Reviewed: October 22, 2005
Released: October 18, 2005
How do you go about creating one of the most anticipated sequels in the history of gaming? Well, if you are id Software and the game is QUAKE 4 the responsibility to the gaming community is unfathomable. But what better concept that to base the single-player, story part of your game off of QUAKE II and the multiplayer game off of what is arguably one of the best multiplayer games (or at least engines) ever made, QUAKE III. Then to seal the deal you get Raven Software, a company that was literally built on the foundation of id’s previous engines and the masters of level design and storytelling.
For those who don’t remember what happened back on that alien planet back in 1997, or even worse, never played QUAKE II, I strongly recommend that you pick up the Special DVD Edition of QUAKE 4 which not only contains all sorts of interesting behind-the-scenes info, interviews, and photos, but also gives you a chance to relive the past with complete versions of QUAKE II PC, QUAKE II: Reckoning PC (Expansion Pack), and QUAKE II: Ground Zero PC (Expansion Pack) .
At the end of QUAKE II you succeeded in destroying the aliens’ planetary defense system. This heroic feat is briefly mentioned in the opening movie as you join Matthew Kane, a member of the elite Rhino Squad, which is leading the next wave of Earth’s invasion of Stroggos.
But just because “The Big Gun” is destroyed, doesn’t give you free run over the planet. It merely enables you to land on it, or rather crash-land. What follows is a blazing battle of man versus alien in some of the most fiendishly clever and downright stunning levels ever seen in a first-person shooter.
For those of you expecting the next big evolution in the FPS genre, this probably isn’t going to fulfill any fantasies. Id Software pioneered this genre way back with Wolfenstein 3D,, and while they have continually tweaked the technology the core gameplay is relatively unchanged from Doom 3. In fact, QUAKE 4 is built on a heavily modified and upgraded Doom 3 engine.
This is instantly apparent in the stunning game-engine movies with character models and features that are accented with some of the best textures you’re likely to see on the PC. QUAKE 4 is certainly more colorful and much more well-lit than your nightmare on Mars, and when the lights go out you can now switch on a flashlight that can be mounted to certain weapons. While I’m thankful that they included the flashlight, I’m not too happy about the weapons restriction for its use. But hitting the “F” is always a nice shortcut to the machine gun.
Once the gameplay kicks in you will feel right at home with traditional first-person shooter controls. You have a powerful arsenal of futuristic weapons at your disposal including a few standards like the pistol, and machine gun, and when it’s time to get serious you can even launch your own black hole and suck in a complete room full of enemies with the Gravity Gun. Just don’t get dragged in yourself.
The missions are much more immersive now with many of them making you part of a team. You can interact with these other soldiers in limited fashion, but most of their behavior is heavily scripted. There are medics who can heal you and engineers who can repair your armor and provide very useful weapon upgrades in the field, adding zoom modes or faster or more powerful fire features.
Despite the illusion of a squad-based game, you’ll ultimately play a large chunk of the middle of QUAKE 4 alone, and there are only a few missions that even require you to keep your escorts alive, so if the rest of the team dies it’s no big deal. Still, the feeling of camaraderie, working as a team, and the comfort of having somebody watching your back is refreshing for as long as it lasts.
By now you have likely heard that somewhere during the course of the game you will get captured and turned into a Strogg. As terrible as it might sound (and as horrible as it looks in the gruesome cutscene) this is really the only way you can infiltrate deep enough to destroy the Strogg once and for all. I really enjoyed the story dynamic and the way the rest of the Marines treated you once you were Strogg. Some were sympathetic, some intrigued (“how much RAM do you think he has?”), while others were suspicious and even a bit mean (“how many good Marines had to die to make you?”
QUAKE 4 also introduces vehicles, some of which you get to drive and others merely go along for the ride. Early on you will be manning a turret on the back of a hover truck convoy, and much later on you will man a similar turret on the back of a suspended monorail tram system shooting down incoming fliers and other trams on parallel rails.
