For PC gamers of a certain age, the name Serious Sam probably evokes some fond memories. While old Sam never enjoyed that pop culture notoriety and fame of his counterparts like Duke Nukem or Doom Guy, he was there on the ground as a part of the initial wave of 3D first-person shooters that eventually went on to change the video game industry forever. The series has lived on with remakes and sequels over the years, with 2020’s Serious Sam 4 being the last major release.
Less than two years later, Serious Sam fans now have the chance to return to Russia for a standalone excursion built by Timelock Studio. The team at Timelock got started on Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem building a mod for the community to enjoy. Their work on the project was of a high enough quality that Croteam, the creators of Serious Sam, took notice.
They worked with the folks at Timelock to add layers of polish that such a mod project would otherwise not have. The final result is a standalone companion to Serious Sam 4 that manages to retain the spirit of the franchise while marrying it to that cold, unsettling vibe that you only get from games produced in Eastern Europe or Russia.
What’s old is new again (but still old)
For returning players of the Serious Sam series, jumping into Siberian Mayhem will be as easy as breathing. Everything on offer here follows the established franchise blueprint and most Serious Sam fans know exactly what they will be getting into with this package. The campaign is of decent length and checks off all the required boxes.
For the uninitiated, I’ll offer a brief explanation of what to expect. From the moment you click start, you will be under fire from nearly all directions from a variety of bad guys intent on removing you from this mortal coil. You have guns, some gadgets, and the ability to run 29 miles per hour in every direction, even when strafing or backpedaling. You need to run from point A to point B (helpfully indicated by floating yellow icons on your HUD) and clear out the riff raff in between.
If it all sounds rather simple, it’s because it is. Serious Sam games stick to the script, even to a fault. This is a full-blown arena-style shooter that makes no bones about being loud, over-the-top, and mentally taxing. Within 15 seconds of taking your first step, you’ll be in the crosshairs of high-speed green apes with hippo teeth that never stop coming.
By the time you start approaching the end of Siberian Mayhem’s campaign, most encounters will look like the final battle in Avenger’s Endgame with 275 different entities flying around while exploding or screaming (or both). Such a battle seems impossible to manage to the untrained, but this is old hat for Serious Sam.
Returning players will recognize the guns, the pickups, and the enemies. Screamy bomb head guy, horse-clop skeleton, minigun scorpion, and all your favorite 30-year-old pals have made the trip to the Siberian wilderness. Your old pal Mental is up to no good again, along with returning antagonist General Brand, from Serious Sam 4. In the previous game, Mental’s army came through a portal over Tunguska, Russia (famous for the 1908 Tunguska Blast), setting in motion the events that saw Sam shoot things on a globetrotting adventure. Siberian Mayhem brings the action back to the motherland, along with all the nonsensical, conspiracy theory-heavy plot series fans have come to expect.
From an audiovisual standpoint, there’s not much to write home about. This franchise has never really been about showing off graphics (save for the earliest days of 3D acceleration) and that continues here. I’d even go as far to say that Siberian Mayhem looks a bit worse than Serious Sam 4. Likely a mix of the drab conditions and its genesis as a mod project. Performance on my PC was mostly acceptable, save for some frame-pacing issues that I was unable to remedy with my usual tricks. I also felt that the load times between levels were abnormally high on my NVME drive for the on-screen results.
The campaign can be run through pretty quickly if you are familiar with how the series plays or opt for the lower difficulty levels. A full clear could be done in four-to-six hours, which feels a bit on the short side, though there is something to be said for not overstaying your welcome. Bringing along friends for cooperative play will likely be the best way to wring more value out of the purchase. Better to be run over by a horse-clop skeleton with your friends, I always say.
How much fun you’ll have in the bleak, frozen landscape depends on how much you are still smitten with mid-90s first-person shooter mechanics. Serious Sam would rather die than apologize for being what he is. Those looking for an evolution or some sort of next step in gameplay design may as well look elsewhere. All encounters in the game play out exactly the same way they have for the last thirty years. You can mix things up with weapon choices, co-op, and difficulty settings, but that’s about it. 2016’s Doom received loads of (justified) praise for finding a way to push this genre forward. Siberian Mayhem is clearly content to keep touring with the hits. While I won’t drag it for being true to itself, only devout followers of the church of Sam need apply. 6/10 scrapjacks
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem is out now on Steam.