The Plot and Play
Apparently when so many of us killed the Strogg’s Makron back in 1997 it only served to make them angrier. So now as Corporal Matthew Kane you stand on a dropship ready to land and finish off the planet’s war-crazed race – and you going down sooner than you expected. Missiles suddenly slip the planet’s atmosphere and have your lander crashing to the surface.
Next you find yourself fading in and out of consciousness in the midst of a large scale battle with laser fire and huge robots causing chaos all around you. It is a subtle statement by the designers that, though they may be using the Doom 3 engine, all will not be the dimly lit corridors and angry demons of the UAC base. No longer a lone marine fighting through a claustrophobic research station, you now feel a little more like a Tom Hanks making your way up a crowded Normandy beach. Of course you’re firing a laser pistol rather than an M1A1 Thompson, and attacking bio-mechanoid aliens rather than the German army, yet the sense of being part of a larger conflict is the same.
And at the mention of bio-mechanoid aliens it is important to mention the folks at Raven Software. id invited them to do much of the development of Quake 4 and it really shows in terms of the level design, art, and pacing. You may remember that Raven Software was the team behind games Soldier of Fortune, Star Trek: Elite Force, and Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Even from just the four single player missions I played, it was easy to distinguish their ability to craft a level and story from that of the tech-focused guys who programmed Doom 3. Events in the game and the placement of enemies did a much better job of pulling me through levels as an interested participant rather than someone on a simple scavenger hunt for randomly-appearing hellspawn.
But like Doom 3’s zombies and demons, most of your Strogg opponents (who call to mind ST: Elite Force’s Borg) primarily rely on rudimentary attacks and little if any defense. When I encountered any of the angry brutes you see in the in the screenshots, they rarely made any use of cover or appeared to coordinate their attacks. Hopefully the enemy AI is one of the few things they have left to tweak before the game is sent off for mass production.
Fortunately, your squadmates’ AI seems to be a little sharper. At one point I had to escort a medic to a wounded soldier of Badger squad. Though he whined like the pacifist Lifeline from the old G.I. Joe cartoons (“So many lives wasted…!?), thankfully he was able to kick ass like Duke.
In the second two single player missions I played the focus was on the series’ new use of vehicles. In this case a hovertank and mech-like walker. The two levels did a good job of showing off the huge outdoor environments the engine is now capable of. Both had me squared off against very maneuverable VTOL’s and Strogg foot soldiers, among other things. The sense of scale the larger environments helped to create made the alien infantry feel like a mere nuisance as you traveled the distances needed to close with the more threatening attack ships. The handling of the walker and hovertank also helped to suck you in. Performing much like HALO 2’s Ghost, the hovertank was capable of significant speed, but had the maneuverability of a drunk in an ice rink. As to the walker, its missiles and guns carried more punch but made me wonder if I shouldn’t get out and push when it came to crossing the sprawling deserts of Stroggos.
At the end of the four levels I came up against a towering Harvester. If you have ever faced-off against a two hundred foot tall angry spider covered in ferro-fibrous armor firing homing missiles and energy-weapons you’ll know what the Harvester is like. If not, welcome to Quake 4. If the four single player missions are truly representative of the whole campaign, sign me up for the space marines!