Serious Sam is a long-running series of fast-paced, old-school first-person shooters from Croatian developer Croteam. Nearly ten years after the first release of Serious Sam 3, Croteam and Devolver Digital finally released Serious Sam 4 on PC in 2020. One year later, an Xbox Series S|X version suddenly launched on Xbox Game Pass alongside PlayStation 5. While it’s great that console gamers can now enjoy the latest installment in one of my all-time favorite FPS series, major technical issues add plenty of unwelcome frustration to the console experience.
Serious Sam 4 takes place between Serious Sam 2 and 3, not that the timeline matters much. The game begins on our home planet amidst an alien invasion. During the ensuing chaos, "Serious" Sam Stone and his team of allies must investigate a series of mysterious relics and archaeological dig sites that hold the key to thwarting the invasion. The series has never been particularly story-heavy, but this installment makes significant strides. The story comes to life with numerous fully-voiced cinematics involving Sam and an array of side characters. This is mostly an improvement, but too many of Sam’s buddies get fridged as the game progresses.
These games are all about exploring overly massive levels, hunting for equipment and secrets, and blasting hordes of bizarre enemies along the way. Serious Sam 4 doesn’t stray from the formula, but it does feature new equipment and mechanics to freshen things up a bit. Players can switch between first-person and third-person perspectives at any time; third-person works surprisingly well. There are 15 total weapons to wield, including all the mainstays plus an experimental gun that shoots chainsaws. Several guns can now be upgraded to add secondary functions. Gadgets are limited-use items that provide instant health boosts, decoys to distract enemies, and other effects.
A new customizable skill tree allows players to focus development on ranged or melee attacks. Skill points are acquired by finding S.A.M. eggs hidden in weapon cases throughout levels. Melee attacks (clearly inspired by Doom) vary by the enemy. Only smaller enemies can be meleed at first, but upgrades allow melees against medium-sized enemies. Players can even ride the bull enemies - when properly upgraded! Speaking of riding things, vehicles like an ATV, a combine harvester, and a mech give Sam and his friends a chance to get off their feet. The game usually provides vehicles for all four co-op players, though not always. The vehicles could control better. The motorcycle is particularly painful to drive, but it plays heavily into one of the levels.
This game consists of 15 levels and multiple difficulties. Achievements are not based on difficulty, so everyone can choose to have as easy or tough an experience as they like. The Xbox game launches with 54 Achievements, about one-third of which involve getting specific kinds of kills with certain weapons. Another third of the Achievements come from completing side objectives. Each level has an optional objective now, clearly marked by a blue indicator when they become available. These function like side quests, adding to the story and usually providing players with weapons or upgrades.
Serious Sam 4 supports 4-player online co-op on both consoles and PC. That’s a big step down from the 16-player co-op of the Serious Sam Collection and previous PC installments, but 4-player co-op is still plenty of fun. To select co-op characters from the generous assortment of 33, players have to visit the Options menu before joining a game, select Game Options, and then scroll all the way down to Player Model. That’s a clunky, unintuitive place to tuck away an option that should really appear when joining a game.
Joining games is one of the areas in which the console ports fall short of their Steam brother. Unlike the Steam version, there is no matchmaking at all on Xbox or PlayStation. To play online co-op, you have to manually arrange to play with friends and then invite them or have them choose to join your game through the console’s Friends UI. Matchmaking is such a basic and established feature of modern video games; it makes zero sense for the porting team to gimp Serious Sam 4 on consoles by leaving it out. The game’s launch availability on Xbox Game Pass provides a decent potential player base at present, but that still involves some hassle and doesn’t help PlayStation gamers.
Technical issues reportedly abound on PlayStation, though I can only report on the troubles I faced playing on Xbox Series X. The loading times are clearly unoptimized, with levels taking up to a minute to load even on the beefy and SSD-equipped Series X. Graphics can be quite buggy – textures commonly fail to appear or show up late during cinematics and gameplay alike (see screenshot above). The weapon wheel, the main way to select weapons, sometimes refuses to work, making it so that the player can’t select or wield anything (using a gadget sometimes gets it to work again). Vehicles frequently cause the game to either crash or to simply boot co-op players out of the session. Some levels are specifically vehicle-oriented, making them incredibly frustrating and essentially unplayable in co-op. The game even refuses to let players join or rejoin games sometimes for no obvious rhyme or reason.
The console versions of Serious Sam 4 were clearly released in an unfinished state. It seems like the publisher hoped that the goodwill of offering the game via Xbox Game Pass would make up for the negativity of the buggy and unoptimized port. I deeply hope that Devolver Digital does the right thing and issues updates to improve the game’s stability and add matchmaking. Underneath the mountain of technical issues lies a wonderfully cheesy, action-packed, and old-school shooter. The Steam version looks and runs much better than the Xbox game, so add one point to each of our scores for the PC version.
Xbox and PC review codes were provided by the publisher for this review.
The Co-Op Experience: Smash through the action-packed campaign with friends in 4-player online co-op mode! Tackle exciting primary missions and thrilling side quests in modified difficulties for an extra challenge.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.