Serious Sam Collection Review

One of the 2020’s biggest gaming disappointments

Xbox Series S screenshot taken by the author.

I’ve been a fan of Croteam’s Serious Sam franchise since its first launch back in 2001. Its combination of energetic shooting action, hordes of enemies, vibrant visual design, and relentless pacing puts it near the top of the first person shooter genre in my mind. Serious Sam may not have the polish of true gaming legends like the Doom series, but it has the same heart and blissful fun at its core. Over the last few months, I had the joy of playing through the entire franchise with a friend through its online co-op mode on PC, and it’s still as thrilling today as it has ever been.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to classify Serious Sam Collection’s new console release as anything other than a disappointment. It was released a couple of weeks ago for Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch for $29.99 after spending the last several months as a Stadia exclusive. The basis for the collection is an essentially-abandoned Steam project called Serious Sam Fusion, itself a collection of games that were first released on PC and Xbox 360 almost a decade ago.

Collection bundles together Serious Sam: The First Encounter HD, The Second Encounter HD, and Serious Sam 3, alongside a few small DLC packages. I’ve tested the game extensively on both the Xbox Series S and Stadia. Its biggest issue on consoles is performance. The game has two visual settings: a Graphics mode that’s locked at 30FPS and a Performance mode that dials everything back and goes for 60FPS.

While this setup is theoretically understandable for the Nintendo Switch, it’s completely absurd to see these settings on Sony and Microsoft’s platforms. It’s baffling that everything from the base Xbox One on up to the new Series consoles and PS5 can’t run these games at 60 frames per second with all the graphics options turned on. These are re-releases of games that ran competently on the Xbox 360. Games that have paltry system requirements on PC and will run fast on the proverbial toaster/potato/metaphor-of-your-choosing. Games that have twenty year old technology buried underneath them.

There’s no good excuse for how unoptimized this game is on consoles. It has no next generation patch either in spite of releasing in time with the new machines. When set to the performance mode on my Series S, the game becomes a bit of a blurry mess with no reflections and fuzzy shadows…but at least it does run at 60. In graphics mode, it looks about the same as it did on my PC ten years ago…but it is capped to 30 with nothing visually to show for it.

At least the Stadia version runs at 60 FPS regardless of your resolution settings. It had better, considering the Stadia’s Vega 56-based GPU is also comically overpowered for running these games. Stadia’s small bit of lag might be a problem for people used to playing this series on PC, but the game is a dramatically better experience on Google’s cloud platform than in its console form.

This is all such a horrible disappointment, because underneath the woeful console performance there’s still three awesome shooters here. The games cast you as Sam “Serious” Stone, and your mission is to run around in a collection of random settings shooting hundreds of aliens and monsters with a large assortment of classic video game guns, like a rapid fire laser and a cannon that shoots huge cannonballs. There’s more to the story than that, but it’s all delightful silly garbage that never takes itself more seriously than the main character’s name and game logo- emblazoned t-shirt.

The action moves at a blistering pace, but it handles okay on a controller thanks to some clever soft targeting lock options. You don’t have to turn on these aim assists, but if you do, you’ll get a play experience closer to the precision of mouse and keyboard…which I still think is the best way to play this game. The Switch version doesn’t have gyro aiming in spite of numerous requests from the fan community, but then that’s exactly what I’d expect from such a low budget kicked-out-the-door production.

I was excited when Serious Sam Fusion first launched years ago. The concept of a single launcher than can seamlessly fire up multiple games from the same series is really cool. Seeing a “finished” version of that come to Stadia was also exciting. But these new console ports are not exciting. They are the new definition of “bare minimum.” The games are here, and they technically function, but they don’t run anywhere near what you’d expect from even the oldest Xbox One hardware. There’s no reason for any of these consoles to need a 30FPS mode just to run decade-old games, in my opinion. Serious Sam isn’t Crysis.

If you’re new to the franchise and want to see what Serious Sam is all about, this is still a totally fine way to step in the door. If you own a PC built at any time in the last ten years, or have access to Stadia, those are vastly superior ways to experience these games. Serious Sam Collection isn’t the worst console port ever made, but it is perhaps the most basic.

I write independent tech, game, music, and audio reviews and analysis from a consumer perspective. Support me directly at https://ko-fi.com/alexrowe

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