24 September 2020 14:54
Over in Belarus, a company with the generic name of Wargaming Inc. started releasing digital versions of popular tabletop games like De Bellis Antiquitatis before launching its Massive Assault franchise and eventually coming up with the overwhelmingly successful free-to-play World of Tanks. In 2015, the company dedicated a new branch to explicitly helping others do the same with Croteam Incubator, which gives office space and technology resources to small teams of Croatian developers looking to finish their games. After a couple of minutes (or seconds, if you manage to get yourself killed immediately), the story goes back to the beginning, with Sam and the other members of the Alien Artifact Acquisition team moving via a convoy in Rome for the purposes of meeting a Russian priest who knows where to find the Holy Grail. If you've played any other game in the series, you'll have a general idea of what to expect from Serious Sam 4. Regardless, these are worth it because they contain their own unique enemy waves, which is the whole point of playing the game to begin with.
It really just plays like a faster, bigger and more responsive version of the First and Second Encounters, mixed with certain elements from the third game. What's more, he can mix and match any two, which is insanely useful when you're up duking it out with enemies of two different types and there just isn't much time to swap between weapons. It doesn't quite look like a AAA game but it's solid in its own right. Speaking of having tons of enemies onscreen, Serious Sam 4's Legion System where enormous battles take place was significantly overhyped, as it amounts to just a few minutes of gameplay, most of which is just a backdrop for an insanely giant final boss battle. It doesn't hesitate to absolutely murder you but it feels more consistent and fair than the classic games in the series did, with less of a focus on teleporting enemies in behind you and finding them hiding around every corner.
There's a pervading level of jank to Serious Sam 4 that I couldn't get out of my mind as I played the game. The usual pop-in of trees and objects served as minor distraction from the huge open maps that Croteam developed and I could never figure out the right settings to make the game run as smooth as I wanted. If you want to dig down deep enough, Croteam lets players take full advantage of the various rendering techniques to get the best possible performance out of the game but I settled for trying to run with the suggested settings that Serious Sam 4 autodetected for me. Serious Sam 4 loses some of its pacing midway through with the shift to open world maps but nevertheless, Croteam has come up with a rather amusing shooting gallery to explore. It's not one of the best first-person shooter campaigns you'll play this year but it's a good palate cleanser from all of the super-serious games dropping on the new consoles.
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. 2.5 out of 5 Serious Sam 4 feels like a hollowed-out shell of what a Serious Sam game is. It's been 9 years since Croteam released the last title in the Serious Sam series, Serious Sam 3: BFE. But, does this follow up bring the same action and fun of the originals to a new generation, or is it time to let Sam fade into history and be forgotten? It's a pure alien murder simulator and for the most part, there's a lot to enjoy, especially if you like games that don't require you to think too deeply about their stories or the puzzles within. But, for the most part, Serious Sam 4's undying attachment to the way the games have played in the past is its biggest strength. It's also possible you might run into some issues like I did, where enemies wouldn't spawn, causing me to be unable to progress past certain points. Sure, it's a fairly shallow narrative experience, but if you just want to jump in and not really care about the story or world, and just shoot a load of different enemies, then Serious Sam 4 delivers. If you're someone that cares more about the story than anything else, then you're going to find some meat on the bones with Serious Sam 4, just don't go in expecting things to get as deep as other narrative-driven games go. It's also worth noting that one of the best things about previous games was the massive co-op options, including the ability to play 16-player online co-op in Serious Sam 3: BFE. If you've never played a Serious Sam game, then just don't go into it expecting the same level of narrative as story-driven games, because you aren't going to find it here.