Serum (Early Access) review for PC

Platform: PC
Publisher: Toplitz Productions
Developer: Game Island
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

Even though Serum is in Early Access, it’s not hard to look at the game and see how the finished product will look. It’s a survival horror game that seems to have all its basic elements in place, so even if the developers have further updates and refinements planned, it’s not likely that the game should change drastically between now and whenever it leaves Early Access (assuming it does, which is always an important caveat for Early Access games).

And based on what’s here, it seems like Serum will be a solid game. Nothing mind-blowing, and definitely geared towards fans of the genre – its main hook guarantees that – but decent enough for what it is.

And what is that? As I said, it’s survival horror, with the “survival” part coming up front and centre because of how the game is structured. Your character is trapped in some post-apocalyptic wilderness, and the only way to stay alive is to inject the eponymous serum. The twist with that, to make things extra-challenging, is that the serum only lasts five minutes at a time. Once it runs out, you die.

To be sure, there are some important caveats to add. For one thing, the serum is stackable – so you can devote a tonne of time to gathering the necessary ingredients, brew a whole batch of it, and then load up on time so you’re not spending all your time leaving your home base, finding the ingredients, and rushing back to brew more. For another, the clock pauses while you’re at your home base – which doesn’t mean much if you want to go and explore, admittedly, but it’s still a welcome respite from the ever-ticking clock.

But Serum is very much a game ruled by fairly short time increments, which means that you’ve really got to enjoy the survival aspect of survival horror if you want to make the most of it. While the game gives you enough room to play around with the time you can stay away from base (see the previous paragraph), at the same time, every moment you spend searching the wilderness, or pillaging abandoned buildings and cars, or even fighting off the mutants and monsters that inhabit this terrifying world is a moment where you’re conscious that the clock is always ticking down. As hooks go, it’s a solid one, even if it means the game will inherently appeal to some more than others.

And even if I’m not usually a fan of survival horror, I think it says something that my problems with Serum have nothing to do with its basic premise. Rather, I felt like the game could’ve been a little more hand-holding around the beginning. It’s one thing to tell you to gather ingredients and craft weapons, but it’s another to actually tell you how to do those things, and Serum often feels like it doesn’t want to share that information with you. Given how much it expects you to pay careful attention to your time, it’d have been nice if it was even the slightest bit forgiving in that respect.

But if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you – and seeing as we’re talking survival horror, it probably shouldn’t – then Serum is definitely a game worth keeping an eye on. It’s a decent enough game now, and provided its developers see it through to a full release, it seems reasonable to believe that it’ll continue to improve.

Toplitz Productions provided us with a Serum PC code for review purposes.

Grade: 7