One year after we reviewed Doom 3, Quake 4 has landed. It reintroduces us to the war with the Strogg race and you play Marine Matthew Kane once more, but adding the kind of storytelling and graphical improvements you’d expect for a gap of 8 years between instalments. Quake II’s green shades scrub up nicely on the Doom 3 engine, but thankfully most of the rest of the time, you won’t be creeping around, more like machine gunning everything in sight with squads to match while imagining yourself in a James Cameron film.
Taking some heed of Doom 3’s eyestrain-inducing darkness, Raven has equipped two weapons with an optional torch, usable all the time and creating atmosphere in certain key sections. Although you will end up with better looking versions of all the Quake weapons, the original marine machine gun and shotgun, which hark back to Doom, will be the most popular for creating that action movie feel. Every weapon also has a visual or numerical ammunition counter, further enhancing the feel of being in James Cameron’s Aliens. Forget the one to two at a time spawning of Doom 3: In Quake 4 the enemy can mass rush and attack as quickly as your rate of fire, especially the basic footsoldiers and in spite of the robotic nature of the enemy there’s the regular amount of blood and gore you’d expect, keeping the certificate at 18.
In Quake 4 you’re at war on an alien planet, so even when you have to escort someone as an objective the non-player character (NPC) is usually armed and can look after himself - except when the script demands that he can’t. It’s a shame there aren’t many moments where you can save a Marine at the last minute and have it make a difference to the storyline. However when you have a whole squad with you, you do find yourself watching their back and they do a much better job of watching yours than say, the Starfleet support in Elite Force from five years ago, showing the progress in AI and the effective feel of the weapons. These squads are much closer to Call of Duty in their speed and AI and the fact that they’ll actually fight for you.
If you’ve ever watched The Best of Both Worlds from the end of the third series of Star Trek The Next Generation, then you’ll know what the twist is - otherwise you can read the back of the box. If they had concealed the twist it would have made the fact that there’s an impossible boss fight more exciting in terms of how long you could last. Harking back to Half-Life Gunman there’s also one encounter where you’re tricked into believing the first time you see this particular enemy, is the right time to try and destroy it. Though the assimilation harks back to the television of 15 years ago, it’s surprising that once you become “Stroggocop”, it makes you all the more involved in the story from a payback point of view, especially once you get the obligatory glimpse of yourself in the mirror. The other dimension, very reminiscent of Half-Life, is the way that Strogg health stations become available to you, which you will certainly need.
It’s not all great though, some people complain that the relentless action is too linear but even those complainers are silenced when you reach the barrel-shifting scene - that’s right, you have to move a platform and some barrels to reach the next level, this is after arriving too late to save a colleague who sent you off to do something and in the style of Scary Movie, you know they’re dead meat. The last thing you want to do after seeing a fellow marine dragged under a door to their death is shift stupid boxes and this one moment can reinstate your disbelief - even playing late at night, the last thing you need is an excuse to quit. It’s also not a new complaint that you can physically walk through the same section twice, but the enemy will only spawn when you trip an invisible wire or pick up a weapon - another touch which can bring you out of the game world if you know everything’s lying in wait as opposed to the occasional feeling of being hunted down from Doom 3 and AVP. When they do attack though it’s as frenzied as Call of Duty, AVP and Quake 2’s group attack scenes all mixed together.
Vehicles are also present in a first for the Quake series but routine for rival first person action games. There are gun platform trucks, a tank and a Mechwarrior-styled walker which is thankfully much simpler to operate than the Battletech equivalent - they are a diversion for PC players but obviously intended to make Quake console friendly in time for being a Xbox360 launch title. When using a mouse they are, thankfully, very easy to handle, the difficulty level chosen only affecting damage rates.
The multiplayer is basically Quake III with a couple of team add-ons, rendered to near perfection in the Doom 3 engine. The previous title always favoured the hardcore deathmatching scene above the many modes of Unreal Tournament, and it’s wise of iD and Raven to go retro for now and see how many players they can hold on to ahead of UT 2007’s release in Spring 2006. The first patch has removed CD checking straight away but without wiping savegames in the single player mode like Quake II. For once, both sides of the game’s community have reason not to hate patch day and we expect this traditionally high standard of support to continue.
If you never liked Quake III, you’re unlikely to bother with Q4’s multiplayer in spite of Raven giving it the Counter-Strike: Source treatment. If Unreal Tournament doesn’t excite in the way it used to though, there’d be nothing wrong with giving it a try. However, since there is a solely multiplayer game in the works, currently titled Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, it’s suddenly clear why you’re being asked to brush up on your Quake III reflexes - you’ll need them if you’re planning to buy Battlefield 2 in space.
Quake 4 is a better action film on the computer screen than the Doom film on the big screen. It’s a shame that there are annoying/unfair spawns and clunky moments deliberately aimed at slowing you down, when the net result is to make you switch off. Unlike Doom 3 which, in spite of its Half-Life-styled adherence to linear gaming, had sections which were just work, Quake 4 minimizes the dullness over its 18-20 hours, giving you singleplayer action certainly worth buying. Production values haven’t been this high in the PC FPS world since Half-Life 2 last year.
It’s certainly worth buying, blitzing through over winter and re-selling if you’re going to wait for Unreal 2007 on the multiplayer side, or just go with Enemy Territory Quake Wars depending on the handling. Here’s hoping that the single player modifications and co-operative play which took a year for Doom 3, won’t take as much time to appear on Quake 4 because the squad-based co-operative possibilities are endless. If you’re an Xbox360 owner and you’re being asked for more than £30, maybe that’s asking too much (unless you can also download modified content) and a point should be deducted from our score - unless you’re used to multiplayer first person shooters using a gamepad from the Halo games.
Enjoy the short-lived ride and let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 7 years for the next one - but if you must have the most information, then you can also buy a special edition with DVD movie-styled extras on PC and Quake II with both add-ons for the full £30-35, or be happy with just the game if you bought the 1997 classic the first time round.