I recall Quake 2 as one of my all time favorite shooters. It was
fifteen hours of straight adrenaline, a trip through a cyborg infested
hell ripe for the fragging. Every weapon was suitably badass and
perfectly balanced against the whole set of guns, and felt solid and
satisfying every time you pulled the trigger. The enemies just about
lined up to the get the snot smacked out of them, but if you liked, the
game could be brutally hard. The multiplayer aspect only made the whole
package more incredible; the online community was transformed overnight
by the fast-paced gib-fests of the late 90’s. Hardcore and noobs alike
crowded the masterfully designed levels eager to splatter each other.
Thus, it was with great enthusiasm that I awaited Quake 4, the true sequel to Quake 2. Whereas the series took a multiplayer-only direction with Quake 3 Arena, Quake 4 would finally continue the story of humanity’s battle with the merciless Strogg.
And so I begin this review. Honestly, I have a lot of mixed feelings about Quake 4. What it is, and what it could’ve been.
Right off the bat, the thing that grabbed my attention was how
incredibly beautiful this game is. Beautiful, of course, in an H.R.
Giger’s nightmare kind of beautiful. The grotesque, oppressive home
world of the Strogg is a full step and a half more gorgeous than Doom 3, and that’s saying something. The reason lies in that Quake 4 has so much more visual variety than last year’s groundbreaking Doom remake. Outdoor environments are the biggest difference; Quake 4
isn’t a continual maze of corridors interspersed with a few large
reactor rooms. The locales have some honest-to-god variation.
As you progress through the stages of the game, you’ll encounter a
bio-processing facility, a power plant, a fetid sewer, and a gruesome
“hospital” (more on that later). The amount of effort that went into
the textures and modeling is truly amazing. If nothing else, Quake 4 is a work of art. From this masterpiece, though, rise a couple prominent problems. Quake 4 looks almost nothing like its predecessor. The grungy, filthy look and feel of Quake 2 are definitely present, but the actual art style of the game is nowhere to be seen.
Weapons, enemies, even the armor of the marines all look completely different. Chronologically, Quake 4 takes place mere weeks after the events of Quake 2.
So, in that span of a couple weeks, the Strogg and Space marines have
apparently upgraded and restyled all of their equipment. About the only
thing I recognized was the Strogg emblem pasted on walls and floors
throughout the environment. I understand there is such a thing as
updating a franchise. Metroid did this admirably with the 3D,
first-person Prime games. Still, there must be enough of the past game
elements to stir a sense of continuity and nostalgia within the player.
I had no such feeling while playing Quake 4. To me, it felt like a much
prettier Doom 3 that tried desperately to look like Quake.
My only other issue with the visuals is a sequence about
halfway through the game. It was known months before the game’s release
that your character, Corp. Matthew Cain, would be captured and turned
into a Strogg. The concept sounds intriguing at the outset, but the
execution is less than stellar. The actual scene is rather disturbing.
Immobilized, you are forced to witness the mutilation of Cain through
his eyes. What’s worse, there’s another hapless marine on the conveyor
belt in front of you, so you see first hand what’s going to happen to
you, a few seconds before it does.Now I’m not the squeamish type. I like gory games with mature themes,
but this scene was just over the top. To put it simply, there aren’t a
lot of games that make me lose my appetite for pizza. And after the
fact, the whole “assimilation” process doesn’t feel worth the pain that
Corp. Cain is subjected to. Cain has a slightly increased capacity for
armor and health, he can access Strogg health stations, and interface
with a few previously restricted computers. The transformation plays a
large part in the story, but only in the sense that Cain can now
infiltrate areas that other marines can’t. He’s the obligatory
“savior,” but scorned by some fellow troops because of his appearance.
I would’ve liked some superhuman abilities, or at least a cool gun
built into one of my arms.
Sadly, it’s only at moments like these that Quake 4 really
becomes graphically revolutionary. Only when it gets incredibly gory
and bizarre does it really stand out from the likes of Soldier of
Fortune and Postal. The bad guys are all suitably unnerving to look at,
and a few of the boss fights go for the gross-out factor—at one point
you kill a boss by overfeeding it and rupturing its stomach. Still,
it’s all for shock value, and artistic as it is, it doesn’t feel very
much like a sequel to Quake 2.
Unfortunately, another incongruity comes in the form of
gameplay. First of all, I don’t have any problems with the way Quake 4
plays. It is a very solid, satisfying first person experience. It has
little to no flaws in how it moves, flows and transitions from one
story arc to the next. It just doesn’t do anything new. It’s the same
shooter you’ve been playing for eight years, just very, very
The weapons are well balanced, but to even them out, a few
have been toned down. The nailgun is a shadow of its Quake 1
grandpappy. The Railgun, formerly a one-hit-kill badboy, has been
significantly weakened. The Dark Matter Launcher is hardly a worthy
replacement for the BFG 5,000, and the double shotgun is totally
absent. I could forgive the tweaking and neutering of the arsenal, but
the exclusion of my favorite double shotty of all time is unacceptable.
