SERUM Early Access preview: Injecting a dose of thrill into the survival genre

by MaddOx
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Anyone who knows me knows I love a good survival game. They have always held a unique allure, blending the thrill of exploration with the challenge of staying alive against the odds. SERUM, developed by Game Island and published by Toplitz Productions, is a fresh entry in this genre.

Currently in Early Access, SERUM tasks players with navigating a toxic, post-apocalyptic world filled with mutated creatures and an ever-present timer that ticks away the seconds of your life. As a survival game, it offers a mix of exploration, combat, crafting, and puzzle-solving, all tied together with a unique serum mechanic that adds layers of strategy and urgency.

Before we unravel the game in a little more detail, feel free to check out our chat with SERUM Creative Director, Michał Ojrzyński.

Environment affected by the Blight in Serum

The game’s setting is a ruined world shrouded in toxic fog, creating a foreboding atmosphere where danger lurks around every corner. The primary objective is survival, but SERUM differentiates itself by introducing a relentless timer attached to the player’s arm, which dictates life and death. This timer is central to the game’s mechanics, as it is influenced by the titular serum that players must collect and use to stay alive. The balance between collecting serum and managing its side effects is crucial, making every decision impactful.

Exploration in SERUM is both rewarding and dangerous. The environments, powered by Unreal Engine 5, offer stunning visuals that enhance the immersive experience. Different biomes present unique challenges and resources, encouraging players to explore and adapt to various settings. Each biome not only provides a visual treat but also presents distinct gameplay elements, such as specific enemies and environmental hazards.

As you traverse these landscapes, you’ll encounter various creatures, from the zombie-like Dullers to small pests crawling on the ground and larger beasts lurking in the fog. The beautifully crafted post-apocalyptic wasteland ensures that you always feel on edge as if anything could kill you at a moment’s notice.

SERUM foggy cavern

The serum mechanic is a double-edged sword. While it grants you the time needed to explore and survive, it also comes with side effects that can hinder your progress. This forces players to think strategically about how and when to use the serum. My initial foray into the game revealed the importance of this balancing act. For instance, taking too much serum can be detrimental, but consuming plants and items collected can counteract these negative effects.

Combat in SERUM involves a variety of weapons, from melee options like machetes and spears to ranged weapons such as bows. The ability to infuse and modify these weapons with serum adds another strategic element to combat. While the combat system can feel sluggish, requiring careful timing and positioning, it adds to the overall tension and challenge. This was particularly evident when facing mutated abominations, where timing my attacks and movements was crucial to survival. In a one-on-one situation though, things are much easier, especially against bigger beasts. Let them attack, dodge, and get behind them. Then, repeatedly attack while moving to keep at their rear and out of danger of being hit.

The game also features puzzle elements that require players to interact with their environment creatively. Although a small tutorial would be beneficial to explain the mechanics, these puzzles add diversity to the gameplay. Players can manipulate biomes by using serum and other resources, creating safer zones and ensuring a sustainable supply of the substance. During my playthrough, figuring out how to create new tools, traps, and weapons was both challenging and rewarding. The ability to experiment with dozens of serum combinations to enhance abilities added an exciting layer of depth to the game.

SERUM Fog Wolf pack combat

Crafting in SERUM is integral to survival. You’ll gather resources from the environment to create tools, weapons, and traps with help from collecting blueprints to design new gear. The ability to recycle items for materials ensures that nothing goes to waste and can also help to unlock blueprints as well. This system encourages thorough exploration and creative problem-solving. However, be wary of item descriptions; for example, bandages in the game, despite their description, are indeed useful for healing wounds. Also, there seems to be a bug that when you save your game, leave, and re-enter, all blueprints reappear where they originally lay.

One of the more strategic elements of the game is managing your inventory. Every item you collect has a weight value, and carrying too much can slow you down significantly. This requires careful consideration of what to keep and what to leave behind. Unfortunately, once containers are emptied, you cannot reopen them to store items, which can be a bit frustrating. There’s always the fear that dropped loot might disappear, even if it doesn’t, leading to a constant inventory management challenge.

Planning your excursions wisely is vital. Ensuring you have enough serums, bandages, and other essentials can mean the difference between life and death. On one of my missions, I had to prioritize which serums to take based on the mission requirements. A serum that extends time was more critical than one focused on combat enhancement.

SERUM base

Overall thoughts on SERUM

My time with SERUM has been an engaging blend of strategic survival, exploration, and combat. The movement, especially jumping and climbing, feels a bit stiff, requiring a more deliberate approach. Combat, while sluggish at times, necessitates careful timing, adding to the overall tension. The serum mechanic stands out as a brilliant addition, forcing players to plan missions meticulously. Balancing its beneficial and adverse effects adds depth and strategy to the gameplay.

Exploration is both rewarding and hazardous, with different biomes offering unique challenges. The stunning visuals delivered by Unreal Engine 5 enhance the immersive experience. Crafting and resource management are intuitive, with the ability to recycle items for materials being a nice touch. The game’s puzzles, while engaging, could benefit from better introductory tutorials to help new players understand the mechanics.

Overall, SERUM is shaping up to be a compelling addition to the survival genre. Its unique mechanics, coupled with the beautifully crafted world, make it a game worth keeping an eye on. Players who enjoy a challenge and appreciate a well-thought-out survival experience will find SERUM to be a rewarding journey.

If you fancy picking up this game yourself, you can find it on Steam or for a cheaper price on CDKeys. While you wait for it to download, why not check out more of our reviews and previews?

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