There is a hover-tank you actually get to drive around, and even though it floats it was surprisingly slow and realistically cumbersome to control. It’s slow to get started and once you build up momentum you can’t change direction or spin around as quickly as you are used to while on foot. The handling of these tanks reminded me of another Activision game, Battlezone.
There is also a giant walker that you will get to take out for a single run across the alien landscape. This mobile armor doesn’t approach the scale of the mechs in a game like MechWarrior but you do get a nifty HUD, and a lumbering gait as you stomp around the levels unleashing missiles and cannon fire. The trick here is that you cannot reload your missiles until all six have been fired, so you have to marry the machine gun and the dumb-fire missiles in a strategic pattern so you don’t get caught without weapons at the wrong time.
Even though the gameplay gets repetitive at times the engaging mission design, continual com-link chatter (whether it be human or the occasional hive-mind Strogg), and superior level designs will compel you to keep playing. I kept telling myself, “I’ll stop after this level” then I saw that level and just had to keep playing.
But most of all, QUAKE 4 is just downright fun to play. Sure it can get predictable at times like when you wind your way through a maze of empty rooms to hit that elusive switch, knowing full well that those rooms won’t be so empty on your hasty exit. But even then, Raven knows how to pull a few fast ones and turn predictability into suspense and surprise.
The pacing for QUAKE 4 is solid, especially for a FPS game. Gone are the PDA’s and video discs of Doom 3 and the creeping through dark corridors. Strogg are coming at you from every angle, levels are disintegrating around you and this game maintains a very intense and energetic atmosphere. While Doom 3 was emotionally draining, QUAKE 4 will physically exhaust you.
Oh hell yeah! QUAKE III is still regarded by some as one of the best FPS multiplayer games ever and the concepts from that game are firmly in place in QUAKE 4. There are 14 maps of various sizes and configurations with support for up to 16 players. Granted, not all levels are large enough to host 16 players in Deathmatch, as I quickly learned after getting fragged 3 seconds after spawning into the level…over and over again.
Multiplayer game modes include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Arena CTF (w/ power-ups), and Tournament Mode. It was amazing to play this game a few days before release where I could only play on Activision’s server then to go online the day after release and see hundreds of servers up and running. You will never have a shortage of teammates or opponents when you finally decide to go online with QUAKE 4.
The game does require broadband Internet or a LAN, but that bandwidth will grant you the same gorgeous graphics as the story mode, all with blistering framerates and nary a hiccup as long as you pick a server with a decent ping. This is solid multiplayer gaming at its finest.
It’s funny, QUAKE 4 is about 15-18 hours in length and I kid you not, you will spend at least a half-hour of that time riding elevators, hell, one lift takes you to the 1986 floor and another glass-tube lift takes you so high up the exterior of a tower that your partner comments, “Hey, I can see my house from here”.
While riding these frequent lifts might seem boring at first I quickly realize they served two functions. First, it gives you time to breath and relax that grip on your mouse, but second and perhaps more importantly, it gives you a chance to sit back in awe and wonder as you admire the exquisite level design, both indoors and out.
The distant landscape is a simple painted background, but I swear it looks like the work of H.R. Giger, with alien-like (the movie “Alien”) structures and tall towers belching fire and smoke. It’s a subtle detail that you’ll only see when you are outside or gazing out the numerous windows in the final three towers of the game.
The cutscenes in the game are all rendered with game graphics and are far superior to any of those pre-rendered CG movies from the previous decade. Textures pop off the screen allowing you to appreciate the fabric of the general’s sweater or his camo-pants. And just wait until you see the marine body armor, complete with metallic sheen and realistic battle damage.
Faces are amazing and no two guys look alike in this game. They all have reasonably good lip-synch and their eyes blink and move. Some veterans even have realistic facial scarring. Everyone in the game is always active, even if it’s just lounging around the mess hall on the Hannibal swapping stories or watching the news on the flat panel displays.
