Ever since the original Quake hit the scene in 1996 the series has been known for its fast paced and diverse multiplayer. From the original game that harkened the beginning of internet play to the third game which made multiplayer its main focus, Quake has always been about playing against other people. With the addition of the seemingly single-player focused Doom 3 engine the focus seems to have been reversed this time around. What you’ll find in this package is a very immersive single player campaign that will take you in with some excellent visuals, great ambient sounds, and some pretty memorable moments to boot. What many hardcore fans of the series may find disappointing is the seemingly updated version of Quake 3 that’s attached to it. While Raven Software has done some impressive wonders with the single player game and the Doom 3 engine in general, those who were hoping for some new additions to the multiplayer will feel left out in the cold.
Quake 4 takes place after the events of Quake 2 with the human race engaged in a desperate war with the Strogg, an alien race that are as much machines as they are organic material. You play as Matthew Caine a marine that has just been transferred into a group of hard-nosed hooligans known as Rhino Squad. After your transport gets shot down, the game immediately throws you into the trenches and never really stops from there.
Right off the bat you’ll notice that the environments are a lot more diverse than those in Doom 3 as you’ll spend the first five minutes of the game navigating trenches from the crash site to meet up with your fellow squad mates. While it’s guaranteed that you’ll spend the majority of your time navigating claustrophobic and poorly lit Strogg hallways, you’ll also be spending a good amount of time driving around the alien landscape on a variety of vehicles. Indoor environments are a lot more varied and colorful than those seen in Doom. While Doom attempted to scare you with cheap surprises and a shroud of darkness, Quake 4 does it with some really nice lighting effects and Geiger-esque imagery that goes beyond what anyone could have expected from the engine it’s running on.
While the game’s overall presentation is worthy of praise, the gameplay suffers for the same reasons why Doom 3 let its fair share of people down. The general gameplay is all objective-based and the number of objectives for each level depends on what your superiors are assigning you over the squawk box. Eventually you’ll start to think that Caine is the squad’s errand boy rather than a member of the team. Of course the story does a decent job of justifying itself but the excuses start wearing thin after a while. Each level starts to give you a feeling of linearity since you’ll pass by a number of locked doors on your way to completing an objective only to have it miraculously unlock after completion. At least the “monster in the closet” design is nowhere to be found here. While you’re making your way through each mission you’ll come across other space marines that will fight alongside you. While some are more prone to getting killed than others, they all do a great job of taking down any Strogg that appear in front of them. You’ll also come across medics that will heal you and techs that repair your armor which in turn gives you more incentive to try to keep your partners alive. Some techs will even modify your weapons to hold larger clips, allow ammo to lock onto targets, or in the case of the lightning gun, cause bolts to spread to nearby enemies. These upgrades can come in handy against some of the tougher customers and the ever-increasing number of enemies you’ll come across in later stages of the game. Missions are regularly divided into multiple segments that are preceded by frequent load times that can be pretty painful on modest systems.
All of the traditional Quake weapons are back and are what you’d expect from previous games in the series. There are a couple of new features, being that your standard blaster and machine gun come equipped with built-in flashlights. Your blaster can be charged by holding down the fire button for a short amount of time, though it still doesn’t make much of a difference and you’ll never really have to resort to it thanks to the abundance of ammo you’ll find lying around. The machine gun also boasts a zoom feature that helps it to double as a sort of underpowered sniper rifle. Aside from those small changes the shotgun, rocket launcher, lightning gun, grenade launcher, rail gun, nail gun, and hyperblaster (formerly the plasma gun) are all as you may remember them. One new addition to your arsenal is a powerful dark matter weapon which fires a black hole and drains health from everything around it before exploding with some pretty neat effects. Aside from the new zoom features on a couple of the weapons don’t expect any kind of alternate fire modes. Quake 4 keeps things simple.
