Everyone’s always talking about how great the ‘80s and ‘90s were — and they were — but why don’t the early 2000s get any love? That was a fun, weird era. In fact, the first Serious Sam game launched in 2001 — and what a game it was! It introduced players to Sam “Serious” Stone and his brand of wild shooting mayhem. Since then, we’ve gotten sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. The series has managed to stay consistently good, too, and developer Croteam continues that trend with Serious Sam 4.

Prequel Sequel

Serious Sam 4 is set before the events of the magnificent Serious Sam 3: BFE, which was released in 2011. Series antagonist Mental is back yet again and, as expected, hell-bent on taking over Earth. That’s where Sam Stone and the Earth Defense Force come in. The story isn’t particularly gripping stuff, but it gets the job done and, above all else, gives Sam a reason to go on another outrageous mission.

This series has never been high on story, world, or character development, but it’s always done an excellent job of creating and enhancing the aura of Sam. He’s a loud-mouthed, sarcastic dude who takes his job of eliminating alien monsters very seriously — all while cracking wise. Oh, he also likes the literary works of Philip K. Dick, apparently.

The timeline placement of Serious Sam 4 is odd, for sure, as it’s sort of a pre-sequel. That said, I learned long ago — when playing Serious Sam 3, specifically — not to worry too much about the specifics surrounding the chronology of these games. At this point, the titles and their individual placement in the Serious Sam timeline seem to be part of a cheeky, lighthearted joke.

Welcome to Planet Badass

If you’ve played any of the main games in the Serious Sam franchise, you know the drill by now: Shoot everything. All of it. If it’s moving, shoot it. That thing over there? Shoot it. That giant monster with cannons? Yeah, shoot it. That little guy slowly raising a pistol at you. Um, shoot the big scorpion creature next to him first. Okay, now show that little guy. And now you’re dead. Wait, why weren’t you running backward this whole time?

No, Serious Sam 4 doesn’t go out of its way to reinvent or refresh the tropes the series is famous for. That’s fine, though, because it all still feels really tight and polished, and it’s just so much fun to play. The game’s brand of running backward and shooting legions of alien creatures as they charge toward you is old school, badass, and entertaining.

Oh, and difficult. Like, crazy difficult. Even on the normal setting, Serious Sam 4 can get insanely challenging. You’re going to die a bunch of times, which is to be expected considering you’re almost always surrounded by dozens of powerful enemies. True to the series, your best bet is to simply shoot first and worry about finding your aim later, if at all.

Thankfully, Sam’s got quite the arsenal to work with. You’ve got your standard starter pistol, but it isn’t long before you find powerful shotguns, rapid-fire assault rifles, and explosive rocket launchers. As you play and face off against bigger threats and more challenging groups of enemies, you’ll find everything you need to succeed — just don’t blow yourself up.

The Serious Sam games have never been about skill trees and upgrades, and Serious Sam 4 is no different — though, interestingly, the game includes both of those things. You’ll earn skill points to buff Sam as well as weapon upgrades that add secondary actions to your guns. For example, you’ll be able to unlock explosive action for your shotgun with a grenade launcher. There are also gadgets, like the Sam hologram that distracts enemies, that you can use during the heat of combat. These additions don’t stand out too much because the action itself is too chaotic, but they’re fine.

Compared to the rest of the series, Serious Sam 4 can feel a bit same-y at times. Still, it’s a hell of a good time. Plus, the shooting definitely feels tighter and more polished than ever before. That’s not to say you’ll be pulling off headshots with extreme precision. Serious Sam has always been about the player being flabbergasted and outnumbered. As such, you’ll run around large, arena-like areas, hitting the trigger like a maniac and trying to take down bad guys in bulk. Oh, and this time you can do so in four-player online co-op, which is nice.

That Old 2000s Feeling

Just like Serious Sam 4 plays like an old school, early-2000s first-person shooter, it also looks, sounds, and feels like one. Well, okay, maybe it looks a little better than an early-2000s shooter. The human character models are, unfortunately, not that great. There are also some not-so-great textures and a bit of pop-in from time to time, which is strange considering the high PC requirements of the game. On the plus side, enemies all look like monstrous, grotesque abominations.

As one would expect from a game where all you do is shoot hundreds and hundreds of horrific aliens, Serious Sam 4 is loud. The sounds of shotguns, turrets, rocket launchers and wailing enemies never get old and, in fact, help build the atmosphere of the game. Then there are Sam’s one-liners and his gruff manner of speaking, which have become endearing staples of the series.

Depending on the difficulty setting and whether you partake in the game’s optional side missions (which typically involve shooting more things), you can expect to spend anywhere from 12 to 15 hours with Sam Stone. In that time, you’ll shoot endless waves of bad guys, die a bunch of times, and then shoot more bad guys. Thankfully, the action never lets up, and you’re treated to a frenzied, nonstop shoot-a-thon.

Serious Sam 4 lives up to its original title of Planet Badass. It’s probably not the best game in the series — that honor goes to Serious Sam 3 — but it’s filled with enough thrills, laughs, and bullets to keep you hooked and coming back for more. Seriously, screw Mental.