There?s a moment in Quake IV where you?re in an elevator, rising through cavernous fighter-craft bays alongside your squad of crack Marine team-mates, when it hits you: you?ve just fought your way through wave after wave of hideous Strogg warriors, blowing them to hell and back with your trusty machine gun, and now even more enemies await. There?s a sense of something? some sort of d?j? vu? that nags at the back of your mind. You feel like you?ve played this game before.
Quake IV is the latest first-person shooter offering from publisher Activision and developer Raven Software. Raven, you may recall, is a developer with an established track record and a long association with the developer of the Doom III engine, id Games, the Heretic, Hexen and Soldier of Fortune series, as well as the classic titles Jedi Knight II and III are all testaments to the developer?s quality work. We had the chance to see Quake IV at this year?s E3, and were intrigued with the title?s promised return to the classic Quake-style of game play- fast, furious and frenetic.
Twitch-gamers rejoice, for the promise that we saw at E3 has definitely been realized. If you?re the kind of player that found F.E.A.R.?s slow-build, tension-filled plot and careful exploration a bit tedious, then Quake IV should be right up your alley.
A careful description of the game?s plot is unnecessary- the Quake franchise has never been known for the depth of its writing. All you really need to know is that Quake IV picks up just where its predecessor, the 1997, genre-defining Quake II, left off: the cyborg Strogg are threatening to destroy Earth and you and your fellow Rhino Company grunts are the only thing that can stop them. Someone has opened up a hole in the Strogg?s defenses and now it?s time to take the battle to the enemy on their own turf. Guns? Check. Body armor? Check. ?Kill ?em all and let God sort ?em out? attitude? Check. Now get out there and whup some alien ass, soldier.
Raven has created in Quake IV a game that is, in every important way, a homage to the lost art of the twitch-shooter. Forget about sophisticated AI and namby-pamby scares? Quake IV is all about killin? stuff, usually as messily and as loudly as possible. Throughout the game?s 15-20 hour duration, expect to encounter hundreds of enemies, bosses and even vehicles, often while fighting alongside AI-controlled teammates. These virtual squad members fight, if anything, almost harder than you do, flinging themselves with almost suicidal fervor into every battle. They?ll be your near-constant companions in the first half of the game, soaking up enemy fire while you orient yourself with the game?s controls and weapons.
As nice as it is to have a bit of fire support, the fact that you?re seldom alone in the early game dilutes any feelings of building fear or dread- Quake IV never really manages to invoke anything resembling tension or honest scares, other than the constant adrenaline rush that only comes from a target-rich environment.
Health packs and ammo are liberally scattered throughout the game world, and running low on either is seldom an issue. Combat quickly falls into a rhythm, as each new room disgorges a fresh group of Strogg attackers. The game quickly shows you that the path to victory is not the careful use of cover or tactics- the best defense, in true Quake style, is a strong offense, rushing quickly forward into ideal shotgun range and blowing the Godless, half-alive, half-machine invaders back to whatever hell excreted them.
Quake IV pushes the Doom III engine to its limits, creating a world that is at once eerily similar to Doom?s claustrophobic, metal corridors while simultaneously offering up new, outdoor environments. Raven has added in some new novelty-type game play scenarios capitalizing on these outdoor locations- in one scene the player mans a turret atop a grav-truck and has to defend a convoy against waves of fighter craft. In another, the player takes the controls of a tank and does battle against gun turrets and monstrous walking tanks reminiscent of Half Life 2?s Striders.
We were disappointed, however, in the game?s treatment of the main character. At E3, we were titillated with snippet after snippet promising that the player would be captured and assimilated, Borg-style, by the Strogg. While this does indeed come to pass, allowing the player to access a wide variety of cool alien weaponry and access Strogg-controlled territory as a spy (which we admit is a nice concept), the change has little other impact- your squad mates seem to take it in stride that you?ve suddenly become a walking, Frankenstein-like horror, which we found to be a bit of a let-down. Given the surprising depth that various NPC encounters displayed up until that point (some of our favorite parts of the game were simply walking around Marine-controlled safe points and eavesdropping on various NPCs tongue-in-cheek dialogue), we hoped that the metamorphosis from human to alien would be more than just an excuse to let the player use Strogg guns.
