Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: October 11, 2005
One of the big releases for the 2005 holiday season will surely be Quake 4. Although no definite release date is set, Quake 4 is coming for the PC and Xbox 360, but we can't be sure if it is going to be in time for the launch of the new Xbox console. Quake 4 picks up the story just moments after the conclusion of the story in Quake II. If you don't know the story behind the preceding titles in this series, we'll give you a highly abbreviated history.
Earth is embroiled in interplanetary war with the Strogg, a race of cyborgs who came here to collect human body parts in order to grow and sustain their civilization, one freaky modification at a time. We took the war to the Strogg and attacked their planet with every ounce of force we could muster, but they had a nearly impenetrable defense, leaving mankind almost without hope of victory. In the end, one unstoppable marine managed to destroy the planetary defenses and kill the Strogg leader, allowing the human attack to begin.
Building off the storyline of Quake II, Quake 4 also integrates the multiplayer elements of Quake III Arena, promising both a great storyline for single-player experience and the environments to sustain hundreds of hours of killing sprees for you and your closest friends. This includes the most common deathmatch styles like melee and capture the flag, which we will get to later in this preview.
Quake 4 begins with a crash-landing into an alien stronghold on the planet of Stroggos, as Rhino Squad's transport is hit by Strogg defensive weapons. You play Matthew Kane, a newer member of the elite squad, with a life expectancy measured in hours, not years. At first, you fade in and out of consciousness as you lie in the burning heap that was your transport. You watch men die and hear Strogg in every direction around you. Finally, you regain full consciousness and shake off the haze of your injuries to realize that the surviving members of your team have fought their way into the compound to gain cover and take the battle to the disgusting freak cyborgs on their own turf. With some subtle in-game tutoring, you quickly learn how the controls work, and that a human medic is your best friend when you need health.
Built with the Doom 3 engine, Quake 4 boasts a vivid environment with the speed, smoothness and excitement that fans of Id and Raven titles have grown to expect over time. The hands-on preview allowed us to play four single-player levels and get dirty with some deathmatch scenarios to see how Raven was doing on creating the world of Quake 4, and from what was shown, they have the potential to meet expectations. The game keeps traditional Id Software game features, demonstrated by the explosive barrels of toxic waste randomly spread throughout the game, but also makes a small departure from development of their other titles by building the single-player adventure to be almost completely separate from the multiplayer experience. In the context of Quake, this does make sense, letting Quake 4 act as a sequel to both Quake II and Quake III Arena, continuing the gameplay of both titles.
As for the single-player story, Quake 4 sets the stage with the Strogg regrouping after a lucky human Marine managed to both destroy their prime defensive weapon and kill their leader. Rhino squad comes to realize that they missed their drop-point, and wound up deep in the heart of the Strogg military establishment. Your character, Kane will end up going on several missions to destroy the Strogg's mighty force from the inside. If you can reach the Nexus, there might be hope for humankind. The Nexus acts as the mind of the collective, controlling the Strogg beasts. If you can disconnect that brain from the bodies, the Strogg would be unable to communicate, bringing chaos to their existence and making them highly vulnerable to human attack. Disconnecting the Nexus should guarantee human victory, so Kane effectively holds the fate of humanity in his hands.
Along the way, you will receive assistance from Kane's squad members, as they back you up or give you directives for side missions throughout the game. This isn't the only gameplay variance, however. Quake 4 incorporates some heavy machinery into the story, with a hover tank and a mechsuit called a "walker" to break things up a bit. The odd part of these equipment options is that they handle the opposite of what you would expect. The hover tank is nimble, responsive and quick, even if it does launch a massive amount of firepower at its enemies. The walker is slower, responding as if it had 20 tons of extra steel strapped to each leg. At this time, both appear to have unlimited ammo in both machine gun cartridges and rockets, which is good because you'll need it. Some of the more common enemies range from the Strogg themselves to machine-gun sentinels to airborne fighters hell-bent on your destruction.
As the story progresses, the situation starts becoming more desperate as the Strogg continue to hold their positions, resisting human attacks. Rhino Squad is sent on increasingly desperate missions, reducing Kane's life expectancy to mere minutes instead of the hours he had before. Eventually, Kane is caught by the Strogg, and they begin to turn him into a cyborg too, but he is rescued before the process is complete, leaving him human with some freakish modifications. These changes increase his abilities, and might just be enough to turn the tide against the Strogg in the long run. We didn't get a chance to see any of this "Stroggification" or any of the later levels in the game, so we aren't really sure how these abilities work or feel, but we were assured that they enhanced gameplay and did nothing to detract from the Quake experience.
The single-player levels also have some great game flexibility. While much of the indoor levels we played were rather rigidly guided, there were some very cool sections where the field broadened in a complex environment to allow a variety of combat strategies to accomplish the job. This helps alleviate the feeling that you are being led through the level and brings some added excitement to the game.
Multiplayer games involve one of three types, deathmatch, team deathmatch, or capture the flag. The pace is furious but not chaotic. Weapons are spread throughout the levels, complete with their standard spinning icon waiting for you to grasp it. The levels we saw were of a medium size, and although they had a fair amount of complexity in the map, no part seemed too segmented.
The weapons of Quake 4 are all familiar. There have been some adjustments to the attributes of the weapons, and the icons representing many of them have gotten a facelift, but the essence of the weaponry in this first-person shooter feels consistent with preceding Quake titles. So, with no surprises here, Quake 4 should be a game that will feel essentially like prior offerings, only better.
The Xbox 360 version of Quake 4 will fundamentally be the same as the PC version, and if the portions of the game we were able to see on both platforms is any indication, the game's vivid environment has made excellent use of the Doom 3 engine. The Xbox 360 build could stand side by side with the PC, and there was less noticeable difference between the two than we expected.
All in all, Quake 4 has some great variations and improvements combined with the old-shoe comfort of a sequel. With the campaign and multiplayer modes combined into one title, Quake 4 should provide quite a complete FPS game experience when it is released late this year. What we've seen suggests that Quake 4 should be an excellent overall experience on the new Xbox, or on the good ol' PC, but the truth will be told when the game hits the streets.