Review: Quake 4
Console: Xbox 360
Developer: Raven Software, id
Value: $4.99 (360) $4.44 (PC) $10.19 (Mac) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $5.99 starting (ebay) $4.99 (GameStop used) $19.99 (GS Digital)
Also Available On: PC (recommended), Mac
Watch For: Copies on PC that have the bonus DVD of content and copies on 360 that have a bonus DVD containing the same content as well as Quake 2.
The Quake series is quite an interesting one, especially when you consider its legacy and creation. Developer id, of the Wolfenstein and Doom series and bascially responsible for the first person shooter (FPS) genre, finally created a true 3D FPS with the original Quake. Unlike games before it, the engine didn’t ignore things like height and depth when calculating shots or movement, Quake understood the 3D plane. As the series progressed in Quake II marine Matthew Kane was introduced as a strong protagonist to help fight off the alien race known as the Strogg. I don’t want to discredit the plot completely, but there are striking similarities to the Quake series and Doom series in every way. Continuing that similar trend, Quake III was an arena-only shooter that took the online PC gaming community by storm whereas the plot-heavy game belonged to none other than the revamped demonic classic Doom 3. It is for this reason that Quake 4 marks an interesting place in the id universe given its continuation of Kane’s story from Quake II and drastic visual similarity to Doom 3.
For those not familiar, an alien race known as the Strogg have been attacking the human race for years and in Quake II Kane’s team, Rhino Squad, finally managed to kill their leader Makron. Quake 4 opens back with Kane as humans begin to invade, and attempt to irradicate, the Strogg home world Stroggos – one of many lazy naming conventions you’ll notice as you go. If you are used to modern day shooters, the Strogg army will pose little threat to you, especially if you’re aggressive. Back in 2005, however, the need to run, get in the enemy’s face and strafe the room was an interesting hybrid between FPS conventions of the past and future. After the introduction of regenerative health I always groan at classic health plus armor mechanics that I feel creates unnecessary backtracking and item hunting, but Quake 4 manages to keep it balanced. You won’t notice much diversity in the enemies, but standing still is dangerous in Quake 4 so it’s important to learn each enemy’s strategy and how to overcome.
A vast collection of weapons is at your disposal, each one having amusing twists on the basic armaments all FPS titles from the 90s seemed to boast, along with a few welcome additions like series staple the nail gun. The developers decided to dole out weapons slowly, building from the basic phaser pistol to the dark matter gun about 70 percent through, with ocassional upgrades to specific weapons that insure you use them sparingly. It’s not a detrement, you try a new weapon for a few enemies and then usually swap over to your weapon of choice – achievement addicts will need to complete a single level only using each weapon, which is difficult both from an ammo and a tactical standpoint. By the home stretch, you should have all weapons (and ideally many of them upgraded once or twice) at your disposal to take on heavy resistence.
I was pleased to see very linear level design. In Doom or Duke Nukem 3D you might find yourself stuck in a spot where you’re wondering around for hours trying to find that single door you walked past, but Quake 4 always has a set path you simply cannot get lost in. That doesn’t mean the areas are barren or endless corridors – admittedly you will frequently find yourself in a corridor – but open and sometimes multi-level rooms keep combat interesting. The only bad news is that these more inventive and open rooms don’t seem to appear until the final levels, but they were trying. Out of the total 31 levels of the game all ending with a traditional “Exit” sign, you’re going to feel a spur of repetition in the first 20. Cinematic events, plot points, vehicle combat and a boss battle or two help break up the monotony but observant gamers will notice that there’s not much fluxuation. Having said that, the traumatizing events your character will undergo is a decent twist on both the universe and overall plot detail of FPS titles.