Fans of Quake III: Arena will also be happy campers, for the multiplayer component included with Quake IV seems to be an almost perfect copy of that game, right up to and including the inclusion of several popular Quake II and Quake III maps, all redesigned to play using Quake IV?s advanced graphics engine. Hopefully this newest title will breathe some life back into the declining Quake death match scene.
Quake IV does nothing to advance the FPS genre, and in fact borrows heavily from other titles – but so what? Quake has always been about one thing and one thing only: combat. Loud, gory, frantic, ?suck it DOWN!? combat, and in this respect, the title successfully recreates what made us fall in love with the Big Q in the first place. Playing Quake IV is, in many ways, like watching an old, familiar TV series- something that we used to love and which can still make us smile as we bask in the warm glow of nostalgia, but which now seems a bit dated.
Game Play- 8 Forget about a slow, careful advance, moving from cover to cover and carefully co-coordinating your squad mates? this is war, man! Quake IV dishes up wave after wave of fierce Strogg attackers, all hell-bent on murder and mayhem, and its up to you to put them down like the rabid dogs that they are. The game, while short, packs quite a bit of action into those scant hours, in a variety of locales. Unfortunately, you?ll always feel like you?re on rails while moving through them, as the game leads you through a carefully controlled path with little or no chances for deviation or exploration. Players that miss the ?good ol? days? of the twitch-heavy FPS will feel right at home here. The difficulty in the later half of the game ramps up nicely, putting the skills you?ve been practicing to the test. Multiplayer is a completely ?old skool? experience, where ruthlessness and reflexes will carry the day.
Graphics- 8 The Doom III engine has never looked lovelier, and that?s no lie. Too bad that every Strogg attacker looks almost exactly like the next- we expected more. Bosses are huge and impressive, sporting glowing energy shields, massive rocket launchers and the like. Bodies, however, still disappear, just like in Doom III (in green flames this time).
Audio- 7 Some of the game?s weapons, notably the staple machine gun, sound wimpy and unimpressive. Music is scarce and, unfortunately, sounds just as ?retro? as the title?s game play- certainly nothing to write home about. What carries the day is Quake IV?s voice acting- the voiceovers are often inspired: mixing just the right amount of world-weary cynicism, humor and gritty realism- an addition that makes your NPC squad mates seem very realistic, indeed.
Value-7 Fans of ?old skool? shooters like Quake II will feel right at home here, but might not necessarily care about running through the title?s single-player game more than once- the uncompromisingly linear nature of the main game hurts any replay value the game might have offered. A SDK has been released to the public, which has already lead to the creation of new, player-made content (mostly recreations of other, classic Quake II and Quake III multiplayer maps, with other, more ambitious projects soon to follow). Whether this is enough to overcome the game?s retro style of shooter mayhem remains to be seen. Owners of DVD drives should be aware that the Special DVD Edition contains copies of the original Quake II, as well as two expansion packs for that game. In light of recent advancements in games distribution (namely Steam?s ability to present playable copies of past Half Life titles, for instance), it?s nice to see publishers offering up value-adds such as this in their games. If you?ve got a DVD drive installed in your PC then we recommend doing yourself a favor and springing for the Special Edition version.
Curve-7 Quake IV seems comfortable to rest squarely in the warm embrace of the genre that id pioneered a decade ago. Certainly, that?s not a bad place to be. With its mix of cutting-edge visuals, impressive voice acting, retro, in-your-face combat and a mature and stable multiplayer net code, Quake IV should keep hardcore FPS fans happy through the long, winter months.