Quake 4 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Doc_Brown   
Tuesday, 07 August 2007 18:00

Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: Activision
ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language)
PEGI 18+ (Game contains depictions of violence, bad language)

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A Drop of Time
Quake 4 is undoubtedly the spawn of Doom 3; the games have much in common. It’s just that Quake 4 does everything so much better than its progenitor. For instance, both feature zombies (in a manner of speaking), but all things considered Quake 4’s come across as more frightening. Both also have disappearing corpses, but whereas Doom 3’s just look cool (my reconstitution theory not withstanding), Quake 4’s seem to serve an actual purpose. You wouldn’t think that Raven Software could beat id Software at their own game, but that’s just what’s happened.


Enemy Mine
The fearsome alien race known as the Strogg launches a devastating assault on Earth. After driving them offworld, mankind stages a retaliatory counterstrike on Stroggos, the Strogg homeworld, peppering the surface with marine-filled drop pods. One of these marines manages to assassinate the Strogg leader, the Makron, as well as bring down their planetary defense systems. This opens the way for a full-on invasion, which is where Quake 4 begins. Players control Corporal Matthew Kane, newly assigned to the legendary Rhino Squad.

Corporal Kane is a silent protagonist, and this is the first of a couple of narrative missteps the game makes. As I've said before, if the protagonist doesn’t speak, don’t show them in third person cutscenes—their silence is odd enough to be distracting, especially when other characters make no mention of it. The other major misstep is the use of that old cliché of the hero with a mysterious past who doesn’t meet the rest of the team until the very moment they’re sent into action. This leads, of course, to the expected “You’re [insert name]? The [insert name]?”

Though character setup is problematic, at least character development is well done. About a third of the way into the game, Cpl. Kane is captured by the Strogg and subjected to Stroggification. The Strogg themselves are (or have become) a cybernetic race that assimilates its enemies. The process is anything but pleasant, and the player is forced to watch it happen through Cpl. Kane’s own eyes. Let the squeamish be warned: if you find the concept of watching someone get their legs cut off with a rusty buzzsaw unsettling, maybe this isn’t the game for you.


Murder Machine
Even prior to Stroggification, Quake 4 does a few things to make it stand out. There is an actual upgrade system in place for your weapons, and the changes aren’t always what you’d expect. The shotgun, for instance, is modified to accept clips rather than individual shells, drastically reducing reload time, while the nailgun acquires homing ammo to shoot around cover. Though the absence of any sort of melee weapon or attack is a mistake, developer Raven does not repeat Doom 3’s glaring error with the flashlight, instead incorporating one right into a few of the guns.

Being turned into a Strogg mixes things up as well. While not having a huge effect on gameplay, Stroggification leads to some noticeable changes. You move faster, and your health and armor capacity is increased. You can also understand the Strogg language (your heads-up display even changes to Strogg styling), are able to use health stations (consoles with large hearts attached to them), and can go places no normal human could. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to any undercover missions—the Strogg know you’re an enemy regardless of the way you look.

Design-wise the Strogg are mostly superior to their Quake II counterparts, but only a few of them really stand out aesthetically. They’re also pretty smart. Some know how to use cover effectively, and will even employ suppressing fire to keep you pinned. While their AI won’t leave you gobsmacked, it’s still better than your average first-person shooter. The boss fights are fun yet strangely less challenging than some of the “arenas”—encounters with several sub-boss characters all at once. The last arena, in fact, is actually harder than the final boss.


I Heart Stroggos
In terms of gameplay, Quake 4 manages to succeed where Doom 3 failed. For starters, while you may play the role of the lone wolf from time to time, much of the game is spent in the company of your fellow soldiers. This is a war, not a covert op, so you’ll often find yourself fighting alongside other marines. They’re quite capable of holding their own, and some can even restore your health and armor (medics and technicians, respectively). The radio is commonly filled with chatter, oftentimes relating to events you have nothing to do with, further emphasizing the scale of the conflict.

The level variety also helps keep things moving. You’ll get to visit your squad’s ship a few times, man the guns during a couple of rail shooter segments, and even pilot a hovertank and mechanized walker. There are also a couple of “tram rides”—the aforementioned Stroggification process and later a short but wild ride in a drop pod. In addition to the standard hi-tech yet grungy installations, Cpl. Kane will traverse several facilities showcasing aspects of Strogg society, such as a treatment plant where organic matter is broken down into stroyent, the aliens’ ubiquitous liquid sustenance.

Despite certain similarities in these regards, Quake 4 is far superior to Doom 3 in terms of level design. Doom 3, for instance, also has levels featuring giant organs and flesh, but they serve no real purpose. In Quake 4, however, every beating heart and pulsing vein serves a function, and is all the more horrifying for it. Even the basic architecture works better here. Though I never realized it before, such places don’t feel like something a human would create, but it’s perfect for the Strogg. And best of all, despite a higher map count, Quake 4 doesn’t suffer its predecessor’s problem with repetitiveness.


Quake 4 is in many ways the game I was hoping Doom 3 would be. It’s not without its flaws, but it is far better than I had reason to expect. So much so, in fact, that I have a special request for id Software: let Raven Software make the next Doom game. Let’s face it—your talent these days is in technology, not design, and the franchise could stand to use some favorable press after its last outing and expansion. If Quake 4 is any indication, they’re the right team for the job, and the prospect of a Raven-developed Doom 4: Hell on Earth is tantalizing…


Game Rated 8/10



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