Well Friends here it is. Quake Oh-Four. In many ways, the game I've been waiting for my entire career. How do you do it justice? (The world's first look no less!) I wanted to start with a great Quake anecdote, relating one of the moments that made this series so special - but after several failed attempts, I realised it was futile. No single moment can encapsulate the enormity of pleasure brought to us over the years by the name Quake. Think about it a second - if you've ever been a fan, the sublime gaming memories will soon form a flood. The first time you played a 'true' 3D game. The sound of a Deathknight's sword clanging against stone. Your first rocket jump. The exultant 'ker-ching' as you grabbed the red armour. Q2dm1: The Edge. Perfect railgun shots across the reaches of space. Q2dm1: The Longest Yard. Mods: Lithium, Action, Jailbreak, Painkeep. The Quad Damage, the nailgun, the lava traps. The Shambier.
To my mind, it's the greatest series of games ever created, and it's sure as hell the one that's stolen most of my waking hours over the years (not to mention sleep - Quake dreams are a common sign of addiction). To me, Doom 3 was always just going to be a warm-up, a chance to break in the new generation of technology, iron out any problems and pave the way for the main event... Quake Eye-Vee.
Who Are Ya?
But what is this new Quake? Up till now, all we've known is that Raven is developing it, which is good news - it's made some of the best shooters of all time. We also know that it uses the Doom 3 engine: this may be obvious, but again it's good news, despite some concerns about numbers of enemies on-screen. There's also been mumblings that the game will be singleplayer focused, with only minimal effort put into multiplayer, but it's never really been clarified. Clearly, we need some hard answers, and luckily, Raven is finally ready to spill the beans.
"To start with," launches lead designer Jim Hughes, "Quake IV is all about being part of an epic sci-fi battle filled with fast-paced, explosive action. We're using the Doom 3 tech, so you know that we'll deliver an amazing experience, with both stunning visuals and heart-pounding, intense gameplay. You take the role of a marine in a massive invasion of the Strogg home world, where you experience the war while fighting alongside the huge marine invasion force - as well as on your own in some cases."
So this is, in essence, a sequel to Quake II rather than Quake III? "Well, in terms of single-player, Quake IV picks up where Quake II left off," says Eric Biessman, project lead on the game. "But the multiplayer experience is more akin to Quake III: Arena." Say what? Multiplayer akin to Quake III? Hallelujah and praise to all things good. "This is a continuation in the Quake series," smiles lead programmer Rick Johnson. "We felt that Quake IV would best be served by capturing all the things that made Quake III great. We've got hyper-fast action, deadly weapons, bounce pads, trick moves - you name it. Die-hard fans will feel right at home."
So let me get this straight. Quake IV is the sequel to both Q2 and Q3, revisiting the Strogg vs Marine storyline on the one hand and following-up the best i deathmatch game of all time on the other? That's one hell of a task, surely, even for a team of Raven's calibre.
Admittedly, FPS developers used to create full single- and multiplayer components as a matter of course, but with today's development requirements, it's getting increasingly unmanageable. All the best multiplayer games since Quake III have been designed as such -UT, Battlefield, even Counter-Strike -while the likes of Doom 3 and Far Cry have proven mediocre in the head-to-head stakes. How, you might ask, does Raven hope to do both sii the game justice?
The answer is simple enough. First, the company is building on familiar gameplay rather than starting from scratch - so don't expect the same kind of decisive innovation we saw in Quake III: Arena. And second, the engine and tools came ready-built by id, with everything down to physics and vehicle code already in place. As Johnson says: "The Doom 3 tech provided us with many of the fundamental systems straight out of the box, so to speak. Plus, on top of that there's been a lot of involvement from id Software along the way - they would find the best way to do something and pass that info on to us. It saved us a lot of time, so most of our work has been towards the creation of Quake IV itself."
Which Is Which?
All well and good. But in some ways this raises another oft-voiced concern among fans: with the development of the two games being so closely intertwined, are Doom 3 and Quake IV at risk of overlapping? In many ways, the two games are part of the same progression - the Doom/Quake series let's call it -and there's never before been an instance where they've appeared back to back like this, on the same technology. So, discounting multiplayer for a moment, what, exactly, is the difference?
