If you say the word Quake, gamers immediately get thoughts of Nail Guns, Rocket Jumps, and brown textures – lots of brown textures. Id, Raven, and Activision would like you to return to the world of Quake, but unlike Quake III, this game is a true sequel to 1997’s Quake II.
Quake 4 brings a lot of ‘firsts’ to the table. The first item that is new is that you finally have a name. You are no longer the nameless, faceless Marine putting it all on the line against the Strogg. You step into the combat boots of Corporal Matthew Kane, a grunt in the Rhino Squad.
Another first in this game is that you will pilot vehicles. You’ll get a chance to ride on the back of a hover truck, pilot a hovertank, and stomp Strogg ass with a small mech.
Probably the biggest first for the Quake series is the fact that Raven has built this game. With id providing heavy support, Raven jumped behind the wheel and has brought not only a great multiplayer game like Quake III, but a compelling single player game as well.
In another divergence from the original, the single player action isn’t just you against the world. You will work with a squad of space Marines to finish what was started in Quake II. With the death of the Makron, the Marines are tasked with the primary assault on the enemy’s home planet Stroggos. You’ll have Techs, Medics, and other soldiers by your side. You’ll embark on actual missions instead of just plowing through the area to find the next door that will lead to the next boss.
With all of these changes, can Quake 4 bring it to the table like its predecessor did, or are all of these changes too much of a divergence?
Quake 4 is based on the Doom 3 engine. Don’t let that make you think that this is another crawl through dark corridors with semi-plastic-looking characters and closets full of monsters – Quake 4 represents a step forward with the Doom 3 engine.
The graphics in Quake 4 represent one of the best looking game engines around. The characters have lost some of that ‘plastic’ look and some of the rough angles present in Doom 3 are gone. The characters you’ll interact with seem to be more alive. The animation, the soft normal mapping, and the incredible lighting system make this game look fantastic. The weapon models look like they have been painstakingly created. Each weapon has a HUD on it that shows how many rounds you have left. All of the weapons have some sort of muzzle flash, with the more exotic Strogg weapons obtained later in the game often having some sort of blue contrail or similar effect. The screenshots, as it has been for the last few titles this generation, really do not give this game proper credit. It is simply beautiful. PC players have been spoiled with all of these fantastic graphic engines, it is nice to see that same brilliance brought to the table on a console title. There are a few framerate hitches where it dropped into what looked like the upper 20s, but nowhere near unplayable.
The best thing about the upgrades to the Doom 3 engine is that you will not find as much impermeable darkness. Id and Raven listened to your feedback and have brightened the game up. There are outside areas that are well lit, and the corridors are often lit enough for you to see your enemy before they are close enough to share a Coke and a smile. As you descend into the depths of the Strogg stronghold you’ll find more areas bathed in darkness, but a flashlight (with an infinite battery, thank you very much) attached to your pistol and machine gun will help uncover what lurks in the dark. The result is that you will have a much less ‘survival horror’ feel to the game, and more of a ‘war’ feeling. It is nice to get all of this without having to worry about system specs or video card drivers.
I find that the fastest way to destroy immersion in a game is to put bad voice acting in it. There is nothing scary about a guy who sounds like he is half asleep while droning out his lines. Id and Raven realize this and have spent the time making sure that they have picked out great voice actors. There aren’t any big name stars here, just hard working voice actors who care about their job. The end result is that you actually care about some of the team members. When one of them dies, you realize the loss. Even Tech Strauss’ incessant whining is a welcome addition to the game. It presents just the right amount of humor to a very dark and grim situation. Occasionally there are a few sound glitches where you’ll get some of the same taunts from your team in a short span, but it isn’t overly distracting.
The weapons have a satisfying bass-filled thump to them. The lightning gun crackles as it sears the flesh of your enemies, crisping their skin under its arc. It is an improvement over the somewhat weaker weapon sounds occasionally used in Doom 3.The controls on the PC are classic WASD and mouse configuration. All of this has been moved to the 360 and mapped to the controller. The left analog handles your movement, the right handles the camera. The left trigger is your alt-fire (if there is one available for that weapon), and the right trigger fires your weapons. The A button is jump, the Y turns on the flashlight for the pistol and machine gun, the X reloads, and the B acts as a use key. It is all very simple and straightforward, and while it won’t replace the mouse and keyboard it works. I did notice that there is no auto-aim help – other than the reticule changing when you are on-target, you are on your own. Some people new to the action will feel that loss as almost all console shooter titles feature a slight auto-aim of some sort that can be toggled. Purists couldn’t be happier.
There is a compelling story to Quake 4. I found myself eagerly anticipating the end of the work day so I could see what would happen next. It has been a while since I’ve had that sort of feeling about a FPS title. The game plays out in more of a ‘shooter’ style than a survival horror style. As mentioned above, you follow Corporal Matthew Kane, a member of Rhino Squad. You are charged to work with the other squads such as Viper and Raven Squad (sporting a very familiar looking squadron patch) to press the fight on Stroggos. Your objective, now that the Makron has been destroyed, is to take the central communication network of the Strogg offline since it is believed that they use a central communication system to coordinate their attacks.
