Quake IV Review

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They came and destroyed our defences with ease. The Earth never stood much of a chance, let alone the colonized planets of Mars and beyond. But just when humanity thought it’d been stripped of its resources by the alien Strogg invaders, the enemy packed up and left. It was then it became frighteningly clear: the Strogg hadn’t come for our planets’ resources, they’d come for us. The Strogg, an alien force of cybernetic warriors -- flesh from other conquered species and civilizations mixed with high-tech mechanical body parts -- had found a new world to feed upon. . .only this world won’t give up without a fight.

 

The Earth’s forces make a desperate attempt at turning this war around by sending its finest warriors where it would hurt the Strogg the most: their own home planet Stroggos. Most of the brave marines are shot down long before they can even grab their rifles. But powered by Pentium II processors and high end Voodoo graphics accelerators, in Quake II (released late 1997) one lone marine beats all odds and brings down the planetary defences as well as the Strogg leader, the Makron.

This particular marine lived on in Quake III Arena, id Software’s version of deathmatch perfected as of late 1999, but a lot of time has passed since then. Unreal Tournament and the Battlefield series made deathmatch--perfect as though it may be--seem a thing of the past, and the Strogg haven’t been sitting still either. They’re quickly regrouping; if they’re not put to a stop soon all those previous efforts will have been in vain.

Team mates take cover and move about intelligently

 

And here Quake 4 begins.

 

Id Software gave Raven Software the grand task of bringing the legendary Quake series to this side of the millennium. In a single player campaign featuring the second assault on the Strogg home planet, you are Matthew Kane: one certified bad-ass--an elite member of Rhino Squad, part of an army of soldiers fighting a heroic and epic battle between worlds (Activision’s marketing campaign was on a roll that day). In multiplayer, we don’t care who you are, we’ll frag you anyway--it’s Quake III Arena all over again with fast paced (Team) Deathmatch and Capture the Flag staged in tense arenas.

 

So, we cast a first look at Quake 4. The game intro and menus immediately remind us of the technology that powers this shooter: the DOOM3 engine. The opening scenes and a very cool intro movie set the tone nicely.  The engine casts shadows where they need to be, and during the first hour or so you might even half expect an Imp to come crawling out of the walls or worse yet, spawn behind you. The early parts of Quake 4 do remind a bit of DOOM3, but it must be said that Quake 4 is not at all the same game. They’re both shooters, yes, but just because these games share the same engine doesn’t mean they share the same type of gameplay as well. The opening scenes have you know you’re in a war zone, you and your fellow marines are on enemy ground and the war’s not going to be won easily. In that sense, rather than being like DOOM3 the game tries to somewhat mimic Call of Duty a bit. Fellow marines fight alongside you throughout large parts of the game, and there is a strong emphasis on this being a war that has to be won.

 

"...just because these games share the same engine doesn’t mean they share the same type of gameplay as well."

 

The tram ride: ugly and boring

Shadows showing off

Die Strogg, DIE!

 

Storyline

The storyline of Quake 4 is more elaborate than that of any other Quake game. However, that’s not saying much considering how primitive id Software’s games have always been in that aspect.  Quake 4’s storyline certainly doesn’t push the game to another level. Your mission, for the greater good of mankind, will be to destroy the Strogg communication systems by detonating an EMP inside what is known as the Nexus. It’s the Quake version of trying to blow up the Pentagon armed with a tennis racket and two dead batteries – it’s not impossible, but it’s not going to be easy either. Quake 4 features some plot twists (such as the Stroggification half way through the game, which could be considered a spoiler if it weren’t for the fact it’s on the back of the box), but none of these impact the game’s storyline greatly. In fact, I personally thought they were executed rather poorly. You may become a Strogg in the game, which means there’s a powerful scene where your body is mutilated into a Strogg soldier’s body, but it does nothing for the game itself. Your fellow soldiers will hardly treat you differently. Sure, there are a few smart ass remarks, but when your Stroggified self walks onto a marine spaceship in the middle of a war, you expect everyone to suddenly point a gun at your head, not call you a freak and be done with it.