Another element of simplicity comes in the form of the enemy AI. Almost every type of enemy from the lowliest grunt to the mightiest berserker will charge straight at you on sight. You’ll find yourself employing a strategy of firing at them as they charge, walking backwards while firing, and strafing occasionally if they manage to live long enough to get close to you. Once in a while they’ll side step in an attempt to avoid fire, but it almost seems scripted for them to do it after a couple of steps. One nod towards the AI is that the Strogg have great aim – sometimes almost too good. Later on in the game you’ll come across a new type of enemy that’s smart enough to take cover, though unfortunately for them, they’re not smart enough to know that a grenade has landed right next to them while in hiding. The Strogg come in a number of different varieties with each type more gruesome than the next. You have your standard light grunts, larger armored grunts equipped with rail guns and energy shields, Strogg that resemble dogs that spawn enemies around them, and scientists that attack with buzz saws just to name a few. Every new mission seems to yield a new type disastrous mesh of living tissue and mechanical implants for you to take out as well as increased numbers of enemies for you to deal with. The brunt of the difficulty doesn’t stem from one type of enemy or boss, but from dealing with multiple enemies at a time which usually consist of one large enemy charging at you while smaller baddies fill you with holes as you try to dodge.
In an attempt to break up the monotony of corridor crawls, you’ll find an occasional level where you’ll get to take control of a vehicle and do battle outdoors. Early in the game you’ll take control of a hover tank and blast through anything that stands in your way. Later on you’ll gain control of a mech and a monorail equipped with a turret. None of these stages offer any real challenge thanks in part to two constantly recharging shields, but they at least manage to be enjoyable.
While the single player campaign can be pretty lengthy, estimated to about 12-15 hours depending on how much you want to explore and admire the scenery, it should act as some sort of consolation prize to the rehashed multiplayer mode. As mentioned earlier, multiplayer in Quake 4 is a visually updated version of Quake 3 in almost every respect complete with visually updated maps from previous games. The action is what players have come to expect from Quake multiplayer with the action being fast and intense. The standard modes are here like deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and one-on-one. While playing multiplayer, you can’t help but feel that other games in the genre have all evolved beyond this, and with a 16 player cap, you’ll be going back to Battlefield 2 in no time. Especially since the brand new vehicles are nowhere to be found in multiplayer.
The visuals are the centerpiece of Quake 4. If you thought Doom 3 was a technical marvel, Quake 4 goes one step beyond. Environments are littered with moving machinery, partially mutilated humans, and other crazy decor that will make you want to stop everything and take in the scenery on more than one occasion. Characters, both human and not-so-human also look great and are well animated, especially when they collapse realistically against nearby walls, pillars, or garbage. Of course, the lighting effects can’t go without any mention and are really some of the best seen in a game. If I say anything more I’ll either be repeating myself or spoiling the story for you. To make a long and spoiler-filled story short, Quake 4 is a sight to see.
Quake 4 is almost as good for the ears as it is for the eyes. While there is a sporadic soundtrack present, the majority of the game consists of ambient noise and radio chatter from other squads. This works well in immersing you further into the war between the humans and Strogg especially since there’s plenty of context sensitive chatter going on. While there’s a lot of variety in what you’re hearing, you will get some repeated lines here and there but it doesn’t happen often. You’ll get different sounds and growls from each type of Strogg you come across, but the problem is that it’s the same noise every time which gets a little annoying after hearing it fifty times or more during the course of the game. There’s a lot of voice acting through means of cutscenes and while you’re in the depths of Strogg strongholds. Every actor voices their part well and you’ll even find some fairly recognizable voices among the cast thanks to the Hollywood voice talent that’s present. All of your weaponry sounds powerful enough and pack an appropriate punch, especially when it comes to the shotgun and nailgun. Some of the sounds do seem like they were borrowed from Doom, but that’s only nitpicking.
There is a good amount of single-player content available here to warrant a purchase, though fans of multiplayer may want to try something else to satisfy their bloodlust. While the game is big on style, the gameplay seems to be stuck in the dark ages. In the end Quake 4 manages to be a visually impressive, yet straightforward FPS that seems as far ahead of the times as it is behind them.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media