Rick Johnson: "Well, Quake IV is more like an intense action movie to Doom 3's horror movie feel," explains the ursine coder. "Instead of scaring the player, we're going all out to deliver a fast-paced adrenalin rush of combat." So you might say that Quake IV is to Doom 3 what Aliens is to Alien, then? After the hopeless one-man battle against the Strogg in Quake II - where your lone space marine got isolated from the main (and inevitably doomed) assault force when his spaceship crash-landed - this time you're bringing the cavalry.
You can read in the screenshots some hints of what this could mean: squads of marines fighting waves of hideous gladiators, dogfights in the skies over Stroggos... A proper, bloody, war of the worlds. It's a bit early to tell for sure, but Raven could well be attempting to marry the intensity of a Call Of Duty with the scale and vehicles of a Halo. Which is a winner in anyone's books.
A Strogg's Life
According to the storyline of course, the Strogg were pretty much defeated at the end of Quake II. You destroyed the planetary defences and took care of the pesky Makron - what could possibly be left to do?
"Ah yes, well," smiles Eric Biessman. "After the death of the Makron, the Strogg quickly regrouped under a new and more powerful Makron." Wouldn't you know it... "However, all is not lost. With the Strogg's planetary defences still destroyed, Earth's forces can now deliver a full and final assault."
So, the stage is set. In many ways, it's the same plot as Quake II, except the human counterattack goes a bit more to plan this time - at the beginning at least. Later on, so we gather, the army of soldiers fighting alongside you begins to waver, and it's up to you to plunge single-handed into the depths of Stroggos to defeat the Makron, mark 2.
Shouldn't be a problem for the likes of us of course, but even so, Raven has decided to level the playing field a bit with a rather cool new gameplay device. "Eventually, you venture deep into the heart of Stroggos," explains Biessman. "Past the human factories, and directly into the cyber-realm, where you eventually become a Strogg yourself."
Yes, you read right. At some point in the narrative, you're forced to become that which you've been fighting - an ungodly cybernetic freak with metal arms and an oil filter where your genitals once were. While we're yet to see this in action, the gameplay possibilities are superb.
From what we can gather, you have to step into a Strogg upgrade booth, where you're fitted out with a range of cybernetic enhancements. What these are we can only speculate - a rocket-launcher arm, a faster nervous system, a George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine? Whatever, it promises to give the latter stages an interesting flavour, and answer some of the problems of repetitiveness found in Doom 3.
Quake IV's environments also promise to differ substantially from the gloomy corridors of id's most recent opus. While these screenshots contain their fair share of dim metallic hallways, we're assured this is only a small part of the game's vision.
"We've worked hard to create an authentic sci-fi world," agrees Hughes. "Without getting too specific, we're creating lots of varied locations that you visit on your trek across the Strogg home world - including both indoor and outdoor environments. From journeying deep into Strogg industrial complexes to driving vehicles across the barren and blasted planet surface, you'll experience a huge variety of visuals and gameplay."
This puts to rest at least one concern regarding the Doom 3 renderer - that it was designed for indoor locales and would fall over when Quake tried to get some fresh air. Don't expect landscapes to rival Far Cry, but you will see some sky.
"In terms of art direction, we've tried to retain the artistic look and feel of Quake II," chips in Kevin Long, lead artist. "But obviously, we've updated it with new artwork, textures, skins and models. We've drawn upon lots of sci-fi and horror novels, comics, anime and films as inspiration, as well as our own ideas. I think we've managed to create a really horrific alien world and culture."
"Many of the original creatures have returned as well," says Eric Biessman. "We've got Gunners, Strogg Marines and Gladiators, to name a few. Plus, we've added new creatures to surprise veteran Quake fans, and each enemy's been heavily updated to take advantage of the power of the new technology." What this doesn't address is the other big concern we've got with the new Doom engine - that it was designed to handle only about four or five (highly detailed) enemies on screen at once. Waging a war with only five combatants on the battlefield is going to be difficult to say the least, so unless Raven has found some way of squeezing more power out of the engine and/or our PCs, we can't see the game running smoothly at this level of detail. But then, what do we know?
