The forces of Earth take the offensive in Quake 4, in an effort to eliminate the Strogg menace at its source, once and for all. The fourth edition of id's popular first-person shooter returns to its roots, to offer single-players an extensive adventure in the role of a soldier named Matthew Kane. Ultimately, Kane may be called upon to sacrifice a bit of his humanness, for the sake of humanity's ultimate victory.
While boasting substantial graphical and audio improvements as well, significant refinements to the A.I., the single-player portion of Quake 4 holds true to the originals, and the story picks up where Quake II left off. The online multiplayer modes of Quake 4 should feel much more reminiscent of Quake III, with their large weapon selection, diverse battle arenas, and intense, kill-or-be-killed gunplay.
Quake 4 offers nothing particularly new or innovative, and yet still manages to entertain because sometimes retro and dumb and obvious is exactly what we want--especially when it's done as slickly and professionally as it is here.
Certainly first-person shooters have come a long way since id unleashed the first Quake on the world back in 1996. At the time, running and gunning was all we needed, especially when delivered in a 3D environment as astounding as the original game's. Quake was the cutting edge at the time--nothing came close--and for years "Quake killer" was the moniker applied to any game that even dared to compete.
Now, of course, in the post-Half-Life world, with shooters taking the genre into all sorts of innovative directions, you could argue that the world doesn't really need Quake anymore. We have the deep multiplayer brilliance of Battlefield 2, the brutally wicked A.I. of F.E.A.R. (see review, page 96), and the squad-based sophistication of Brothers in Arms. So, seriously, do we really need to pick up our shotguns and trundle down dark corridors after the strogg--again?
My answer is a qualified yes. For Quake 4, id Software hired longtime companion Raven Software (Heretic, Hexen, Elite Force) to design a single-player campaign, and this move definitely paid off. Single player presents a back-to-basics thrill ride of a game that, in its simplicity, will appeal far beyond the hardcore shooter crowd, with well-paced levels, a good story, a few genuinely creepy moments, and--as usual--some of the best graphics in all of PC gaming. Tougher and more innovative games are out there, for sure. But Quake 4--big, loud, and beautiful--does exactly what it was meant to do.
Picking up the plotline from Quake II (1999's Quake III: Arena was multiplayer only), Quake 4 puts you back on the planet Stroggos in the 21st century, where Earth wages a desperate counterattack against the evil cybernetic strogg, who--like most evil space aliens--seek to conquer our humble planet. You play as generic Marine beefcake Matthew Kane, a square-jawed hero with the magical ability to carry multiple guns at once and switch instantaneously between them even while crawling through sewer pipes.
It's strictly old-school stuff. Level after level, you twist and turn through the labyrinthine strogg base--aided sometimes by NPC allies, but most oftentimes solo--gunning down hordes of monsters and encountering the occasional puzzle or two on the way to the next boss. Within this limited format, however, Raven gets it right, with frantic mayhem broken up by suspenseful moments of quiet and a uniformly satisfying collection of weapons--many of which get upgraded as the game proceeds--to help you get the job done.
Unlike F.E.A.R., however, the enemy A.I. here is slow (to be generous), and anyone with even rudimentary circle-strafing abilities can have most of the moronic strogg confused and helpless (and then dead) in seconds. Only when the game throws dozens of enemies at you at once does it really get challenging--and even then it doesn't come close to the challenges posed by F.E.A.R. And Raven's attempts to expand the basic gameplay with a few scenes of vehicular combat, while admirable, enjoy only mild success, coming off more like chapters in an arcade rail-shooter from eight years ago than anything a modern shooter should have.
But what it may lack in challenge, Quake 4 gives back in atmosphere and looks, thanks to id's Doom 3 engine. No, eye candy is not a substitute for gameplay, by any means, but here, almost every single room is a wonder to behold, with stunning displays of light and shadow and painstaking structural detail--and it adds up. I'm no graphics whore, even remotely, yet the craft that went into creating this world is amazing and does keep you moving forward, just to see what's coming next (F.E.A.R. looks plain and sterile in comparison).
The graphics also add to the game's overall gruesomeness--Quake 4's creepier than Doom 3. The now-notorious "stroggification" cut-scene, in which you watch as your body falls under a gruesome butcher's knife, is one of the single most disturbing scenes I've ever seen in a game, and the mangled and tortured bodies attached to walls, hanging from hooks, and spewing out of machines as you make your way through the game give Quake 4 more of an emotional impact than anyone has a right to expect. You see this stuff and want those strogg dead.
It's easy enough to dis Quake 4 for what it doesn't have, especially with so many other more sophisticated shooters out there. But one doesn't need to apologize for it, either, because it's a fast, solid ride from beginning to end--kind of like going to the movies.
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