Every few years the processing power of our consoles and computers reaches new heights. As a result, our games have become more detailed and more complex. A handful of game developers use the increased power to display photorealistic graphics. Others pride themselves in creating huge open worlds with incredible weather effects. But for the Croatian gamestudio Croteam, the increased processing power meant they could finally make their vision reality: Scale-up chaos to unprecedented levels.
True to form
Croteam is notoriously known for its Serious Same franchise. A videogame series that dates back to an age where first-person shooters were much more simplified. Aiming down sights, regenerating health, impressive AI, and destructible environments were all features that revolutionized our shooter games. Years later, many of these features have become so intrinsically linked to the shooter genre, it’s hard to imagine a game without. This is often proven when nostalgia kicks in and we fire up an old gem, only to quickly turn it down again after realizing the gameplay has not aged well. Some studios see this as a chance to reinvigorate the title by releasing a remake. These games are often built from the ground up, featuring the latest graphics and gameplay mechanics.
However, the big question remains. In an age where franchises like Call of Duty and Doom have left their mark, how do you keep an ‘arena-shooter’ like Serious Sam fresh and relevant? Croteam’s answer was bold: “If it works, don’t fix it.”. Rather, the team tried to revolutionize the iconic shooter by putting today’s computing power to use the only way they know how: by putting – literally – millions of enemies on screen.
Kill or be killed
Serious Sam 4‘s premise is simple. Kill or be killed. The game requires you to traverse through several levels, mostly linear in design, that each feature an increasing number of enemies. The levels are being tied together by a dull narrative that’s extremely predictable. But much like 2016’s Doom, the appeal of Serious Sam 4 lies not so much in its narrative, but in its gameplay. The narrative and cinematics are purposefully held thin to ensure the player is never really hindered from that what they came to do: kill demons. Having said that, the jokes and humor that are woven into the game’s dialogue and story are some of the best I’ve ever heard in a videogame! There was one in particular where an ally jokingly commented after clearing a stairway of enemies; “Ah forgive me, I almost made a Stairway to Heaven joke”, that just managed to crack me up. For a game that has the word serious in its title, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It just works.
When I said the levels were mostly linear in design, I’m doing the game a disservice. At several points in the game, the formula is spiced up by introducing vehicles. This allows for some mild exploration or vehicular combat in the larger maps which helps break the pace at just the right moments. Most levels also feature side-quests that introduce an additional objective that rewards the player with resources, weapons, or gadgets. It ensures you’re distracted at just the right moment from mindlessly blowing enemies.
If it works, don’t fix it
The game’s varied arsenal of weapons helps with this too. Automatic rifles and better suited to thin the herd, while weapons that pack a punch (like the double-barred shotgun) can help take down the slower, bigger enemies. The enemy types and amounts are varied enough that the game keeps forcing you to improvise with the tools at hand with a focus on circle-strafing and backpedaling. The game can also be played cooperatively with 4 players simultaneously, which makes the game a little easier. There’s no drop-in co-op though, which is a bit strange in this day and age.
In closing, the ‘Serious Sam’-formula still works and it indeed doesn’t need much fixing. That also means there’s not much innovation to be found. For fans of the franchise, that might be a soothing statement. But for those that usually prefer Call of Duty or Doom might be left expecting more. The game is fully aware of its possible shortcomings and tries to compensate with silly humor and just about enough variation to keep you hooked. Your adventure ends eight hours or so after it started, which is the right amount of time before it starts to run dry.