Technical concerns aside, we re very excited about the addition of vehicles to the Quake series. While the team is not being too candid about the full range of transport on offer, we were able to observe armoured jeeps, buggies and perhaps a scout bike or two on the Marine side. There are also a range of hover tanks for the Strogg. along with the various flying craft you can see in the screenshots. Clearly though, there's a war going on, so we'd expect to see a full range of military materiel, it's just a question of which ones we get to pilot -and what part they play in multiplayer.
We Won't Tell Anyone Else...
The problem is, the team is still being extremely cagey about details, leaving us with a great many unanswered questions. Lightning gun: in or out? Rocket-jumps: yes or no? Railgun: how cool is it? (There has to be one.) What are the multiplayer modes and do any of them involve vehicles? Will there be gore zones and dismemberment as in Soldier Of Fortune II? (Please!)
Id Software, for its part, assures us this will be "a worthy successor to the Quake franchise", and at this stage there's little to suggest otherwise. But until we see jump-pads, railguns and boiling, bubbling lava traps, we won't sleep completely soundly. Because for those of us who care, this game is more important than Doom 3, Half-Life 2, Halo 2 and any number of other shooters. This is Quake IV, and they simply have to get it right.
For Those Who Came In Late
The Quake Story So Far...
It's been a hell of a long time since Quake 2 so we'll forgive you for being a little hazy on the finer points of the plot (what there was of it). Basically, it goes like this. Earth is under siege by an alien race: the Strogg. Like a meaner, more nipply version of the Borg, the Strogg are a cybernetic scourge who travel the galaxy annihilating other species and using them as living battery cells. In a desperate attempt to ward off a Strogg attack on Earth, humanity gathers its finest warriors and sends them to strike directly at the Strogg home planet, Stroggos. Unfortunately, the whole fleet is summarily wiped out, and you only survive because you crash-land almost before the first shot is fired.
Despite this cock-up, you manage to redeem yourself by wiping out hundreds of Strogg, infiltrating their HQ, bringing down the planetary defence systems and killing their collective brain and leader - the Makron. Humanity assumed total victory, but they were wrong...
Download Quake 4
Besides the visual choppiness whenever you turn, it's hard to isolate specific problems with Quake 4--because there aren't any. The controls are solid; the enemy A.I. is fine; the gameplay is varied and competent. But maybe words like "solid," "competent," and "fine" tell you why it's also hard to recommend Quake 4: It's exactly what you've come to expect from a modern first-person shooter, and nothing else. A space marine blasting his way through a military base full of halfman half-machines is not the most exciting setting for a first-person shooter anymore; a short sequence where you're captured and transformed into the enemy is the only time Quake 4 even attempts to tweak the formula. It doesn't help that so much of the game, including all the enemies and most environments, looks straight out of Doom 3, right down to the ever-present, giant Rube Goldberg machines pumping away at god knows what in the backgrounds. Likewise, multiplayer is basically Quake III warmed over with new levels: still a great, arcadey deathmatch experience, but nothing new. Even single-player's limited squad combat bits and vehicle sections feel by the numbers. Quake 4 is far from terrible, but this series deserves better.
All the FPS cliches are here: You've got your sewer level, you can't climb anything without a ladder, the most direct route is always blocked (but you'll find another way around involving a vent or a hole torn in a wall by an explosion, but one that you couldn't make with the rocket cannon in your back pocket), and you know when you're about to face a big baddie by the scads of health packs and ordnance lying around. Enjoy all of this while suppressing both frustration and epileptic fits due to the unforgivable slowdown problems. The multiplayer is totally decent (and lacks the graphical glitches, strangely), but $60 is steep for a game that I feel like I've played before.
If you only play Quake 4 single-player you might be underwhelmed, particularly if you're expecting the A.I. from Halo and/or truly epic outdoor battles with alien forces. But if you can stomach the mediocre art direction, repetitive sci-fi environments, and occasional choppiness in the action, you'll find a fun solo campaign with a decent amount of gameplay. Quake 4's main attraction, of course, is its mad-dash multiplayer deathmatch, which to this day remains the fastest, most intuitive, and most skillful game around. So if you're not into the slower-paced Perfect Dark Zero, pick this up to satisfy your 360 twitch-shooter needs.
