Serious Sam 4 was the first real iteration of its franchise that I played long enough to be worn out by—which took almost no time at all. It’s extremely hard to have something positive to say about this title, because it does nothing well and a lot of things poorly. Having previously tried Serious Sam 2 & 3, I expected a simplistic arena shooter. I don’t believe my expectations were super high—I didn’t expect anything particularly revolutionary and interesting—so I went in to the game only expecting a fun time at the very least. Instead, what we got in Serious Sam 4 was serious disappointment, requiring some serious questioning. Where do I begin?
The enemies: seriously?
The sophistication of the AI in this game is abysmal—it’s non-existent. You can cheese nearly every battle, and it is so easy to do. Countless times, enemies found themselves stuck on environmental objects, even without my intervention. They sit there, struggling to free themselves, while you unload clip after clip to take them down. Where is the fun in that? Intelligent AI is a prime factor in games like the Halo series, where enemies will dodge and weave to avoid your fire, even taking cover and running around the map in a tactical manner. In SS4, none of these engaging enemy types truly exist. Most of the enemies just act as meat shields, and the ones that do have some interesting mechanic to them—like the vampires, with their vanishing movement—can be destroyed with a single shot (using double shotguns). This makes their disappearing/reappearing movement really negligible in terms of actually being effective and providing a different challenge.
The graphics & level design: seriously?
I’m not a stickler for beautiful games—it doesn’t have to be pretty for me to have a great time—hence my love for games like Minecraft, which offers up a plethora of things to do and does not have its enjoyability dampened by simplistic graphics. The disappointment behind SS4‘s graphics lies in the fact that there is so much wrong with it: bad textures, severe pop-in of textures, severe clipping, lack of effective anti-aliasing, and overall very boring design choices and environments. Being lacklustre in the gameplay department, I was hoping for the visuals of SS4 to be a redeeming factor, one shining detail visible in the erroneous amount of mediocrity that was jammed into the product; it was not to be. Then there is the issue of the levels themselves: uninspired, repetitive, and not much to look at.
The gunplay & the gameplay: seriously?
In a lot of ways, SS4 doesn’t improve upon Serious Sam 3 at all. Most facets of the game are either on par with what 3 presented to its audience or, in some matters, a lesser shell of what was. The gunplay felt no different. Did it have to be improved? Not really. But when you have games out there like DOOM—which, granted, are probably being developed on higher budgets and with more care—there is little motivation to play a game like SS4. The mechanics are also very much like Serious Sam 3 and there is very minimal impact when you actually fire each weapon, assuming you are even wielding the guns you want. While I understand the use of the skill tree in games in general—a staple mechanic in video games, placed there to make the player feel like they are gradually growing stronger to meet more challenging opponents—I would have enjoyed having features like dual wielding larger weapons from the start of the game. Obliterating the enemy with two double-barrelled shotguns was enjoyable and satisfying; it’s just a shame I had to “skill-up” to get there later on.
It was a struggle for me to play Serious Sam 4, to be honest. After three hours of the repetition, I simply wanted to give up. The collection of problems hindered any fun experience that may have been there, buried way too far beneath for me to find. Some pockets of the game were interesting or enjoyable, but only for a fleeting moment at most. The erupting-volcano level was an interesting setting, and the dual wielding of weapons provided a more impactful experience. I do appreciate that the game allows you to skip the cutscenes if you prefer: I wasn’t sold on the need for a story in what simply presents itself as a mindless arena shooter, and a subpar one at that.