Since the Marine in Quake II took out “The Big Gun”, you are able to make a landing with your squad. Like many things in the military, your landing does not go according to plan. The Strogg grunts you encounter almost immediately are basic machinegun variants who will take cover as they try to stop your assault. There are larger Strogg enemies with different weapon attachment such as shotgun augmentations, rockets on their shoulders, grenade launchers, and some who make use of a shield and railgun combination. There is even one Juggernaut who will blindly football charge you with mayhem on his mind. No matter what they carry, each Strogg warrior can withstand a great deal of punishment, and can dish it just as easily. While armor and health can be plentiful (almost too much so), the enemy can still overwhelm you if you are not paying attention. If you get hurt, you can seek the attention of a medic who can heal you to full health. Similarly, almost any Tech will repair your armor to full. You can see why it becomes important that they not die.
The Strogg are not without mechanized infantry. Later into the game you will have to square off against giant mechanical spiders that carry twin cannons and two missile pods. They take a great deal of damage to take down, but your tank or mech does not. The vehicles will regenerate their armor and shields if you wait long enough. The vehicles provide a welcome distraction and aid in making the game feel more like a war and less like constant one-on-one or squad-based combat. The urgency of the ammunition limit that is present while on foot is removed as you have unlimited missiles and guns, but the vehicle missions do not last long enough to detract much from the overall experience.
Your weapons will also get an upgrade as you move through your mission. You can get upgrades such as a clip upgrade to hold more machinegun rounds or a nailgun upgrade which doubles the rate of fire. The weapon upgrades come at just the right time. The second you are thinking “This nailgun kinda sucks” you’ll get an alternate fire mode that allows the nails to ‘track’ their target via the right mouse button. One of the things that perplexed me, however, is that there is no melee attack. Sometimes you get pretty close to your enemies and it would be nice to introduce them to the stock of your weapons instead of having to just back up and continue firing.
As your firepower grows, you’ll begin to notice the hole in the armor of Quake 4. The enemy AI makes most enemies simply walk towards you. With other titles in this genre becoming increasingly tactical, and the AI of these games rivaling human players, it leaves Quake 4 looking like it missed the bus. Occasionally there are boss battles that may require a bit more thought, but overall the strategy is simply run, heal, reload, rinse/repeat. Similarly, the gameplay involves finding the right door and pushing through in a linear fashion. The single player arc runs about 10 hours in total, but it is a fun 10 hours. Sure, there are some gameplay areas that could use improvement, but if you enjoyed Quake II, you’ll know what you are getting yourself into here.
First, let’s talk about load times – with the hard drive, the load time for a level is roughly 27 seconds. If you die, it reloads the level which takes another 27 seconds. Without the harddrive it loads a level in roughly the same time.
For many, the value of Quake 4 will be in the multiplayer. For others, Quake 4 will be all about single player. I fall into the latter more than the former, so Quake 4 was a great experience, albeit short. I did get to take advantage of some time with some fellow press, some of them hardcore Quake III players, to try out the Deathmatch and CTF portions of the multiplayer game. When you see the names starting with ATVI in the top 10 list, don’t be surprised. They built it, so they can kick your ass at it.
For the 360, there is something called the Party System. Via the Xbox 360 Guide system, you can set up a set of invites that creates a ‘staging area’ that will allow everyone to chat and decide on the gametype and so forth before starting the game. These are private parties, so only the people you invite are allowed in.
The PC version of Quake 4 was limited to 16 players – unfortunately, the 360 version is cut even further with only 8 players over Live, and 8 players over LAN. It is surprising to not see that jump to 16 for LAN, but there it is. There are 14 maps in the box with the game being divided into Tournament Mode (like a bracket system with eliminations), DeathMatch, Team DeathMatch, CTF, and Arena CTF (CTF, but with powerups). The game plays at a furious pace, just like Quake III did. If you enjoyed Quake III, you’ll really enjoy Quake 4’s multiplayer – you’ll just wish there were more players.
There are multiplayer maps that take place in a confined structure with an open arena in the center, others take place in the depths of space. I’m not a big fan of the Quake III style of gameplay, but I can see the allure of it. Unfortunately, the 360 version will not have the power of the mod community to drag these maps out of generic-land, so you are stuck with whatever Raven and id throw your way.
Strogg? Stroggos? Makron? What the Hell are you talking about? If you need to catch up on your Quake lore, Quake 4 includes a bonus disc that includes Quake II, as well as footage from E3 and more. Quake II is quite the shock of nostalgia after playing Quake 4, although it does run at 720p and the music appears to have been rebuilt for quality. You can play Quake II in split screen and systemlink with Deathmatch and Co-Op modes intact. You can cram up to 16 people into multiplayer, with up to 4 per 360 if you only have four systems to run with. A word of caution – you must have the hard drive or a memory card to play Quake II.