 

Technology

Graphically, Quake 4 looks stunning if you have some decent hardware (or low demands). I’ve seen the game be played on hardware as old as the GeForce4 Ti4200 at low settings, but you’ll definitely want something along the lines of a GeForce 6 or Radeon x800 for high resolutions, anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering and other technical goodies. The level design and characters (both allied and Strogg) are very detailed and rich in polygons, and a lot of moving objects add a sense of the environment being a real, breathing, living world. Of course, as with DOOM3 itself the lighting takes everything to a higher level, especially when you see the flashlight beams frantically moving through rooms when your fellow marines are trying to find the ever-present Strogg enemies in dark areas. While on the subject of flashlights, your pistol (useless) and machinegun (useful!) both come with flashlights, so you won’t have to drop your weapons entirely like in DOOM3. Just don’t expect to nicely light up areas and wield big guns at the same time though, that’s still not an option. A bit more disappointing than that are the skyboxes and occasional close-ups, particularly in outdoor scenes.  There are obvious cases of low resolution texturing.  This is a shame considering the game looks very pretty overall.

 

"Graphically, Quake 4 looks stunning if you have some decent hardware."

 

Also strange is the fact the Strogg bodies disappear in a Star Trek Borg-like fashion only seconds after they are killed. The rag doll effects do their job nicely, but you won’t be able to enjoy examining what you just shot down. There’s hardly any interaction with the environment either, even though games like Half-Life 2 have shown that interactive worlds are the way of the future. In the sound department, Quake 4 doesn’t overwhelm but delivers nicely. The sound effects are convincing enough.  The music passed by unnoticed during most of the game. The voice acting is--if a bit cliché--nice enough, and I particularly enjoyed the communications going on behind the scenes. Central command often sends down orders or asks for status reports.  Though very little else in the game will do so, these rare communicational intermezzos remind you you’re not alone in this war.

 

Gameplay

As a first person shooter of id legacy, one should not expect Quake 4 to be very different from the Texan developers’ previous iterations. While this game makes heavy use of squad fighting, introduces weapon upgrades and vehicles to the Quake series, and has a more complicated artificial intelligence than any other id shooter before it, it’s obviously a run-‘n’-gun shooter where things like going prone, using stealth and giving orders are not at home. In good Quake fashion you’ll often face several enemies to fight, and though they will take cover and duck they’re not the smartest bunch you’ve ever faced. Instead, on the two higher difficulty settings they’ll just do a great deal of damage, which forces you to either take cover as well yourself, or be pretty damn good at bringing the opponent down fast. Considering your somewhat underpowered arsenal, the latter is often not going to be the case. While I personally decided to adapt and suck it up (read: Quicksave every five seconds), it must be said Quake 4 is significantly more difficult than the likes of FEAR, Half-Life 2 or Call of Duty 2.

 

Mechs, explosions, guns, is this a war perhaps?

Yep, definitely a war

A Stroggified Kane, about to be ambushed

 

Friendly AI will often come with you, and your fellow marines certainly stand their ground in combat. You won’t have to give them any orders as they’ll follow and take cover in excellent fashion, and it’s downright cool to see three marines taking tactically sound positions in front of a door, waiting for you to take point and head through. While the Strogg AI is usually limited to either attacking head on, sidestepping or hiding behind crates / corners, the friendly AI comes across as realistic as can be expected.

 

While regular marines carry the powerful weapons and provide the Strogg with a target besides you, engineers and medics will do more than that. Engineers can replenish your shields and will occasionally upgrade your weapons--giving them features like homing and zoom. Medics, on the other hand, will heal you--though the primary source of health will still be made up of med kits lying around the whole planet (strange how even the deepest of Strogg chambers is filled with stockpiles of human armour, med kits and ammunition). Luckily, you’ll rarely encounter characters that are required to survive, so in almost any situation you can lose squad members without the game telling you to go back and babysit them instead.

