When id and Raven announced that they would include a singleplayer part in Quake 4, I was relieved. I can still recall Quake II, being one of the better no-nonsense shooters: put your brains out and just blast your way through the levels. Quake III didn’t had a traditional singleplayer campaign, but was probably one of the most intense multiplayer-experiences ever. So, a combination of QII and QIII, propped in a suitable Doom³-jacket, who could possibly resist that, the creators must have thought. And indeed, I couldn’t. You’re about to find out if Quake 4 left an equally stunning impression as its predecessors did.
The story is… euh, what story? This is still Quake remember? Despite the addition of some fellow Marines and a couple of passive scenes on a spaceship, there is still no strong relationship with your teammates nor is the background of the Strogg revealed. Who would need that anyway? This still remains a shooter to the heart and lets be honest that it’s also quite a generic sci-fi setting overall. Any deeper ‘story’ would only make the whole even more unbelievable. The voices of your squad are well performed and they definitely create a blockbuster acton movie style by being nothing else than just a subtle supplement; you won’t hear them for more than a quick joke or for some general stuff.
Much of the singleplayer part is so recognisable that one can easily state that the big goal of Q4 is the same as that of Quake II namely destroy a large number of important Strogg-installations on Stroggos and, if it is possible, finish off the Makron (which has been miraculously revived, though he changed his goat-head from QII to an equally butt-ugly ‘normal’ face). This traditional setup doesn’t mean that nothing happens in the game. On the contrary even, the developers implemented many scripted events, lots of different foes and a gameworld that doesn’t bore you easily. They succeed in delivering a tense invasion-theme by assigning the player (Matthew Kane) all kinds of military operations. The fact that Marines around you slowly start dropping like flies in gruesome ways makes it even more pleasant.
The pace is very fast, I had to stop myself just to be able to truly observe the remarkable graphical splendour which is being displayed here. It’s a bit better than Doom³ while it runs faster too. Level design is completely linear, but just like in F.E.A.R., well built up with only a couple of levels where you have to run back again (for a short while). Visual variation is definitely present, unlike in F.E.A.R.. Of course, there are still enough glimpses of that typical brownish teinte of a Quake-game but you’ll see enough other locations that bathe in a unique blueish/chromelike setting while there are also places where the blood is up until your knees.
And then we have the infamous Stroggification-scene… some folks don’t understand apparently why the makers have announced this event on the past E3-show. It’s even on the back of the box. Oh no, what a surprise ruined… not. It’s utter BS to think that it would have made a difference otherwise. It doesn’t change that much except for a few gameplay changes (more health, more speed and the ability to heal via Strogg-machines).
Big deal that you don’t look more impressive than before or that there isn’t a big plottwist (as if we could speak of a plot/story in the first place). The scene itself delivers plenty enough gore value that you almost start to forget the somewhat annoying fact that enemies can’t be disintegrated piece by piece. During the game you’ll acquire nearly every Strogg-weapon, except for the close-combat moves, so you can’t complain about an unfair battle.
Speaking of battles, the enemies provide enough satisfaction when you send them to Strogg-hell. Their death animations are convincing, it’s one of the two times that physics come into play (the other time is when you stumble on certain barrels). Their tricks are limited, especially the sidestep looks a bit funny, and yeah, if you only play the first stages you could say there are indeed big guys which just react/move slowly and have many health. I also found that the simple grunts of Quake II possessed more charm than the reckless, wild bunch you are dealing with in Q4. Yet, there are enough other opponents that can test your skills, even without a brilliant artificial intelligence.
The new Reaper f.e. may look kind of odd with its bald head, half-naked torso, crazy drill and discogalaxy ball but eventually he forms one of the largest threats and he easily exceeds the QII-version (you know, the big chap with the hoarse “Trespasser!” scream). He runs at you at an incredibly fast pace after which he spears you without delay. When he is forced to stop a couple meters in front of you, that discobal comes into action and you’ll receive the electrifying shock right in the smacker if you didn’t strafe fast enough. Simple attack patterns, yet very effective.
