The explosive and over-the-top action series Serious Sam is back with guns blazing after what has been a nine year break from the spotlight. Serious Sam 4 promises to deliver the same mindless fun as its predecessor but has been built taking advantage of newer hardware.
The plot acts as a prequel to Serious Sam 3 and sees Sam and his band of military stereotypes embark on a journey across Europe to find a Holy Grail and protect the world from an attacking horde of aliens. The plot is nonsensical and even the characters themselves go on to break the fourth wall to point out how ludicrous things are. My complaint isn't with the premise but rather with the poorly scripted dialogue and how it's delivered in such a wooden way. One sequence at the start, for example, where the characters bumbled around trying to pull out the best one-liner, dragged on and felt painfully unfunny.
The story may fumble, but fortunately, the action is as insane and chaotic as ever. The gunplay here feels solid and I loved the creativity that came with the designs of the monsters, although many of them are returning faces from previous titles. Among my favourite new enemies are vampires, which will fly towards you and shake your screen violently and huge brutes wielding sledgehammers that can only be damaged when hit in the back. There are often twenty or more enemies on screen at one time, and as your ammo capacity is limited, you really need to pause and consider the best tool for the job.
The enemies make for one of the stronger aspects of the game but at times the AI can prove to be downright stupid. Sometimes during firefights, enemies wouldn't react to me shooting them if they were focused on another of our companions, making for a few easy kills. I found the bosses here to be absolute pushovers too despite offering some build-up with an introductory cutscene. With the first boss, for example, you are given near-unlimited chain gun ammo and just by shooting wildly, you can easily take the boss.
The selection of weapons is, however, solid and I really liked how Serious Sam 4 added a skill tree system for the series. In the skill tree, you can spend points on really useful abilities that allow you to mount enemies and receive health and ammo for wiping out opponents, for example. You only receive skill points by finding specific items in the world but this mechanic added more thought into the otherwise mindless shooting sections. In your arsenal there are some fun tools, such as a literal black hole you can use to suck foes in, a decoy that can lure your foes away before exploding, and a hand cannon to launch cannonballs.
There are 16 levels within the campaign and these largely follow the same structure; you'll be following linear pathways and engaging in firefights before occasionally facing off against a boss at the end. The gunplay, as I have alluded to, is fun, but it feels like some sequences have been padded out as waves of enemies continuously spawn in some segments. Helping to break things up a little more are optional side objectives, which offer an extra dose of challenge and allow players to unlock some useful powerups and gadgets. These objectives are nothing too exciting though and required me to collect items and ensure certain NPCs stayed alive.
An aspect that felt archaic was that when you die a previous save file is loaded instead of you being started over with a full health bar. As your health doesn't regenerate and pickups are required, it sometimes means you'll enter a tricky area with just a sliver of health and it can be just a few bullets before you're forced to start over. Sure, the option is here to load an older save and just try and prevent losing as much health, but this feels like needless backtracking and something that feels as though it could have been cut completely.
Serious Sam 4, even when I played after launch, was plagued with technical issues: enemies frequently got caught on the environment, bad texture pop-in flickered on and off, and loading screens dragged on for far longer than expected. Nothing here forced me to restart but it was surprising how frequently that these things occurred. The developers have noted that the issues will be addressed later, however, they were still prevalent post-launch and this after the title was given a series of delays.
The presentation is also a mixed bag. The music is great with many high-energy hard rock numbers to prop up the action, but after clearing out waves of enemies it stops abruptly, causing awkward and uncomfortable periods of silence. I also found the streets of Rome and the lush open fields of France to look stunning and detailed but the character models looked incredibly dated, almost as though they were pulled from a completely different game.
Serious Sam 4: Planet Badass is perhaps the largest misstep that the series has taken to date and I would only recommend it to the most hardcore of fans. The dialogue is poorly scripted, the gunfights feel needlessly padded out, and it lacks polish with plenty of technical issues. I do have to admit that it can produce some mindless fun at times with its great selection of weapons and enemies, but its not worth wading through its many problems to experience.
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