When Doom III was released last year, there was a collective sigh of relief from gamers all over the globe. Not only had id managed to put out a new version of the classic Doom that was incredibly good looking, but they managed to preserve much of the gameplay that had made the original so popular in the first place. Then, everyone drew in their breath when id not only announced that there were plans in place to create a direct sequel to Quake II, but also that it wasn’t going to be developed by id but Raven (a company that id has had a long-standing relationship with) instead.
I’m here to tell you that you can let that breath out because Quake 4 is awesome.
The story picks up right where Quake II left off: humanity has been waging an unending war with the Strogg, an alien race that invaded Earth in the middle of this century. The Strogg are known for taking the limbs of their enemies and using them to create new soldiers to fight on their side, kind of like the Borg in Star Trek (ironically, Raven has developed more than one Star Trek game so maybe they were the perfect choice for developers after all). But mankind has never been known for backing down from a threat and after years of fighting, the humans finally gained some ground against their barbaric foe. In Quake II, humanity launched a counter-attack against the Strogg homeworld. Though loses were great, one Marine (that was you if you played it) was able to get past the Strogg, destroy their defense systems and take out their leader.
This is where Quake 4 starts off. I’ll be honest in admitting that I’ve never played Quake II, but it’s important to note that even though I never have, I wasn’t confused by the storyline and never felt like I was missing anything as I played through Quake 4. You play as another Marine named Matthew Kane who naturally is part of an elite squad of soldiers and he’s definitely more than capable of handling himself on the battlefield. The beginning of the game sort of reminded me of the D-Day levels from nearly every World War II shooter that I’ve played, but instead of being set on the wet beaches of Normandy, you’re trying to penetrate through the Strogg defenses as countless members of your assault force are being decimated.
Though Doom III put you back into the shoes of a lone Marine and expected you to save Mars all by yourself, Quake 4 is a little more generous with backup. You’re expected to do a lot all by yourself, but on a few occasions you’ll get more than a little help from your fellow soldiers. These guys are great too. I was really impressed right from the beginning with their ability to actually do something other than get in my way. It wasn’t uncommon for my guys to enter a room and have most of the situation under control before I even got myself into position. That isn’t to say that you’re not going to have anything to shoot, but it’s nice to know that your fellow soldiers can actually hold their own in battle instead of serving as cannon fodder. It’s unfortunate that the AI for the Strogg isn’t quite as advanced as the AI guiding your teammates. It isn’t uncommon for them to stand in one spot and just shoot and shoot and shoot at you without running for cover.
If you’re looking for a gigantic, expansive adventure, Quake 4 probably isn’t the game for you. It’s pretty linear and exploration is almost entirely non-existent. Personally, I like linear, scripted, first-person shooters more than any other type of game, so this wasn’t a problem at all for me but I know a lot of you out there really dig searching around. If that’s the case, you’re probably going to think that Quake 4 holds you by the hand a bit too much. For example, people you’re escorting to objectives won’t follow you but they’ll run for the objective, sometimes ahead of you. When you need to get to an objective, typically the only doors that are unlocked are the ones to lead you to it, and if there are other doors opened then most of them usually lead to dead ends or a few scattered supplies. I didn’t mind this too much, but again, you might.
Although Quake 4 has a heavy emphasis on running around and killing things, it isn’t all run-and-gun. Sometimes you’ll get to pilot some pretty cool vehicles you can use to blast the crap out of your enemies, including giant, spider-like creatures that like to shoot powerful missiles and endless streams of bullets at you. Dodging these attacks is essential because they can rip you to shreds. In fact, even though the enemies aren’t all that smart, they still can deliver a good deal of damage, which means you’ll have to be pretty careful. Thankfully medics and techs are frequently included in your squad so they can replenish your health and armor respectively. Plus, there are the traditional health packs and armor lying around, so even if you do take some damage you shouldn’t be left in a sorry state for long.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of playing Quake III: Arena online, you’ll be very satisfied with the multiplayer modes included with Quake 4 because it’s pretty much the same thing, just with minor graphical updates (then again, if you hated it, you’re probably not going to like the multiplayer all that much). A big fear that people (this reviewer at least) had before Quake 4 was released was that the Doom III engine was simply too powerful to be utilized for large-scale multiplayer. Well, Quake 4 needs multiplayer like people need water, so since the Doom III engine can’t do multiplayer, they basically turned off just about everything fancy so they could include the large-scale combat we all expect. Even if it isn’t as pretty as the single-player game, the multiplayer is tight. Unreal Tournament was a great game for sure, but I was always in love with the fast-paced deathmatch of Quake III and it’s really nice to say that it has been preserved. There are lots of servers online and I can even get a good ping playing it at my college, which is even more surprising.
Speaking of the pretty graphics, it goes without saying that this game looks good. Because it isn’t as dark as Doom III, Quake 4 is more graphically demanding because Doom III could hide a lot of textures in the darkness, which helped increase performance on lower and mid-range systems. But since Quake 4 is bright and outdoors quite a bit, it’s more demanding on your system and I had to turn down a lot of the graphical effects, but it still looked damn good. On high resolutions with all the effects cranked up the game looks fantastic. I particularly liked the individual looks of each Strogg, from the gigantic spider I previously mentioned to a fat, green-smoke emitting Strogg to another enemy who slams into the ground, emitting bright blue electricity on impact. It’s honestly a game you’ll want to consider upgrading your computer for. The sound effects are also good with realistic sounding weapons and the main score is quite fantastic.
Sadly, it isn’t all perfect. Unlike in Doom III, where I was forced to rely on all of my weapons for a good portion of the game because of the scarcity of ammo, I relied primarily on my machine gun in this game and ignored many of the other weapons. Sometimes I’d switch to the shotgun in close-quarters, but I still relied on the machine gun far too often. I also didn’t like the grenade launcher at all and thought it wasn’t a very capable or practical weapon. Considering that mankind was able to travel the great distances of the galaxy to wage war against an alien race, I should imagine that we’d be able to produce a grenade launcher that can lob a grenade a little more than 10 feet. I mean, I’ve used a potato launcher to shoot a potato about 50 feet with just hairspray as fuel (don’t try this at home), so it’s hard to accept the limitations of the grenade launcher in this game.
These minor flaws shouldn’t stop you from picking this up. The multiplayer action is fast-paced and furious, just like Quake multiplayer should be and the single-player campaign feels just like it should, even if it is linear. Quake 4 is hampered by a few minor design flaws, mainly the enemy AI and some of the weapons, but overall the feel of the game is just right. Quake 4 should definitely be on your list for great FPS games that you need to own.