, the detonation of one will set off several of the rest in an awe-inspiring chain reaction – like explosive dominoes.

There’s no shortage of weaponry to kill, decapitate, and explode your foul foes. The simple shotgun comes with an underslung grenade launcher – perfect for thinning out a crowd with an explosive blast before shooting down the stragglers with shells. The rocket launcher’s secondary fire mode can launch up to four guided missiles are varying targets. Even more measured weapons like a sniper rifle are included, particularly handy picking off enemy sharpshooters on the roofs. Definitely one of the most fun is the C4 explosive – found inside bottomless crates. As long as you initiate combat near one of these crates, you can toss around these remotely detonated bombs around, triggering them in mid-air to wipe out anything from the most populous hordes to the biggest beasties in an instant.

No armament is redundant or obsolete as the campaign wears on. Since the various weapons are all handy in their own ways, there’s plenty of fun to be had in cycling through them to use them most effectively.

 

Sam can also unlock new abilities by picking up mysterious purple alien orbs before crushing them with his fist and (rather recklessly) inhaling them. These abilities really add a sense of progression and an opportunity to personalize your methods of destruction. Unlocking the akimbo ability means Sam can dual wield pistols and immediately make his default weapon (with infinite ammo) twice as powerful, potentially saving a lot on resources. The melee attack ability allows Sam to insta-kill enemies and regain a sliver of health (his sense of murderous self-satisfaction presumably restoring his vitality)

Going further down the tree abilities can become almost absurdly powerful. The Sirian bull, a monster that charges at you with its horns bared, can be a particularly fearsome foe when they attack in packs, goring poor Sam from every side. But with one ability, Sam can mount the bull like a rodeo cowboy and use them to charge down enemy troopers instead. The crazy abilities on offer really offer a chance to adapt your playstyle and keep providing more impetus to continue the campaign.

 

Levels are incredibly straightforward – long stretches of road, street, or wide-open areas for Sam to run and gun around. Since it’s always pretty obvious where to go next, it’s almost comically convenient that there’s an ability to have giant glowing yellow arrows direct you to the next objective. Thankfully, side objectives are just as helpfully signposted with similar blue arrows. Often they’ll involve rescuing some hapless civilian from a jam (and will involve killing about a hundred odd baddies). Occasionally there are vehicle sections, such as Sam riding a motorbike through the south of France or hilariously finding the Pope’s giant mecha robot in the Vatican (conveniently fitted with dual rocket launchers and miniguns).

Boss battles are another highlight. There’s one encounter where Sam encounters a giant crab-like beast which crawls over the side of a ruined Roman Coliseum. While blasting away at the beast’s giant eyeball, Sam makes an equally rapid fire series of puns about crab cakes and crustaceans as he’s also fending off hordes of the creature’s many-legged offspring.

Whether fighting a boss, piloting a vehicle or taking on a side quest though, it’s all different flavors on the same formula, and this is arguably where we reach Serious Sam 4’s issues.

Any real faults with Serious Sam 4 are down to the expectation of the player. If you go into it expecting any profound innovations in the genre, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This game is, first and foremost, about shooting aliens – lots of aliens. Other than some secrets that can be found by jumping on various parts of the scenery, there’s no real puzzles to be found or anything that might tax your brain. There’s no crafting, no cover mechanics, no moral choices to be made here, just shooting (and occasionally throwing a miniaturized black hole into a crowd of vampires when things get a bit overwhelming). It’s definitely a fair charge that things can get repetitive, as you’re ultimately just rapidly circle-strafing around hordes of bad guys over and over again with nothing to break up the routine. For those who like the occasional rest from shooting things, SS4 might be a bit exhausting.

 

 

For those who want a brutally raw retro-styled shooter where constant carnage is the order of the day, Serious Sam 4 will sate the bloodlust of even the most maniacal gamers. Not only that, but it’s genuinely funny and well-written, and the trials and tragedies Sam experiences tugged at my jaded heartstrings far more than I expected them to. Many would not enjoy Serious Sam 4 because gunning down endless waves of slavering aliens and mutants becomes brutally relentless – but if you’re a hardcore shooter purist, that’s exactly what you’re looking for.


Final Verdict: 4/5

Available on: PC, PS5 (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox X/S, Xbox One, Stadia; Publisher:  Devolver Digital; Developer: Croteam; Players: 1-2; Released: December 7th, 2021 (PS5);

Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Serious Sam 4 provided by the publisher.

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Jonathan is HeyPoorPlayer's token British person, so expect him to thoroughly exploit this by quoting Monty Python and saying things like "Pip, pip, toodly-whotsit!" for the delight of American readers. He likes artsy-fartsy games, RPGs and RPG-Hybrids (which means pretty much everything at this point). He used to write for Sumonix.com. He's also just realised how much fun it is to refer to himself in the third person like he's The Rock or something.

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