It’s fitting that Serious Sam 4 is one of the few games to get a full-fledged expansion in recent times. All of Sam’s adventures are nostalgic in nature, and he made his big return right alongside the fast-paced shooters he borrowed so heavily from. Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem provides a shorter adventure more in line with Sam’s most memorable campaigns than Serious Sam 4. Still, what’s on offer feels substantial, standing alongside the rest of the series and other modern-day boomer shooters. Casual players get a crash course in running backwards and shooting while veteran fans will find plenty of hidden treats and off-the-wall secrets. No matter what camp you fall into, anyone willing to endure Sam’s endless one-liners will have a blast sprinting through this winter wonderland.
Created by a group of respected modders in conjunction with series developers Croteam, Siberian Mayhem consists of five levels that fit the look of modern Sam. That comes with its own ups and downs, especially considering that the tech behind Serious Sam has never been the most advanced around. The focus on over-the-top encounters leads to graphics that seem out of date compared to modern FPS games, and that hasn’t changed here. Thankfully, the gameplay is much-improved, playing to the strengths of the series while ejecting some of the failed concepts of the last adventure.
Instead of hosting massive battles via a scripted event, Siberian Mayhem presents vast fields of baddies in real-time. Instead of chatting it up with generic side characters, Sam spends most of this journey quipping to himself. The allies who do show up are much less of a hindrance on the experience than Sam’s crew in 4. The focus of everything is rightly placed on massive combat arenas rather than monotonous boss fights and hallway crawls. Just like Sonic Mania before it, Siberian Mayhem feels like a pushback from series fans on unnecessary modern changes to a formula that didn’t need fixing.
This isn’t to say that Siberian Mayhem nails everything right on the headless torso. Vehicles sections vary from over-the-top fun (a tank with a nitrous boost) to aggravating mundanity (an uncontrollable ATV that can’t run through even the thinnest of trees). There are also a pair of crane puzzles that feel like bland Six Flags rides airdropped into the middle of Disneyland. These sections can break up the action, but they’d fit much better in a longer game with less reliable combat. As is, they only serve to distract from what players really want to do when they load up a Serious Sam game.
Thankfully, Siberian Mayhem truly knocks it out of the park in terms of FPS combat. New weapons like the electric crossbow add different dimensions to taking on Mental’s horde, but everything always comes back to wiping out dozens of soldiers with a minigun in each hand. Siberian Mayhem‘s difficulty scales wonderfully, providing a challenge for those who want one while also remaining pure fun for anyone just looking to blow off steam. The feeling of dread and excitement as an innumerable number of beasts rampage in your general direction is definitely intact, and the game’s short length means that the combat never feels stale. Despite its short length, it’s arguable that this modder-led experience is the best example yet that the series still has legs outside of its status as a nostalgic favorite.
Consider side quests. These were introduced in Serious Sam 4 and provided additional combat encounters if the players explored the opposite direction of the objective. In a larger game, these felt like padding, an excess on top of all the excess necessary for any of Sam’s adventures. In Siberian Mayhem, these side quests are a welcome extension of a shorter experience, providing interesting secrets and gameplay totally unlike what’s in the main game. From boss fights out of nowhere to a dungeon crawl that could be its own level, each new encounter is well worth exploring and provides replay value for players looking to wring every kill possible out of the game.
Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem isn’t going to stick in the mind of FPS fans and win GOTY awards come December. However, what it will do is instill hope in those who love screaming headless kamikaze warriors that Serious Sam isn’t lost in the woods in the modern shooter landscape. Trimming things down to a short but sweet campaign was probably necessary considering this game’s status as a standalone expansion, but it’s really the best outcome for the foul-mouthed savior of humanity. For the most part, these developers understand that Sam shines when dropped into unique combat scenarios, whether they be in vast open fields or claustrophobic hallways. If the next full-sized game can strip out the chaff and focus on those, Serious Sam may well be back on track for the long haul.
TechRaptor reviewed Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.