All in all Quake 4‘s gameplay felt very “good enough” even when compared to today’s shooters. You almost wonder what was going on with Prey, an space alien zero gravity FPS romp by the same developer released at about the same time, because Quake 4 knows better than to do many of the things in that title. Perhaps the stronger team took the reigns with this one or the game was in development much longer, which delayed its release, but for a launch game Quake 4 is a much more solid title. That’s not to say it isn’t without its gripes, like the taxing rotation of weapons that doesn’t seem to respond anywhere near as fast as you need it to in a pinch. There were even times where the weapon wouldn’t rotate at all and I found myself shooting a rocket at an up close enemy or popping a pea shooter bullet into a massive baddy. Furthermore there are early implementations of what would be be known as the killbox and by the end of the game it really comes down to whether or not you know what’s coming for you. As a result, there’s a lot of “enter a room, die, retry, kill everything as it appears”, which can be frustrating in the home stretch where you keep hearing that you’re almost there. I also didn’t like the unkillable boss near the middle of the campaign, until you know better than to keep running he’s basically a reload nightmare.
Best With Friends
Like Quake III Arena before it, Quake 4 provides a frag-fest multiplayer experience that fans of the Unreal Tournament or Time Splitters series are sure to enjoy. Each level is designed to basically run and gun while trying to stay on top of the various pickups that keep respawning. Sure, there’s a big advantage to knowing the level and with me getting a six year late start on the game made it mostly a spawn/die scenario, I still had fun. The potential is there and after begging and pleading with enough of my friends, we played an online game with all of us virgins to the maps and it was as addicting as any Call of Duty. Mind you, it’s still a frag fest – which basically means quick and frantic kills, typically with high-powered weapons like a rocket launcher – so even the newest player can get some lucky kills racked up.
If you happen to get your hands on the PC side, there’s a massive mod community that can do everything from tournament modes to community maps and perks that include new weapons, as well as a Team Fortress mod that merges the Valve classic in a Quake-style world. It’s a much weaker community these days, but there are still the Quake faithful out there that know the next Quakecon is less than a year away.
Do I stutter?
If you get one version of this game, there are obvious reasons to pick up the PC version (performance, graphics, mods), but the Mac and Linux versions (a free patch is available via id or online and requires a copy of the game on PC/Mac to run) hold up well too.
Being a launch title for the 360 meant that this game was seen with very bittersweet impressions back then and most of them still exist now. You’ll immediately notice that the production values are impressive, graphics and sound are still rock solid by today’s standards. We’ve come a long way with new engines, including the popular Unreal 3 engine, but Quake 4 running the id Tech 4 engine looks great for one of the first 360 titles. The setback, however, is that the game can stutter way too often, dropping the framerate to nearly nothing and having hiccups during the most intense encounters. It really reminded me of playing a game on the SNES, suddenly everything starts to slow down and your immersion immediately disappears. While this would never happen today – even the most common gamer is aware of frame rate to the point that it can be a bulletpoint on the box – the 360 was brand new and no one thought Quake 4 would even run looking that good. In addition the load times are god awful. No, really, like the same or worse than Duke Nukem Forever bad. If you hate long load times after frequent deaths, you’ll end up shattering controllers or furniture while you watch that all-too-familiar green Quake logo on your screen. It took me about 10 hours to beat this game, which probably would have been about six had I gotten decent load times. This will be the toughest barrier for entry to any contemporary player trying to re-live launch glory on the 360.
There are two types of FPS players these days: campaign players and online players. The former is a dying breed, Call of Duty converting a gamer or three every second and the expectation is for highly competitive online gaming where an unplayed 5-hour campaign is an afterthought. For gamers like this, you’re just too late to the party to really gain much out of Quake 4 no matter how determined you are. As for the campaign player, I feel that Quake 2 and 4 have an interesting interwoven plot that so far puts the Doom series to shame. If you can manage to get both titles and play them back to back – especially if you’ve been fortunate enough to find a copy at a GameStop with the bonus disc – it’s an interesting journey that unfortunately didn’t get much closure out of Quake Territory and I doubt we’ll see a fifth installment. I’d even go so far as to say that if you can stomach the load times – I did – this is even worth a go on 360 at $5, but barely.