Rating: 7/10. Sharp looking, old-school fun.
Platform: Microsoft Windows
Built by Raven on the id's Doom III engine, Quake 4 combines the best of both worlds. With Carmack at the lead, id delivers stunning technology, but stumbled when actually creating games. Raven's artist-centric focus means they can take a solid engine and make the most of it.
Quake 4 picks up where Quake II left off (ignoring the completely random Quake III: Arena). Humanity has invaded the Strogg homeworld. The Strogg are weird human-machine hybrids, an insane mix of the Borg from Star Trek and the Reavers from Firefly. The hero in Quake II successfully slew the leader of the Strogg and now it's down to the army to sweep up the remaining forces. You're one of those forces.
The core game play is similar to Quake II: you advance through mostly linear levels, killing almost everything that shows up. What's different is the details, and here the details are everything. The game does an excellent job of giving you the sense you're working in a war zone. Explosions from mortar fire are common. You'll see battles in the distance. For significant portions of the game you'll be working with a small squad. And your squad while not brilliant are actually useful. On more than one occasion I wasn't fast enough and my teammates advanced into a room and cleared it. Even better, you'll regularly be teamed with medics and technicians who can heal your wounds and patch your armor.
While the game play is very traditional, it's clean and free of the traditional flaws. Enemies don't randomly appear behind you. You're rewarded for reasonable caution and tactics. The enemies are generally stupid, but they're enough of a nuisance to be fun to kill. The few boss monsters are difficult, but unlike the classics of the genre (like Quake II), I managed to defeat them before I got frustrated from dozens of reloads and entered a cheat code.
Doom III suffered from being too dark. In a failed attempt at horror many rooms were pitch black or near pitch black. You had a flashlight, but you had to pick between a flashlight or a gun. Quake 4 forces no such strange trade off. First, most of the game is reasonably well lit. Pitch black or near black areas exist, but are rare. Second, your basic pistol and assault rifle have flashlights mounted on them. The wonders of the 20th century apparently survived into the future! Despite the easy access to the flashlight, the infrequency of the dark portions of the game keep it scary and nerve-racking.
The assault rifle deserves more words on its own. By default it's a fast, fully-automatic weapon with a large clip. It comes with the previously mentioned flashlight mounted underbarrel. It also comes with a telescopic scope, and when using the scope the gun enters a high speed semi-automatic mode perfect for medium to long rang fighting. Again, it's nice to see for once that in the future we'll have guns at least as good as what we're developing now. Compared to the assault rifle, many of the other weapons are a waste of time. The plasma rifle, an effective weapon in Quake III, is weak and hard to aim. The nail gun is similar. The rail gun is an effective sniper weapon, but too slow for general use, problematic in a game that is predominantly short to medium range. None of the weapons beyond the pistol and assault rifle provided flashlights. Technicians upgrade your weapons throughout the game, but never managed to upgrade a weapon of questionable value into a winner. The assault rifle is so good and the rest of the weapons so specialized or worthless that I spent most of the game using the assault rifle. I only using the other weapons for specialized work (tossing grenades around corners) or when I ran out of assault rifle ammunition.
Graphically the game looks great. There is lots of minor details. Apparently both humans and Strogg end up draping cables all over their ships and bases. The textures are nice. The Strogg are creepy mixed of humans and cyborg parts, with skin often pulled over the metal. My only complaint is that something about the colors give the entire game a cartoony feel. For all of Doom III's faults, it managed to convey a feeling of a real place. Quake 4 feels like an action comic. Fun, but not quite as satisfying given how effective the game is as making you feel like you're in a war zone.
At its core Quake 4 captures everything good about and old school first person shooter, removes most of the bad things, and adds a nice layer of pretty graphics on top. If you're looking for more modern designs featuring stealth or great AI, you're in the wrong place. But if you want some old-school fun, Quake 4 is a great game.
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