I have long had an appreciation for indie titles and their developers for their ability to create experiences that buck the industry trend and do something entirely unique. Every once in a while however, there is one indie title that comes along that, while it doesn’t do anything to break the mold established by its big-budget brethren, manages to reshape those ideas into something that exists on its own merit, and few franchises, if any, exemplify this better than the Serious Sam franchise. Created by small Croatian developer Croteam, Serious Sam started was originally known as In The Flesh and was intended as a tech demo for the company’s proprietary Serious Engine. It exploded in popularity, and now, 19 years later we have a new entry, Serious Sam 4, and it is glorious.
The fourth installment is a prequel to Sam 3 chronologically, and although it doesn’t set up the events of part 3 quite as well as I had hoped, the experience is still incredibly enjoyable. Taking all but a few of its cues from Doom Eternal, Sam 4’s enemy types are virtually identical. The titles are so similar it wouldn’t be completely inaccurate to call this discount Doom Eternal; however, Sam 4 sets itself apart by making a difference where it really matters, accessibility.
Serious Sam 4 is barrier free across all categories, and gamers with motor-function disabilities should have no issues here. The game’s compatible with both PS4 and Xbox One gamepads and features fully customizable controls. Despite playing virtually identically to Doom Eternal, Sam 4’s biggest deviation from the formula is that it features regenerating health on the easier difficulty settings. This rectifies the issue I experienced in Doom Eternal where you couldn’t even stop to take aim properly because halting movement in any capacity would result in being swarmed leading to a quick and grisly death. Because Sam regenerates health, you can afford to take some damage to aim, but even then the aim-assist is so forgiving that you can be clearly off the mark and still hit it. Additionally, Serious Sam 4 doesn’t have platforming sections with exception of the final boss battle. I normally dislike platforming during bosses, but even this can be forgiven because of the multitude of checkpoints in the level, and the ability to save manually means that you can save where you see fit and not where the game decides.
Visually impaired players should have a barrier-free experience. Sam’s various items, gadgets, and weapons all stand out when on the ground, with bright yellow representing ammo, purple representing gadgets, green for weaponry, and red for health. Colorblind players need not to worry because there are six different colorblind modes to choose from including black and white. If black and white mode is active, colors are absent in power-ups but can still be identified by their outlines, and an indicator can be toggled to display which enemy aim-assist will snap to when the player fires. Should you become disoriented traversing the rather large maps, a tap of the designated “way to go” button will reveal the way forward with a large streak of arrows, so there’s no danger in getting lost. Moreover, you always know which enemies are coming even before seeing them because the sounds they make are so distinct. Subtitles are quite large by default, letterboxing is available, and they have speaker tags, so I foresee no issues.
Accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing is top notch as well. This aspect is important given how chaotic the game can get, particularly in later stages when you face the largest hordes. Damage indicators are excellent, and they always linger for plenty of time, making finding your aggressors a breeze. To make an addendum to the feature highlighted in the previous paragraph, even if you can’t hear your foes, they are so distinct physically, that even those with auditory impairments can easily prioritize targets.
As an indie game, there is a good chance Sam Stone’s latest escapade will be dismissed as a low-budget Doom Eternal clone. Playing the game after having experienced Doom Eternal for myself makes it easy to see where comparisons stem from. It copies Doom Eternal in almost every way, right down to the weapon upgrade system. But what Serious Sam 4 lacks in originality, it more than makes up for with a wonderful suite of accessibility features and more forgiving gameplay that puts less emphasis on movement and platforming. This game will satisfy any disabled gamer who wanted to play Doom Eternal but found it too difficult to complete. Simply put, if the Doom Slayer is the embodiment of unfettered rage, then Serious Sam is his younger more light-hearted and humorous cousin from out of town. This one shouldn’t be passed up by disabled gamers, FPS enthusiasts, or anyone who wants to have a good chuckle while saving the world from aliens.