It's a bit of a shame that there will no doubt be comparisons between Quake 4 and Doom 3, but it's not a comparison without warrant: the two are similar in many ways. Like Doom 3, Quake 4 is an atmospheric FPS with dark, moody environments that hide plenty of things to shoot at and, likewise, gives you plenty of things to shoot with. But, unlike past iD associated titles, Quake 4 breaks little ground in terms of evolving the FPS genre; instead it's a pretty straightforward shooter through and through.
That's not to say it's a bad one, however. The production values are high in Quake 4, with an engrossing story and tightly scripted events that make for an absolute thrilling time. The AI isn't the brightest - they're mostly of the run straight towards you while shooting variety - but the scripted events and level layouts help counter this problem, largely ensuring that this isn't an issue that's constantly at the forefront of your mind while playing. Plus, there are some light tactical elements and vehicles, which helps break up the monotony of the constant run and gun nature of the game. Unfortunately, neither are executed with any great expertise.
But, if there's one thing both Doom 3 and Quake 4 share in common, it's the lackluster multiplayer component. The Quake series helped usher in the age of deathmatches and frags, but Quake 4 shows up in this day and age with barely a whimper. Again, that's not to say that the multiplayer modes are bad or anything, but they'll really fail to wow you like you'd think they would.
Because, see, the big problem here is that Quake 4 is that it's old-school FPS fun with a modern face lift. Nothing has been innovated or renovated. The single-player game, though polished, feels like it could play fine with sprites and a Voodoo card, and the multiplayer modes offered up in Quake 4 will remind you of deathmatches of yesteryear played over 56k.
Is that necessarily bad? Not really. If you can appreciate that classic run and gun gameplay, Quake 4 will fit you just fine. If you're looking for a FPS that takes bold and challenging new steps in the genre, well, you'll be in for a disappointment.
Fortunately, the visuals will do little to disappoint from a technical standpoint. Quake 4 uses a modified Doom 3 engine and it's able to pull off a lot more than its predecessor. This time it relies less on shadow and lighting effects and more on just flat out technical prowess. But is it a nice looking game aesthetically? Well' let's just say that I've never seen more beautiful grime-filled, warehouse inspired hallways than I have with Quake 4, but that said, I have seen them many, many times before.
Put in simplest terms, Quake 4 is fun. It's not the evolutionary or revolutionary kind of fun, but it's kind of old school FPS fun that the Quake series helped usher into the gaming world. It might not move and shake your world like you'd expect the Quake franchise to do, but it's on solid enough ground to provide for an entertaining time.
After a relatively disappointing (in hindsight) experience with Perfect Dark Zero, my mood improved substantially after launching Quake 4 for the first time. Led with a small nugget of narrative gold, I followed the game storyline deep into the bowels of the Strogg homeworld to obliterate the threat to Earth. The game, set mere hours after the events portrayed in Quake 2, Quake 4 is a title that's been expected for a long time.
In gameplay terms, this is boiler plate standard run and gun. Supported by a simple, and yet effective, narrative, I found it easy to dive through the 10 or so hours of gameplay necessary to beat the game's single player storyline. This is the Quake that I loved playing, enjoyable and simple, updated for a next-gen console. The complement of weapons offered in the game are pretty standard, but there's a nice feature in that you'll get weapon upgrades as you go through the game, adding some of the alt-fire functionality we've gotten used to. This game is fun, but I can't say much beyond that, as it's really a plain jane. Unfortunately, there are a few framerate problems, but you'll rarely see them crop up without using cheat codes. Finally, it does seem like this version of the game isn't quite what you'll get on the PC version, but none the less it looks really nice.
The true travesty in Quake 4 is the multiplayer functionality. Almost regressing, Quake 4 only supports 8 player multiplayer games, doesn't support game browsing, and generally takes forever to get you into a ranked game match. Why these choices were made, I've no idea, but I would speculate that with a focus on a stronger single player storyline than most, the multiplayer features in the game obviously suffered.
As one last comment, in terms of audio, while this game is packed with good voice acting, I ran into a whole load of problems with positional audio, making it hard to hear dialogue and other audio elements at various points through the game.
All of these things taken into account, I really enjoyed playing this game through once, but unfortunately, I just don't think it's worth full price.