Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: October 18, 2005
Quake 4 is easily where Doom 3's engine will be remembered as setting its first mark. Though Doom 3 itself wielded the engine like a sledgehammer and simply stunned the world with both its detail and dramatic use of lighting and effects, the gameplay itself seemed to be a little on the repetitive and almost derivative side. Quake 4 takes the engine's capabilities into a new area of gameplay; the darkness is still dark and the enemies are just as menacing, but the gameplay, storyline, and intensity are all kicked up a few notches.
The very first thing you will notice about playing Quake 4, literally, is that it can be a very visceral game, and it really doesn't let up much from there. To draw the direct comparison: while in Doom 3, you spend most of your time in an "after-the-fact" scenario where you see the blood and bodies of scientists and fellow marines, whereas in Quake 4, you will often see the direct results of what happens when, say, a marine gets run through mere inches in front of you, alive and screaming, by a Strogg defender. Not an instant after that, you'll then be engaged in a heated, fast-paced firefight against more Strogg forces. If Doom 3 were a methodical exploration of how unsettling a game can be due to what you can't see, Quake 4 is the exploration of how (sometimes overly) dramatic and intense it is to fight what you can see.
In a fashion none too dissimilar to Valve's Half-Life and Half-Life 2, in Quake 4, you play as one Matthew Kane, and during the course of the game your character never speaks a word. Just as in those other titles, nothing really goes according to plan in the beginning, and after your dropship takes a nasty hit and crashes, it's all downhill from there. The planet Stroggos isn't exactly a hospitable place, yet after the events of Quake 2 and while the Strogg forces are in slight disarray, there is still plenty of mop-up work left for the marines to do … or at least, that was the expectation and plan before both it and your dropship get turned topsy-turvy.
As stated before, Quake 4's gameplay is a radical departure from the flagship title of the game's engine. Instead of opening a door and expecting to be scared by an enemy, you'd better get in the mindset to expect to get a few guns leveled in your direction. The environments are still occasionally dark and foreboding but are rarely used as a means to have an enemy go "Boo!" and scare the player. In a more military fashion, you always have real, tangible objectives that change as you complete them, and to accomplish those objectives, you occasionally have the aid of fellow marines. You can't control them but more often than not, they handle themselves well enough. The medics or engineer soldiers who can heal you or repair your armor, respectively, will often look you over and let you know if you're leaking more than a few bodily fluids through cracked armor, then offer to remedy things. In either case, while a good chunk of the game puts you as the sole force against overwhelming odds, you occasionally get involved in large-scale, set-piece battles with a squad of Marines versus a larger Strogg force.
Of course, what would a Quake game be without its guns? At the dropship crash site, you awaken with only the blaster pistol in your hand, which has unlimited ammo and can be charged up but still leaves a lot to be desired. Shortly afterwards, you'll get your grubby mitts on a machine gun and begin to level the odds against the Strogg. The machine gun has a mounted flashlight, letting the player leave the duct tape at home, as he can now both see what he's shooting at in the darker areas and, well, shoot at it.
Your other bread-and-butter weapons consist of the shotgun, which needs no introduction, a nailgun, and powerful additions such as the hyperblaster and the dark matter gun. As you progress through the game, soldiers you encounter will upgrade your weaponry and make them a little more killing-friendly, as if a shotgun needed much more in the way of firepower. Need just a little more stopping power? Take the seat of a hovertank or one of the other vehicles for a sequence to satiate your need to blow things apart.
In its multiplayer mode, though, Quake 4 definitely leaves a good amount to be desired. It's not that it's necessarily bad per se, but rather that it's really not much different at all from Quake 3, which was released the gaming equivalent of eons ago. It's still the same reload-less frag-fest that was offered in the previous title, only with a facelift and a few new maps. Granted, it could hardly be easier to jump into a server and immediately engage in a frantic gunfight with up to 16 players, but it also has the overall feel that it is just too similar and familiar to really keep someone's attention for too long. Still, you really don't buy Quake 4 for the multiplayer aspect, you buy it for the stellar single-player offering, and it is in that area that the title shines ….
… well, that and in the graphics department. Quake 4 retains the same eye candy factor that graced Doom 3, but is different enough in its design and stylization to really set the two titles apart. Both games do take place in various complexes on a distant planet, but where the latter specialized in more earthen or gray hues, Quake 4 runs the full gamut of colors, creating a more vibrant array of areas in which to get in all sorts of mayhem. The enemies themselves are a combination of some of the same foes you faced in Quake 2, only with obviously increased detail but also a few new additions to the roster of "things that need to be killed dead." It's hard to say at what point exactly, but it's essentially guaranteed that at some point during anyone's Quake 4 play session, he will be helpless but to look at the enemies, environment, weapon models, and special effects and really reflect on how far and how gorgeous game graphics have become.
Aurally, Quake 4 doesn't have quite the same hard-hitting punch but easily holds its own. As a whole, the cast's voice acting is not only bearable but believable, in the same way that your machine gun sounds like it's coming from an implement of warfare rather than a toy from a dimestore catalog. When the ambient music, radio chatter, gunfire, and screams and shrieks of combat all combine, anyone with a half-decent sound setup will likely be totally immersed in the experience.
Basically, Quake 4 took the ball that Doom 3 started carrying and runs with it in a different direction, one that, for the most part, vastly outshines the original bearer of the engine. The single-player experience is just that, and between the visceral video and the well-crafted audio, the player will pretty much have to try to not get immersed in the experience. Meanwhile, while the multiplayer offering is a thankful effort, it really doesn't pack much of a value in itself. Anyone familiar with arena-based FPS titles of the last five years will likely find very little ground broken here and similarly very little reason to pick up the title based on the multiplayer merits alone. With the stellar single-player game though, one can only imagine that most gamers will easily find their money well spent with Quake 4, as it's honestly one of the better FPS titles to hit the market in recent memory.
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