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How to do things properly
Whenever I think of Doom 3, I think of disappointment. It was a first person perspective sci-fi horror game with a huge budget that turned out to be incredibly, utterly boring. The perfect antidote to that disappointment was Quake 4. It was frantic, exciting, had an actual storyline and memorable boss battles. It looked great, played great and didn't have fetch and carry quests ad nauseum every five minutes
Quake 4 takes the approach towards it's predecessor of pretending it never happened, much like Bobby Ewing's death in Dallas. It is therefore a sequel to Quake 2. Having successfully defended Earth against an invasion by the bio-mechanical Strogg, humanity has embarked on an invasion of the Strogg home world. They use starships, landing craft, marines. For some reason, they choose not to use WMCD's, Weapons of Mass Cultural Destruction - like TOWIE, Bieber and Simon Cowell. I guess the Geneva convention also applies in outer space.
Anyhow, Matthew Kane (the protagonist) joins Rhino squad as they are shot down during an attempted landing. Crawling into the middle of a warzone with just a pistol, you are soon encountering some fairly ooky enemies as you struggle to secure a beach head. To add insult to injury, their standard foot soldiers are humans that have been "Stroggified". Alien design is similar, yet different. Alien recharging stations replete with indecipherable hieroglyphics are seen on a regular basis, and will shortly end up being useful to you after one particularly horrible section that manages to be incredibly inventive.
Level design is generally good, with some very nice sequences and spot effects littered throughout. Your arsenal will grow as you progress, as will the quantity and type of the enemies that you encounter. The graphics were great at the time. They are still serviceable now. Enemy AI will depend on the type of enemy. I was impressed initially by the standard Strogg, and the way he'd jump sideways and often. Maddening, if you'd just unleashed a hail of lead where he no longer is.
You will quickly encounter your first melee enemy in close quarters, the grunt. Back peddling while firing is your only option in such tight surroundings. And this sets the tone as you get assaulted from the front, enemies spreading out to try and flank you. Some enemies are ranged, some are melee. But some are both. The bosses you encounter can be truly frightening in terms of what they do and simply how huge they can be.
Your handgun has unlimited ammo, but is as weak as a tin of carling. There are some fairly generic weapons that you get access to, such as a machine gun (more of an assault rife) to a rail gun sniper which can shoot through several enemies at once to a grenade launcher. But there are several really fun weapons on offer also, such as a fully automatic nail gun with a homing function, a lightning gun with which you can be frying tonite and the DMG. The Dark Matter Gun. Quake's answer to Doom's BFG. Ammo is rarer than unicorn babies, so only use on the most dire of foes. Weapons are all reasonably satisfying to use, including room shakers like the rocket launcher, the grenade launcher's bigger brother.
The plot keeps moving quickly enough that you don't feel bogged down. It's not all constant action. There are times when you can roam through your star ship, listening to squaddies talk and watching scientists experiment on living and dead Strogg. You do feel like part of the war effort. Your companions are just interesting enough that you care what happens to them (and things WILL happen to them) and the voice acting throughout is very good indeed. In a nice change of pace, you get to drive a hover tank through a number of sections.
If there is one major drawback to the game, it is with the sudden ending. It feels as if they either ran out of ideas, or had a go to market date that prohibited any further polishing. Either way, the ending is a let-down. The good news is that the journey is so much fun that I have played through the entire game about three times.
Released in 2006, the game is still widely available at a tenner or below. If there's one factor that should tell you that this is a game worth playing, that's it.
Sounds & Soundtrack: 8
Overall: 8.5 / 10
The Quake series of first person shooter games is an enigmatic one. The first instalment was a brown-hued deluge of weird castles full of twisted monsters and flying rockets, almost totally devoid of story. The second intalment changed the setting to an alien planet, casting you as a space marine (yawn) sent to kill off the ridiculously named Strogg army. The third was a multiplayer-only affair and was essentially a thinly-veiled Unreal Tournament ripoff. Quake 4, however, decided to be the game that should have been Quake 3, that is it's the direct sequel to Quake 2. Clearly numeracy isn't id software's strong point.
