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Whatever Serum is trying to be, it's not doing it very well...

EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
On the surface level, Serum looked like a breath of fresh air in the otherwise usually-stale survival genre market. However, ultimately, its true radioactive nature begins to emerge almost immediately upon starting the game up.

The player character, Adam, wakes up in a post-apocalyptical setting that appears to involve an unhealthy dose of nuclear radiation. I say "appears to", largely because the game made it immediately clear from the onset that graphically, it had no particular intention of cooperating with me whatsoever. The opening cutscene was stuck on a single frame for the majority of the duration, while the audio played out like normal. From the moment the player takes control, this only gets substantially worse.

A Stuttering Start

Constant frame drops, screen tearing, severe pop-in, all the typical hallmarks of subpar performance optimization were on clear display from the very onset. Not since Immortals of Aveum or the infamous The Day Before can I recall as dreadfully poor a technical nightmare as what I've had to put up with here.

For the record, this game was played on both my Nvidia 2070 RTX desktop, on my internal HDD, and also on my Nvidia 3070 RTX, via its SSD drive, (both PCs also having 16GB RAM,) and yet the results were almost identically consistent on both. I had to play in instalments of 20-30 minutes, because even at those relatively short intervals, I began to experience moderate headaches, mild blurred vision, and other physical symptoms. I am not a person to normally experience any sort of adverse physical reaction to videogames, so when I say this game's performance was so bad that I had to deliberately limit my daily exposure to it, that's saying something.

Reducing or otherwise changing graphical settings appear to have no noticeable effect on either the in-game graphical quality or on the performance itself. After repeated attempts to tweak the graphical settings, even at one point setting everything to their absolute minimum, and then observing absolutely zero improvement, I just gave up entirely and just confined myself to this virtual doghouse of misery.

Guidance only for those willing to pay for it

From the outset, the game does a very poor job explaining what you need to do, and more importantly, how. One of your first tasks is to get your initial base of operations online and also craft a few basic essentials to carry with you into the wild. The game will tell you to go to a crafting table, which lists ingredients. But the game never actually tells you how or where to obtain said ingredients. It does not sufficiently explain that salvaging is required to achieve this end, or where to find the plants needed to craft remedies.

However, conveniently enough, the developer and publisher are selling a downloadable guide as DLC for $9.99 on Steam. Because why bother actually developing even a semi-functional tutorial when you can instead gatekeep all that information inside a separate paid DLC document at the player's expense?

Early Access here appears to mean Expanded Access to players' wallets. Whether or not it's intended as a bad faith avoidance at properly programming the game in order to score bonus cash is debatable and easily denied by the parties involved, but it's certainly a bad look to ask players to cough up cash for what the base game should already offer, especially when the base game itself right now is such a low value proposition.

Control, or lack of it

One of the cornerstones of any good PC game is its controls. Responsiveness is a goal almost every game out there should strive to achieve. However here in Serum, while it gets some of the basics right, like key rebinding, it gets quite a few other simpler things wrong. By default, the sound volume was ear-deafening.

I keep my headset audio pretty low, as my hearing's quite sharp, and when the first cutscene kicked in, I accidentally smacked my headset off my head and off my chair behind me, where it fell to the floor with a thud. Casual physical abuse to one's headset aside, I have no idea why the game decided to volume torture me out of nowhere. For all those who want to keep their eardrums intact, your best move might be to reduce all volume to 50% or 60% from the start, then adjust at will from there.

Then you have other issues like mouse acceleration. I personally like to keep my settings on the lower side, but even at its absolute lowest minimum, a single slight nudge will have my character instantly spinning 90 or 180 degrees. At the risk of appearing nitpicky, it'd be nice if mouse acceleration could be expanded a bit more to allow for further fine-tuning.


I honestly wish I could get onboard with Serum. It has quite a distinct eye-popping visual style, both grim and colourful. Its survival-themed gameplay loop might eventually be quite satisfying. However, its plethora of technical issues and shortcuts in design make it an exceptionally hard sell right now. Maybe a year or two from now, it might be worth a revisit. But for the time being, run far, far away from this particular ticking nuclear timebomb.

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It pains us to say this, but we don't see how this game will mesh. At the current stage of development the game should be much farther ahead than it is.

Hooked Gamer's Steam Early Access forecasts are intended to help you differentiate between Early Access games that have the potential to blossom and those more likely to fail. We look at the team's ambitions, their track record, and the state of the latest build to predict if opening your wallet will help fund a potentially great game, or is better used to light other fires.