Summary: Quake 4 needs no introduction. We recently had the
opportunity to play parts of the singleplayer campaign
and test multiplayer, come read our conclusions.
How many times have you seen statements like these plastered across magazine adds and game boxes? It seems the more developers and publisher’s marketing teams try to distinguish themselves with new features and claims, the more most titles end up looking like pathetic imitations of the great games of yesteryear. This is especially true of the bloated FPS genre where most recent attempts at innovation have done little to improve the basic gameplay experience.
But now we are actually nearing the release of one of the most anticipated titles of this year, Quake 4. It’s the long awaited sequel to one of the progenitors of the FPS genre and many gamers are wondering what insane new features have been concocted up to differentiate the game and compel us to reach into our wallets. None really. And after my recent time with it – that’s a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, Quake 4 does have a dropship full of exciting elements, but they have decided to focus on what makes the core of a game fun, rather than flashy.
Besides, they just finished pushing out the graphically impressive Doom 3 engine, so it could be said that they already had “flashy” taken care of. All the technical and graphical power that made everyone “ooh” and “ahh” in Doom 3 are still present. You’ll see the heat shimmer from burning wreckage distorting the air of exploded vehicles, computer console panels will look alive, and the particle effects will have you wiping your eyes from the smoke. But what you’ll also see is a game that has expended far beyond what many called “the tech demo” that was Doom 3.
Recently I was invited to spend a few memorable hours in the tortured universe of Quake. Activision assembled a few gaming journalists together in front of some high end PCs and gave them just two directives – have fun and raise your hand when you finish a level. With the game still being worked on, they wanted to make sure we didn’t explore into any top secret areas.
But they did start us off at the beginning which established the setting for the whole single player campaign and started out in typical ghoulish id fashion. Gazing into the vastness of space a player’s view quickly becomes cluttered with space debris including the dismembered limbs and battle ravaged torsos of mechanically-enhanced humanoids. Then, straight out of a space opera, countless space vessels crowd your vision. Cut to a ships interior and you are now privy to an officer gruffly motivating his men. You hear of the prior events that have your unit, Rhino Squad, here orbiting the planet Stroggos. Veterans of the Quake series will immediately recognize the short exposition’s recap of Quake II’s plot.
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!
Though I spent countless hours of my life racing between teleporters in the past, I have to confess that it has been a while since I had Quake III spinning in my cd drive. I had become part of the multiplayer apostasy. But the lightning-quick brutality of the few CTF, Deathmatch, and Team Deathmatch rounds resurrected the old memories of the original feel and pace of the game.
I was able to notice only some small changes. Running speed feels to be up a little from the original Quake III level, and the knockback from the rocket launcher seemed to be a little less noticeable. The number of teleporters felt the same, but the number of jump pads felt fewer and farther between. Admittedly, they are all hard observations to make in the limited time I played on the few maps I saw. I can tell you is they are planning on having a sixteen player max in each game and they will be using most of the old fan favorites when it comes to the weapons. I played briefly with rail guns, rocket launchers, a hyperblaster, nail guns, lightning guns, shotguns, and grenade launchers. But with the game still without a firm release date set, you can expect some changes are still in the works. But if I were a betting man, I would say that the minds at id and Raven will strive to bring Quake 4’s multiplayer even closer in line with the greatness that was Quake III. So my advice is to dust off your old Arena cd’s if they aren’t already in your drives and start practicing or you may get schooled by yours truly. I got my ass handed to me so many times that it became clear that a reinstall of the old shooter was in order. I plan on being at the top of my Quake III game when Quake 4 comes out later this year, ready to take on all comers.
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