‘Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem’ review: all killer, no filler

A seriously good time

Nine times out of ten, you can judge a shooter solely on the quality of its shotgun. If you’re handed a shotgun that feels like it’s got all the strength of a soggy McDonalds bag, it’s probably not going to be fun to play with. In an FPS, it should go without saying – that’s kind of a big deal. That works both ways. If pulling the trigger feels like revving up an industrial killing machine, your game’s probably on the money – and that’s a lesson that Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem clearly paid attention to.

In fact, Serious Sam is just about raring to introduce you to its boomstick. It’s the first weapon you’ll get after your pistol, and its first impressions involve gruesomely dismantling any extra-terrestrial foolish enough to get in range of your 12 gauge. If that’s not enough, you’ve barely got to grips with it before Croteam sticks a grenade launcher on it and sets you to work killing more stuff – albeit much messier.

While Serious Sam‘s pump action shotgun hogged the spotlight for much of my own time in the game, you’ll be able to violently careen through the shooter’s levels with just about any of the guns you’re given. It’s rare to get more than a few steps without a firefight, and you’ll pay for any progress with lead and gore aplenty: always with Serious Sam‘s signature brand of over-the-top goodness.

One cool feature with Siberian Mayhem is that a lot of these enemies – from screaming orange humanoids to pus-drooling demons – aren’t meaty bullet-sponges. You’ll be able to dissect opponents with relative ease, especially in the (much-encouraged) co-op campaign, and there’s something deeply satisfying about watching several foes pop gratuitously with a single well-placed grenade.

Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem. Credit: Croteam.
Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem. Credit: Croteam.

That’s not to say that Serious Sam isn’t a difficult game. When the game does throw some of its laughably weak enemies at you, you can bet your buckshot they’re not on their own – many levels will simply try to drown you in lesser foes and watch you try to stay afloat.

In these situations, you’ll rely on two simple things to keep you alive: bullets, and a giddily-fast sprint speed. Even at your “normal” speed, Sam ‘Serious’ Stone moves so quickly that I’m surprised the aliens aren’t trying to get him banned for a speedhack. Sometimes, Speedy Sam was actually a bit of an issue: it’s hard to stress just how fast you move, and several times I hurtled myself onto a lower-level of a map and had to take a walk of shame back, weathering the amused laughter of my co-op partner.

All of the above can be condensed into a simple recipe that I found myself following. I’d spot a horde of enemies, precariously zig-zag around and through them, and once I had enough breathing space, turn back and scythe them down. It’s a gory routine I repeated countless times, but not one I grew tired of. In the same sense that you can never get bored of popping bubble wrap, there’s just something deeply satisfying about the way Serious Sam lets you pick apart your problems with cartoonish violence.

Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem. Credit: Croteam.
Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem. Credit: Croteam.

There are a few times when Serious Sam does decide to shake things up. Not far into the game, there’s a vehicle segment that drops you into the driver’s seat of a Russian mech. Now, I’m not usually one for vehicle segments, but most of them don’t chuck you in a robot with a chainsaw for an arm, do they?

Like the rest of Serious Sam, this segment does a great job of making Sam Stone feel like the badass monster-slayer that countless enemies think he is. The missiles you fire are bigger than most enemies, and similarly, one swing of your chainsaw-hand can easily turn upwards of ten foolishly regular-sized enemies to red mush. Over the course of Serious Sam, you can overhear enemies talking about you with legendary – if fearful – reverence, speculating on your existence as a three-armed giant deity. When you’re roaming the lands as a 20-foot-tall killing machine, that starts to make a lot of sense. When the segment ends with a meek battery-low warning (even building-sized mechs need their AAA’s), me and my partner both let out a shared “aww,” reluctant to let go of our newfound power.

For me, one of the best parts of Serious Sam was enjoying it with someone else. Combat can be so silly, so over-the-top, that sometimes it feels like you simply need a witness for any of it to be believed. In my own co-op campaign it took about 20 minutes for us to realise that friendly fire wasn’t enabled, at which point it got explosively messy: the best bit about Serious Sam is its cavalier attitude toward carnage, so what’s not to love about doubling its explosions?

Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem. Credit: Croteam.
Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem. Credit: Croteam.

While I really enjoyed the arcade-y nonsense that comes with tearing up Siberia, I do think that the snowy setting felt a bit restrictive. You’re usually charging through levels too fast to care about how they look, but sometimes the world can still feel a little bland to look at. That’s not to say that Croteam hasn’t put together some gorgeous scenery to chew through, but levels could feel a little plain when they were awash in the same greys and whites.

But, like I said: in a game where you’re encouraged to shoot through it as fast as possible, you’re probably not going to be sitting around to examine your surroundings too carefully.

Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem launches on January 25 for PC

The Verdict

With violence that borders on cartoonish and an array of weapons that would make Arnie blush, Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem delivers thrills on every front. I’d recommend bringing a friend along for the ride, but Serious Sam‘s no-brakes approach to action is still a worthy venture for anyone going solo.

Pros

  • Over the top, self-aware humour keeps the story entertaining
  • With a friend, Serious Sam is double the fun
  • Every level gets the adrenaline pumping

Cons

    • Siberia can feel a little bit dull sometimes
    • Is it possible to run too quickly?
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