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By Asher Madan
Serious Sam 4 on Xbox Series X: Another poor port
by Asher Madan
Serious Sam is an over-the-top action game franchise that pits you against an obscene number of enemies at any given time. These aren’t the lethargic hordes of Dead Rising though, they’re aggressive creatures that require constant movement to evade. The latest entry is Serious Sam 4, a game that serves as a prequel to the entire series. You go from one area to the next, shooting enemies in arena-style levels, while unlocking various upgrades and weapons.
You can play Serious Sam 4 as a traditional first-person shooter or a third-person shooter. You can change the camera at any given time by pressing down on the D-pad. I preferred playing it in first-person mode because it’s easier to aim and the character movements are less awkward. However, the choice is yours. This is by no means a supremely refined game. Publisher Developer Digital provided me with review code for the title and I played it on Xbox Series X.
Serious Sam 4 deals with the aftermath of an alien invasion. You step into the shoes of the titular character, Sam Stone, who bands together with an odd group of characters to save the world. This isn’t a dark, mature story with a lot of complexity. Serious Sam 4 plays out like a hilarious B movie, with plenty of jokes and one-liners.
Serious Sam 4 didn’t get great reviews when it launched on PC and Google Stadia back in September 2020, but it still provides a lot of entertainment. It’s great for laughs and provides a reason to shoot hordes of extraterrestrials. Now that it’s available on current-generation consoles, how does it hold up? Keep in mind that the last-generation PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are still in development. The game just released for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
Serious Sam 4 suffers from frustrating performance issues on Xbox Series X. The game features Quality and Performance options, but neither offers a locked 60 frames per second (FPS) experience. On Quality mode, the game constantly fluctuates between 25 to 55 FPS, and on Performance mode, it varies from 40 to 60 FPS. During my playthrough, I couldn’t find a single level that offered a satisfactory experience. The frame rate drops occur every other second and, after a while, it becomes exhausting to play Serious Sam 4. Given the fact that the game is a fast-paced shooter, this is absolutely unacceptable.
While Serious Sam 4 features a lot of enemies on-screen at any given time, they aren’t as dense as a game like Dead Rising 4. The textures are also average, with texture pop-in a common occurrence on Xbox Series X. It’s clear that Serious Sam 4 hasn’t properly been optimized for Microsoft’s machine and will need a lot of work to fix. Luckily, the game renders at 4K resolution on Quality mode, and appears to be rendering at either 4K or 1080p on Performance mode. The image quality takes a noticeable hit on Performance mode, particularly the lighting and shadows, but it does offer a slightly smoother experience. There isn’t a setting that you can simply tweak to make the game run properly. At the moment, it’s an unpolished mess on the technical front.
At this point, I’m just so sick and tired of playing unpolished games on Xbox Series X. Battlefield 2042, Call of Duty: Vanguard, Oddworld: Soulstorm, and Serious Sam 4 were some of my most anticipated titles for 2021. Unfortunately, all of them have severe issues on the console. In a world where Halo Infinite can maintain – for the most part – 4K and 60 FPS in its vast environment, I’m baffled as to why these other games can’t.
Serious Sam 4 should’ve been delayed on Xbox Series X to fix the performance. Even though the Serious Sam titles haven’t been Game of the Year contenders for a long time, they’re still a lot of fun to play through, like Duke Nukem Forever. Considering the fact that Serious Sam 4 costs $39.99 on the Microsoft Store, I can’t recommend it in its current state. Hopefully, patches will be issued soon to fix the deplorable frame rate. How anyone thought it was acceptable to release this game in its current form is beyond me.
God of War requirements and PC exclusive features detailed
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Sony and Santa Monica Studio surprised many fans a few months ago when they announced the hugely well-received God of War from 2018 was shedding its PlayStation exclusivity and coming to PC soon. With its January launch approaching fast, the developer today detailed the horsepower required to run the game on PC as well as the brand-new features it is implementing into the port.
Starting with the system requirements, Santa Monica Studio has put together five separate configurations for players to judge their system's performance with the game more easily. Find the full set in the image below, which paints a pretty optimized picture considering even the High spec asks for relatively modest PC parts from past generations. An SSD with at least 70GB free is a requirement across the board, hinting at the game's launch size.
In the graphics front, PC players will find "higher-resolution shadows, improved screen space reflections, enhanced Ground Truth Ambient Occlusion (GTAO) and Screen Space Directional Occlusion (SSDO), alongside highly detailed assets and rendering solutions" over the original release, per the studio.
Meanwhile, the studio has collaborated with both AMD and Nvidia to add FidelityFX Super Resolution and DLSS image upscaling technologies for more performance as well as the latency reducing feature Nvidia Reflex to the title.