Speaking of displays, QUAKE 4 has some of the best control surfaces and monitors in any game EVER. Screens so small you cannot read them without using your rifle scope will reveal scrolling data when you zoom in, and Strogg panels all feature a decipherable alien language that can be fun to study. There was one control room late in the game where you had to open the hangar doors for your team, and if you turned around quick enough you could catch a glimpse of a big boss on the screen behind you…but just for a second.
Lighting in this game is beyond words. The game is dark, but not nearly as dark as Doom 3, and the Strogg have a real streak of genius when it comes to creative lighting. There is so much colorful and animated lighting that plays off of each other that I’m sure these aliens have massive dance parties when they aren’t defending their planet from those pesky humans. Transparent cables carrying glowing liquid will pulse and light your path and giant power nodes will hum and arc electricity.
I took nearly 300 screenshots for this review, only 80 of which made the final cut, but even the 220 I didn’t use were all worthy of becoming your wallpaper. The simple fact is that each new room brings something new and each new level is like stepping into a new game; it’s just that diverse and that creative. And if you think these screens look good, you should see them in all their animated glory…but you’ll have to play the game to do that.
Technically speaking, the game uses just about every trick in the Direct3D handbook and probably a few that id came up with on their own. QUAKE 4 is fully scalable and will work with a wide range of hardware configurations, but obviously the more power you have to throw at this game the more rewarding the experience. I was most appreciative of the 16:10 wide screen support; one of the few games to actually support my Sony W900 display.
The game played flawlessly on my AMD 64 4000+ system with a PX6800 GeForce card and a gig of RAM. I was running at 1600x1200 and the only hiccup in framerate was during the Tram Ride level where massive amounts of background images and 3D track data were scrolling by at insane speeds. The game would hiccup with nearly every explosion, but that entire sequence was less than two minutes and the rest of the game never sunk below 42fps.
QUAKE 4 supports the relatively new OpenAL audio standard so if you have an Audigy 2 and a surround sound speaker system you are going to wet yourself. I still find myself spinning the camera during conversations with NPC’s just to hear the voice travel around my room on my 7.1 surround system.
Of course that spatial goodness also allows you to hear those clumsy Strogg barging through metal corridors or the hum of an elevator or the hiss of a door opening. Then you have all of the subtle effects like footsteps on metal, the crackle of power conduits, or just the ambient hum of the Strogg complex. The game is very “alive”.
Lending to the intensity and realism of the experience is hours and hours of radio chatter, mission updates, and status reports from your team. And once you get turned into a Strogg hybrid you will be able to tap into the “hive mind” of the Nexus and hear bits and pieces of Strogg dialogue; not enough to really help you figure out what they are doing, but just enough to scare the crap out of you.
Music is intense but definitely takes a backseat to the rest of the audio package. It will cue up for big fights and special moments where extra dramatic flair is required but it will also, just as quickly, cut off, sometimes quite abruptly, leaving you to appreciate the orchestration of environmental sound effects.
As hinted at above, QUAKE 4 is about a 15 hour game, give or take three hours on either end depending on your skill and the difficulty level you choose. I finished the game in just under 14 hours and I confess to using the “god mode” for a few of the major final encounters; not because they were too hard mind you, but because I was already late with this review.
And once the solo game is finished you have the almost-mandatory multiplayer game modes and fabulous levels to explore. These levels are so good you will wish they had included a QUAKE III-style tournament ladder and AI bots. And as is standard with all QUAKE games, we can be sure to expect future updates, new levels, and the obligatory expansion pack somewhere down the road.
QUAKE 4 is an addiction, a perfect sequel, both in story and gameplay, and a game you will want to explore over and over. I found myself constantly battling the urge to rush through the game for the sake of a timely review in favor of playing the game as a “gamer” and not a “reviewer”. Perhaps that is why my score is considerably higher than many other “review sites”.
But here at GCM we are gamers first and reviewers second, so when I tell you that this is a must-own game you had better believe it. If you have the hardware capable of running QUAKE 4 then you absolutely owe it to yourself to purchase a copy today and immerse yourself in what is one of the greatest achievements in FPS gaming in 2005.