The super-Strogg, which can be seen on the first sketch of the game, is a tough lad. With his shield he can repel grenades and all kinds of damage while he keeps on firing laser bolts at you. Eventually he does deactivate the shield so he becomes vulnerable but at the same time he also uses his deadliest weapon; a big, powerful laserbeam which will hit you in the face more than you would like too. To conclude; this games still retains most of the ‘coolness’ of Quake II in this area. You won’t be particularly impressed by the Strogg-intellect, nor will you be frightened but you will get respect for their brute strength and high badass-looks.
One advice though: play the game on ‘Hard’. It is much more enjoyable when enemies don’t die that easily. Playing on the most difficult setting also makes sure the game surpasses the 10-hour playtime mark. That ain’t much but nearly every shooter can be completed in such a short time nowadays. There is another disappointment though, namely the bosses. This is Quake so they made it in here too. Of the three big daddies you’ll come across only one could really make things hot (literally). The Makron at the end is, just like in Quake II, simple to defeat. His long-stretched death scene offers spectacle but it all remains too easy/cheap for a big, last fight. The available weapon arsenal is nothing new, even the exotic sounding Dark Matter gun is a mixture of weaponry of other shooters. On the other hand, everything feels perfect, from the simple blaster till the get-out-of-my-way rocketlauncher. In other words, Quake 4 contains a brilliant weaponfeel.
The singleplayer is therefore fun enough if you didn’t got bored by Quake II. There are differences, however, such as an scarce Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Half-Life influence.
The on-rails sequences and vehicles (a tank and mech which can both strafe around) are reasonable, but not exaclty memorable compared to the action on foot. The levels in general aren’t as wide as before and a tad too dark (not yet extremely dark as in Doom³ but still sometimes irritating). Fortunately the army of the future represented in Q4 has light batterees that have a longer lifespan than just short repeatable intervals of 15 seconds like in F.E.A.R. or HL. Although, your searchlight only works on the two first weapons.
Hopefully you can change quickly enough. There is also no sign of a big soundtrack of ten industrial-themed songs this time, but there are only a hand-full instrumental music tracks, which resemble bombastic film music. They sound exciting but aren’t played much and I think that because of the many firefights, a constant gitar beat would have suited this game better. If it works in the menu, then why not in the game itself?
Finally, there is the multiplayer to keep you busy. One can’t blame Raven/id for not being honest with us. It’s just ordinary Quake III plus nailgun minus BFG on the Doom³ engine. The netcode isn’t terrible at all (for maps with a maximum of 16 players) and the levels play just fine and are looking quite good too. Gameplay is still as fast and unrelenting, but with less maps and options though. Would a complete community upgrade to this version, ain’t such a difficult question actually. For the gamer who has left QIII a long time ago, it can be nice to play it back once again but I wouldn’t advice to buy Q4 just for its multiplayer. The retailversion had a slow and awkward server browser but that has been solved for the most part already by a quick patch (yes, that’s how things can be done too, EA). Nevertheless, it’s still one of those small details that point out that the singleplayer missions clearly were the bigger focus.
Quake 4 is like a coin that spins around for a while but that, luckily for the fans, falls on the side you were betting on all along. QII-lovers will appreciate the singleplayer part of Q4 since it pays respect to the familiar and straight-forward, though very entertaining gameplay. The multiplayer is a different issue and actually something you won’t get enthusiastic about. It is way too standard and if you already own Quake III (: Team Arena) not worth the effort. In spite of the nostalgic feelings nobody can deny that the impact of this fourth Quake-installment is much less than the other games. The graphics keep things fresh and the game still remains decent, but the credit of Raven, and especially of id, is decreasing more and more. It is time for a game which scores in all areas (sp and mp) and that dares to innovate. That doesn’t necessarily mean that devs should start going in the HL or Far Cry direction. No, doing your own thing remains important and nobody knows that better than id themselves. Only, they must pay attention that while they’re sticking to their own path, they won’t start to keep on chewing the same basics of the genre, again and again. The Quake 4 bubblegum however, contains just enough good taste to justify a positive score.