 

Now, it’s time to talk about the bits the older Quake fans may have feared already:  outdoor scenes and vehicle combat. To just get it out, neither of them are any good. The outdoor scenes are graphically very poor; both in texturing and in level design. Either the DOOM3 engine isn’t ready to display something like Half-Life 2’s coast levels or Far Cry’s huge open islands, or both id Software and Raven should hire some new talent. My guess is on the former. The vehicle combat and on-rails shooting make for a nice change of pace, but the slow mech- and floaty-hover tank do not make for much of an enjoyable ride. Also, in these parts of the game the Strogg tend to just run straight at you or come in overwhelming numbers. Most importantly, rather than feeling cool, fast and powerful, these vehicles felt clunky, annoying and downright old. This is how games would have done it five years ago, before the likes of Halo: Combat Evolved and Battlefield.

 

And there, I touch upon what I find to be Quake 4’s greatest flaw. This game does a lot, and almost everything is nice, but at the same time it reminds me of older games and those other games often did a better job. Raven took all the good things first person shooters have been doing since Half-Life and Unreal, put it in one game and tried to make it work together. Well, it works--sort of--but the end result is a bit messy nonetheless.

 

"Raven took all the good things first person shooters have been doing since Half-Life and Unreal...it works--sort of--but the end result is a bit messy nonetheless."

 

Multiplayer

Also taken from other games is the multiplayer mode. Following suit to Quake, Quake 2 and Quake III Arena, the fourth iteration focuses on deathmatch with a bit of CTF thrown in--with its signature frantic pace, jump pads and rocket launchers. Also, the special moves such as rocket jumping and strafe jumping have been retained in Quake 4. The maps are often somewhat cramped, making for adrenaline-pumping matches where there’s not a moment of rest or calm.

 

However, as a pretty die-hard Quake Arena player I could not easily adjust to Quake 4’s different player physics. Resembling Quake 2 more than it does Quake Arena, Raven’s game feels slower in speed and control over your character. I personally couldn’t get to like it.  Although if you haven’t played much of the previous games in the series and deathmatch appeals to you, it’s easily recommendable for being one of the few games out there still doing it. Just know that its focus is on deathmatch and this multiplayer game stays with its roots. 

 

Remind me of the good ol’ days, will you?

I’ve pretty much spoiled the conclusion of this review at the end of the single player talk. Quake 4 takes a lot of good things from a lot of good shooters, and puts it into one ‘okay’ package. The Quake 2 / Quake Arena inspired multiplayer isn’t an improvement over the previous iterations. Halo does the sci-fi “save mankind in one last gracious effort” storyline much better than Quake 4 does. Elite Force did squad fighting almost exactly like Quake 4 does it now. The Strogg are like the Borg from Star Trek, the graphics remind of DOOM3 and the feeling of being in the middle of a war is taken straight from Call of Duty (and in this case, again, the original does a better job than Quake 4 does)… When you look at all these games, Quake 4 seems to copy from--and only sometimes improve upon them.  When you then look at when they were released – which would be between 1999 and 2004 – it’s painfully clear how little actual innovation and originality Raven put into Quake 4.

 

The debate of whether something has to be original or innovative to be good I’ll leave for others to talk about, but in case of Quake 4 it just doesn’t feel entirely right to see so much we’ve seen before, only all in one game instead of ten. In that sense, Quake 4 is nothing special, nothing worthy of telling your grandchildren about, nothing you haven’t seen done at least once or twice before, and that is disappointing. Luckily, the high production values we’ve grown used to from id, Raven and Activision make it a polished game, and Quake 4 makes for an enjoyable single player experience anyway.  It is a fun multiplayer blast as well. These things push the game closer to the 80 mark than the 70 mark, if only just. When it comes right down to it, what we have here is an engine built for the future powering the gameplay of the past.

 

Purty, isn't it?

Team combat makes up large parts of Quake IV

Multiplayer, plain and simple

 

The Good

-          Graphics are cutting-edge

-          Squad fighting is cool

-          Two or three powerful cut scenes


The Bad

-          Old game wrapped in a new engine

-          Doesn’t improve upon the competition

-          Vehicle combat and outdoor levels

 

 

[Reviewed using an AthlonXP 2500+, 1GB RAM, 256MB GeForce6800 GT, Windows XPSP2, DirectX 9.0c]


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