Anyway, the plot revolves around the continuing war on Stroggos, the home of the cybernetic, warlike aliens known as the Strogg. It's all a bit silly and underexplained (why are the humans fighting them in the first place? The planet looks pretty grim so shouldn't we just leave them alone?), but the opening scenes are visually impressive as you are dropped right in the middle of a landing party that has gone wrong. Crawling from the wreckage of your dropship, you immediately have to scramble to survive the onslaught of enemies and regroup with your team. Orders crackle through the radio on your headset, which gives you mission objectives and orders.
All of this smacks a bit of the current trend in first preson shooters to emulate COD as much as possible. The whole games is littered with interludes that pause to tell the story, which is either enriching or irritating depending on your tastes. For me, Quake was all about fast-paced action, blowing up enemies and navigating the dangerous mazes.
In true Quake fashion though the game gives you a ludicrously large arsenal to wield, ranging from the standard pistol and shotgun, to numerous automatic weapons and heavy-duty death tools such as the lightning cannon and black hole generator which is utterly silly and lots of fun at the same time, as it pulls enemies into it and turns them into piles of goo. In traditional ID games style you can of course carry all these items around, plus several hundred rounds of ammo for each weapon, without breaking a sweat. Quite where you store all these about your person I'm not sure - probably best not to ask.
Whereas Quake and its sequel were claustrophobic, Quake 4 features some nicely expansive areas for a change. Some of these are so large they need to be traversed by vehicle, which is clearly taken straight from Halo but at least here the level design doesn't slump to the tedium of Halo's. One cool section sees you escorting a convoy of trucks down a ravine, getting bombed from above by attack craft while simultaneously being pummelled by ground troops. It's a frantic section, but sadly is all too brief.
The enemies are familiar to those who have played Quake 2, with some new units thrown in for good measure. It's difficult to describe them in any real detail though, as they have hte same annoying trait as seen in Doom 3, in that as soon as you've dropped them, their carcasses fizzle away to nothing in a matter of seconds. Perhaps I'm just a bit too macabre for my own good, but I would like to inspect my enemies once I've put so much effort into despatching them. It also takes the edge of the atmosphere as well, as a battlefield that was only moments before heaving with enemies and flying lead becomes all too serene with nothing to suggest any kind of threat was ever present. This is easily modded out though, should you wish to examine the Strogg anatomy further.
The plot is pretty predictable to a point, with bog standard missions such as rescue other squads cut off, destroy key facilities etc. Things only take a turn for the interesting later on, when you are captured and modified by the Strogg as part of their production line that turns humans into cyborg drones. Fortunately, the process is halted before they remove your brain leaving you fully compus to exploit all the benefits of being part-Strogg. This leads to your being treated with suspicion by your comrades, but being seen as a vital asset by your commanding officers who send you on a daring raid to infiltrate the enemy defenses in your new guise. For me this was the most fun part of the game, as your weapons and skills are upgraded, allowing you to batter the opposition with relative ease.
There is something about Quake 4 that didn't sit quite right though, and it's hard to put my finger on it. Yes, the boss fights are typical arena fare, and the graphics were fairly pretty but of that modern generic type that almost every FPS is going for, but there was something else. I think it's because although the ingredients might be there, it doesn't feel like a Quake game. The interation with other soldiers, the pauses in the action for the 'story'... it plays OK, but I wouldn't call it Quake. It's not visceral either, although some of the sections are frenetic. It's more like Call of Duty meets Halo, and since Halo was always just Quake designed for 8 year olds, that may be why I didn't quite warm to it. Rumour has it that Quake 5 will be a sequel to the Lovecraftian weirdness that was Quake 1 - now that I would like to see. Battleaxes and NIN soundtracks at the ready...