God of War for PC is releasing on January 14, 2022 across Steam and the Epic Games Store, with pre-orders available with a $49.99 price tag. Jetpack Interactive is responsible for the port as Santa Monica oversees the development.
This is not the only PC news from a Sony studio to drop today, as Guerilla games also released a brand-new patch for the PC version of Horizon Zero Dawn bringing DLSS, FSR, and other improvements.
Horizon Zero Dawn on PC now features Nvidia DLSS and AMD FSR for boosting performance
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Guerilla Games' Horizon Zero Dawn came over to PC just over a year ago and has since received a plethora of updates aimed at fixing bugs and enhancing the experience on the platform. Today, the open-world title received Patch 1.11 on PC, and it brings along two popular upscaling technologies and improvements to shader management as its most major additions.
Following the update, support for Nvidia DLSS and AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) can be found in-game by players for improved performance if they require it. Keep in mind while DLSS is only available to RTX-series cards from Nvidia, FSR can be enabled on almost all modern GPUs regardless of the manufacturer. With FSR's implementation, the old FidelityFX Contrast Adaptive Sharpening option has been removed as well.
Elsewhere, the shader pre-compilation step from startup has been moved to a regular loading and background process. the studio says this change will significantly reduce stutters that would normally show up during gameplay when using the previous shader compilation process.
There are some minor downsides though, as CPU utilization will now be higher than before whenever shader compilation is going on in the background. Loading times can be longer than before too, due to the same reason. However, users with high-end processors in their rigs will find loading times now being shorter "due to more efficient shader compilation that better leverages high-end CPUs."
As more updates hit the PC version of the original entry, Guerrilla Games is also working on the sequel Horizon: Forbidden West. It is set to land on the PlayStation 4 and 5 on February 18, 2022.
By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft is changing the way it bundles Python in Visual Studio
by Usama Jawad
Microsoft's popular integrated development environment (IDE) Visual Studio is utilized by lots of developers all over the globe. The company recently released Visual Studio 2022, which contains a bunch of UI enhancements for Windows and Mac, performance improvements, and more. Interestingly, the Redmond tech giant is also changing the way that it bundles Python with each release of the IDE, something that it has described in more detail in its recent blog post.
Traditionally, each new release of Visual Studio targets a specific version of Python. For example, Visual Studio 2019 came with Python 3.7 whereas Visual Studio 2022 supports Python 3.9 as the default. However, the release cadence for Python is a bit tricky because new versions are released annually but binary Windows installers are typically available for 18 months after release. This means that under the current lifecycle, if Visual Studio 2022's life extends past 18 months, it will be bundling an outdated version of Python (Python 3.9).
Microsoft has now changed its Python bundling strategy to tackle this problem. From now on, new Visual Studio versions will target the most recent broadly adopted version of Python. In essence, this indicates that when Visual Studio 2022 is updated sometime in the near future, new releases of the IDE may bundle Python 3.10 or newer, depending upon which version is "broadly adopted".
That said, older versions of Python workloads will not be updated to support newer versions. Microsoft will explicitly mark these outdated versions of Python as "Out of Support" during Visual Studio setup, but will not remove or add new versions to that install.
Microsoft has explained its reasoning as follows:
Visual Studio 2019 comes with Python 3.9, but that will be marked as Out of Support next year as well once it reaches the end of its lifecycle. Microsoft has emphasized that this change to its bundling strategy will make it easier to reconcile the delta between the broadly available version of Python and Visual Studio's Python language server, Pylance.
Sony reportedly readying an Xbox Game Pass competitor service
by Pulasthi Ariyasinghe
Sony may soon have an answer to the gaming subscription behemoth of Microsoft, Xbox Game Pass. A report from Bloomberg says the company has a new service planned to debut in the spring of 2022. Code-named Spartacus, it is supposed to offer three tiers of services when it goes online for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Bloomberg's sources include multiple persons close to the project and internal documents of Sony, which it had reviewed.
Currently, Sony offers two major gaming-related subscriptions, PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now, with the former offering online play and monthly bonus games while the latter has classic and some modern PlayStation games for both download and streaming. The Spartacus service is reportedly combining the features of the two programs and axing the PlayStation Now branding.
While the details are not finalized yet, in the documents seen by Bloomberg, the first tier of the service would offer the current PlayStation Plus features, while the second tier will bring a "large catalog of PlayStation 4 and, eventually, PlayStation 5 games." Extended demos, cloud gaming support, and classic PlayStation 1, 2, 3, and PSP titles are planned for the third tier. Pricing information is still in the dark.
For $10 or $15 a month, Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass currently offers day one access to all first-party titles alongside a large library of games from other publishers. If the rival program from Sony turns out to be a real thing, it will be interesting to see how the games library evolves over there, and if day one subscription releases for mega-popular PlayStation exclusives will be a thing too.