Serum Demo Review: Surviving in a Contaminated World

I recently played the demo of Serum, an upcoming narrative-driven post-apocalyptic survival crafting game set to be released in Q2 of 2024.

Game demos can be both a blessing and a curse for developers. On one hand, they provide an opportunity to showcase their game to potential players, generate buzz, and gather valuable feedback. On the other hand, demos are often released at a very early stage of development, which means they may contain bugs, performance issues, and lack the polish of a finished product.

In most cases, players are willing to overlook minor technical hiccups and graphical imperfections if the game’s narrative is compelling and the gameplay mechanics are solid.

This is the case with Serum.

Serum Gameplay: Crafting, Exploration, and Resource Management

User interface of a video game displaying an inventory screen with a crafting recipe for an 'axe' and a 'serum'.
Serum crafting

The game takes place in an irradiated wasteland where I had to craft serum to survive and battle against the blight. As Adam Stewart, a serum tester, I was tasked with gathering resources, creating tools, and overcoming the dangers lurking in the contaminated environment.

The demo, which was released during Steam Next Fest February 2024, showcased the game’s core mechanics, which revolve around crafting serum, exploring the treacherous landscape, and managing resources.

I had to collect ingredients from plants and animals to create various serums with unique effects. Recipe journal entries scattered throughout the area provided me with valuable information on crafting new items and serums.

Scavenging for resources was a crucial aspect of the game. I had to gather components like cans, mouthwash, rags, and blue welding electrodes to repair and modify weapons. The fabricator allowed me to convert organic matter into purified serum, while the hydroponic station enabled me to grow plants and accelerate growth using fertilizer.

A screenshot of an inventory management screen from a video game showing various items categorized under 'backpack', 'toolbox', 'weapons', and 'special items' with a 'serum brewing' recipe tab
Serum Inventory

The crafting system in Serum is uniquely in-depth for a game like this, taking some of the deep mechanics and knowledge requirements from survival games and blending them well with the often more simplistic crafting systems from horror games.

Everything makes sense; you can create different Serum blends with different ingredients. The crafting of tools like the Axe feels good, like you’re putting together scrap tools with whatever you can find.

Serum does a really good job at immersing you in the crafting and gathering elements, unlike many games where crafting can feel rather disjointed when you put together a tool in perfect visual condition using scrap materials.

Unraveling the Mysteries

A cluttered bulletin board filled with a variety of papers, notes, newspaper clippings, and serum formulas, creating a sense of mystery and chaos.
Serum’s Story

Serum’s narrative was engaging from the beginning. As I progressed, I uncovered information about refuge zones, fabricators, and serum production. The biomes were contaminated with a mutagen that transformed survivors into monsters, but the protagonist possessed immunity. To access different biomes, I had to find Engineer’s DNA fragments and activate stations using access cards.

The storyline involved testing serum in a dangerous corporate lab and finding survivors living in safe zones called refuges. Characters like Richard provided guidance through radio communication, helping me in my quest to uncover the truth behind the contamination and my situation.

A gloomy scene of a desolate, overgrown area with industrial structures and a greenish haze, punctuated by discarded vials of serum.
Serum environment

Some of the standout aspects of Serum are its incredible atmosphere, audio design, voice work, and user interface.

The game’s immersive environment drew me in, creating a sense of tension and unease as I explored the contaminated world. The blight timer concept reminds me of classic horror game elements from Resident Evil, Silent Hill and Outlast, adding an extra layer of urgency to the gameplay.

Challenging Combat: Battling the Blight

Serum Axe

Combat in Serum was intense and challenging. I had to fight creatures like rats and fog wolves. Crafting and upgrading weapons was essential for my survival, with options like the axe, spear, and other tools available. Defeating enemies rewarded me with valuable ingredients for serum production, such as wolf blood.

The controls felt a little floaty at times, but they worked well with the vertical aspects of the game.

As I went deeper into the demo, I encountered increasingly difficult foes and environmental hazards like toxic mist. Strategic resource management and preparation became crucial for success, and I found myself prioritizing inventory weight and storing necessary items for future exploration and crafting.

I wasn’t expecting the abrupt ending of the demo – and I get it, it has to end at some point – but it felt janky.

A Promising Survival Adventure with Room for Polish

Serum’s demo provided me with a tantalizing glimpse into a well crafted (pun intended) survival adventure.

The incredible atmosphere, audio design, voice work, and user interface create an immersive experience that sets Serum apart.

During my playthrough, I experienced frame rate issues, lag spikes, and graphical bugs that were annoying. The finished game will undoubtably be optimized and hopefully have ironed out the bugs before release.

The demo has been extended and is available on Steam as of the time of writing. Serum will be released in Early Access for PC in Quarter 2 of this year, with a console version in the future. For more information on Serum, visit the game’s Steam page, X, Discord, YouTube and Facebook.

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Harriet Gough
Over 20 years' experience as a writer and games journalist. Avid gamer and enjoy a wide range of game genres including MMOs, FPS and RTS. My favorite games include Warframe, Skyrim, Destiny 2, CoD and Age of Empires.

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