Serious Sam 4: Planet Badass Review – You Can’t be Serious

Serious Sam 4: Planet Badass Review

There are probably many gamers — even shooter fans — who have only a dim idea of whom Serious Sam is. The series debuted in 2001, and since then has spawned four main title games and more than ten spinoffs. That’s a lot of Sam. Serious Sam 4 released in 2020. Croteam and Devolver Digital’s game has been ported to consoles as Serious Sam 4: Planet Badass.

Despite the alarming number of Serious Sam games, the premise remains constant. You play as Sam “Serious” Stone, a Duke Nukem knockoff with a penchant for terrible puns and jokes. Sam fights an alien force called Mental. Mental’s forces consist of humanoids, monsters, drones, soldiers–in short, whatever random nonsense the developers decide to throw at Sam. Part of Serious Sam’s early appeal was that it was anything¬†but serious. It was the counterpart to the Dooms and Quakes of the time. There was no gothic darkness about Sam or the games. Twenty years later, there still isn’t. But the frat boy that seemed hilarious at age 19 or 20 isn’t so funny when he’s an adult.

The Serious Sam playbook has also remained consistent. Part 1: fight a swarm of enemy A. Part 2, fight enemy B. For the final segment, combine A and B. Once Sam’s fought an enemy type, it will usually make many additional appearances. There are mission objectives, like go meet a character or defend a location, but the flow of combat is always the same.

Serious Sam 4

Over the years, Serious Sam has adopted some mechanics from other shooters, like character upgrades and more story-focused gameplay. The result is that the core concept of Serious Sam just feels more and more out of touch and repetitive. It’s like your dad trying to go viral on TikTok.

Sam the Tourist

After a literally skippable prologue, Sam and his team find themselves in Rome, looking for Father Mikhail, who believes that the Holy Grail is the key to defeating Mental. Serious Sam 4 is a travelogue of sorts, taking Sam to Pompeii, back to Rome and to Russia. Although there are a few big moments, the story is pretty aimless and has a truly disappointing ending. There are side missions, too, but no surprise, they all pretty much end with another protracted wave-based battle.

From what I can tell, not much about Serious Sam 4 has changed since I reviewed it on PC at launch. The opening section of Chapter One has been (temporarily?) reskinned in a Christmas theme. Armor pick-ups are hidden in Christmas presents, there is snow on the ground, and skeleton warriors now brandish candy canes instead of swords. The music is holiday-themed as well.

Many of the areas are sprawling and open, but most are empty of life except for the waves of monsters or soldiers. The environments and enemies all look fine, but definitely show their age. Serious Sam 4 began development in 2012, after all. The figure models look every bit the product of old technology.

Delicately (Un) Balanced

Sam has a large arsenal of conventional and imaginative weapons. He starts with some cool toys, too, like a device which creates a holographic copy of himself. There’s no lock on, and aiming down the sights can be frustrating and imprecise because there really isn’t time to do it in the middle of circle strafing. Weapon balancing is an issue, too, with some pistols being more effective than rifles, for example.

It seems nit-picky to worry about that. After all, Serious Sam is an arcade shooter where the enemies are often ridiculous. The reason it is worth mentioning is that those absurd enemies are almost weak to a specific weapon. If those weapons are awkward to use or poorly balanced, every battle becomes (even more of) a slog.

Serious Sam 4 Devolver Digital Direct 2020

Serious Sam’s Identity Crisis

Playing Serious Sam 4: Planet Badass can be fun. It’s also clear that the franchise is at a crossroads. It wants to steal from other AAA shooters, to have believable characters, NPCs, and a story. At the same time, it goes all-in with a lame-joke cracking juvenile in a man suit and gameplay that is rote, lacks creativity and is repetitive. Long load times and framerate issues don’t help, either. Twenty years on, Sam isn’t edgy, goofy or ironic. Sam’s schtick, and the gameplay that goes with him, are seriously due for a makeover.

***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Frenetic combat
  • Fun weapons
  • Weird enemies

The Bad

  • Long load times
  • Repetitive
  • Lame humor and writing
  • Empty levels