The power disparity between the various guns isn’t as garish in
multiplayer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Another much-hyped feature was the ability to pilot tanks
and walkers. I was really looking forward to these bruisers, but in
reality the vehicle sequences would’ve been better served as rail
levels. You pilot each vehicle only once, and the stages themselves are
so linear that the free-roaming ability of the walker and tank is
almost unused. You can stop, strafe, turn and aim, but I’ve seen it all
before. It’s all much bigger than anything I’ve played previously—the
battles with the giant spider mechs were jaw-dropping. Squishing tiny
Strogg soldiers was also mildly amusing. I just can’t help but feel
that GoldenEye’s tank levels did it better, and in 1997 no less. Again
it’s a case of been there done that, just with vastly superior
One significant improvement is the addition of team-based
combat. In several levels you’ll be accompanied by other marines, who
possess impressive AI and contribute their fair share of firepower.
Each marine has a distinct personality and sometimes ethnic background
(the arrogant-yet-bumbling technician Strauss is especially
entertaining). The troops’ personalities factor into how they fight as
well; some will hold back and let you take point, while others will
charge in blindly, guns blazing. In addition, medics and techs can
replenish health and armor. Keeping them alive is sometimes your best
chance for survival, but at other times the bottomless supply of health
gets a little cheap. In short, the teammates make Quake 4 feel more
like a war than its predecessors, and the one element that makes it
really stand apart from Doom 3.The gameplay is on the cliché side, but the audio presentation is a surprising change of pace. Quake 1 and 2 featured heavy rock and roll, guitar riffs and driving beats. Quake 4
takes a more traditional approach, with a partially symphonic
soundtrack. The orchestral pieces lend an epic characteristic that
mixes well with the massive environments and overall war/conflict
theme. Each piece is significant of the whole, and sets the right mood
for each individual level. You have hectic, oppressive music for the
trenches, creepy tracks during the stealthy exploration segments, and
forceful, percussive arrangements to accompany the barreling vehicles.
The sound effects are noteworthy for their originality.
Weapons sound heavier and more powerful than Doom 3’s arsenal, which
came off as tinny and underpowered. Enemies make a good variety of
screams and grunts, but nothing unique or exceptional. The effects are
actually part of what makes Quake 4 so dissimilar from Quake 2; it sounds as different as it looks.
After a thorough play of Quake 4,
it’s clear that the attention to the solo campaign was slightly
stronger than that paid to the multiplayer. Id and Raven hoped Quake 4
would bring the Quaking community back together, and it has, but for
how long is anybody’s guess. The unwelcome tinkering the guns received
didn’t work well in the single player, but it definitely makes the
multiplayer more enjoyable than Doom 3’s. No longer do matches
dissolve into “the guy who gets the rocket launcher first wins.” You
can theoretically become proficient with any of the guns, so the
berserkers will develop skill with the automatics and the snipers will
flock to the railgun.
That said, the magic of Quake multiplayer doesn’t
feel as strong this time around. Arenas are well made for lots of
players, some of the new weapons are novel to fight with, but there is
a lack of variety. Character customization is disappointingly sparse,
and you can’t use the vehicles from the solo game.
I really wanted to love Quake 4. There was so much
potential, and a good bit of it has been realized. This game simply
oozes production value, from the haunting environments to the majestic
score to the tightly polished gameplay. This dog just isn’t doing any
new tricks. The end result is a sequel that only mentions its
predecessor in passing; on a whole, Quake 4 feels like Doom 3
in Quake’s clothing. Yes, it shares the same engine, but the
presentation and gameplay have seen so little updating, we’re
ultimately left with old school shooting at its best. This will appeal
to the hardcore, but long time Quake fans looking for a revolution of
their favorite franchise will be let down. Quake 4 does its job very well, and nothing more.
Quake 4 is probably the best example of an old-school shooter. It does all of the old tricks just right and adds a bit of spice for good measure, but gamers looking for a fresh experience will be left a little cold. Some of the gore is excessive and the multiplayer is lacking in a few minor areas, but on the whole Quake 4 is memorable.
Rating: 8.4 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean Colleli has been gaming off and on since he was about two, although there have been considerable gaps in the time since. He cut his gaming teeth on the “one stick, one button” pad of the Atari 800, taking it to the pirates in Star Raiders before space shooter games were cool. Sean’s Doom addiction came around the same time as fourth grade, but scared him too much to become a serious player until at least sixth grade. It was then that GoldenEye 007 and the N64 swept him off his feet, and he’s been hardcore ever since.
Currently Sean enjoys a good shooter, but is far more interested in solid adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda or the beautiful Prince of Persia trilogy, and he holds the Metroid series as a personal favorite. Sean prefers deep, profound characters like Deus Ex’s JC Denton, or ones that break clichés like Samus Aran, over one dimensional heroes such as the vacuous Master Chief. Sean will game on any platform but he has a fondness for Nintendo, Sega and their franchises. He has also become a portable buff in recent years. Sean’s other hobbies include classic science fiction such as Asimov and P.K. Dick, and Sean regularly writes down his own fiction and aimless ramblings. He practices Aikido and has a BA in English from the Ohio State University. He is in his mid twenties. View Profile