Quake 4 ReviewThey call it a format breaker: something that turns the status quo upside down. In television it’s one off specials of our favourite shows (Like the live episodes of The Bill in the UK or Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Once More With Feeling).
In music it’s the concept album (The Street’s A Grand Don’t Come For Free having each song form one part of a grand narrative structure), and in film it’s things like Richard Linklater’s TAPE (Three actors, one room, feature-length run time).
Quake 4 is not a format breaker – however, this review is. In order to justify my feelings on the wreckage that is Raven’s shooter, I feel I must tackle the review a little different. So I have separated the review into sub-sections, starting with...
1. The Concept
Quake 4 doesn’t have a story - it has an excuse. Sometimes an excuse is not necessarily a bad thing (take the PC version of FarCry for example), but in Quake 4 it is. The premise behind the entire game is this: what happened in Quake 2 is still happening… boot up, soldier.
The first several minutes would make you believe otherwise. We open in space with a scene reminiscent of Starship Troopers as decapitated bodies drift through space and we pan to a full-scale war on a nearby planet. Orders are barked at you – Matthew Kane – in your dropship as you approach the war torn planet of Strogg.
Your ship is blown to pieces and you crash. Waking several moments later you find yourself right in the middle of a battle. You climb from the wreckage of your ship, grab a nearby pistol and follow a soldier straight into a large room where the first Strogg enemy dives unremarkably in front of you.
Within a minute of the game beginning you are shooting at something. Several somethings.
2. The Strogg
There are dozens of enemy types in Quake 4 – all of them unremarkable. Despite what you thought of Doom 3 you cannot deny how diverse the enemies were. Each of them forced you to re-assess combat and tackle them differently. And when several differently kinds attacked you at once it was hectic.
In Quake 4 there are lots of enemies and each attack in different ways. But every single one of them is pathetic in their attack methods. You can guarantee that if you happen upon a long corridor with enemies stationed at the far end, there will be no struggle in conflict.
But what is truly bothersome is that even in most close-quarters scenarios there isn’t much struggle in conflict, either. You know you have a game with problems on your hands when the best criticism you can level at the opposition is that they can side step your gunfire.
3. The Level Design
Or more specifically, the lack thereof. There is a great sense of nose-ringing in Quake 4. That is, the sense that you are being dragged through each location rather than working the way out for yourself. The level design is so basic that locations just whip past with nary a thought spent on how good they looked.
Sure, Quake 4 looks stunning – and it’s pleasing that it is much easier to run on lower end specs than Doom 3 was – but the game’s preposterously linear design means you cannot explore any aspect of the locations.
Worse is the amount of backtracking in the game. Raven’s decision to have the player re-visit levels is both annoying and boring, and its inclusion serves little more than to make me think it did it to add length to the game. You see, there are countless times when an objective is reached but needs re-powering or a switch elsewhere needs to be flicked on.
The player then has to backtrack through the level to a door that was previously locked, do the deed, and then work their way all the way back again. It’s a slap in the face of the player the first couple times it happens. It’s practically a kick in the nuts the twentieth time, however.
This is the exact same structure throughout the game. Because you’re a lowly grunt you constantly have orders barked at you from above. Kane, go here and do this! Kane, go there and do that! And all this and that ever amounts to is turn this on or turn that off.
There is not a single aspect of this game that goes against the grain. Not even the widely talked about Stroggification.
4. The Stroggification
About a third of the way through the game Kane is captured by the Strogg and turned into one of them. As fate – or bad writing – would have it, you aren’t really a Strogg until a chip is turned on inside your head. Kane is rescued before his is activated, meaning he now has the best of both worlds.
Except, well, he doesn’t. As soon as you step from the tank you were suspended in you realise you can move a little faster, your heart and shield rate has been extended and – most interesting of all – you can now fully understand the Strogg.
But the idea is never taken anywhere at all. You never run into cutscenes where two Strogg are talking, or happen upon documents pertaining to the Strogg’s past. In what could have been a unique touch – and what could have allowed Raven to truly develop the Strogg as a race – we instead have nothing to show for it.
This is first-person shooter of the most basic nature. There is no use key, no squad control, there are no physics beyond the odd box that tumbles over, no story to stand on, no character development (except for the one attempt mid-way – but even that is ripped straight out of HALO) and ultimately no sense of fun.
So why have I given the game a five out of ten and not lower? Well, let’s examine what there is in Quake 4 worth talking about.
5. The Good
Peter Stormare. Mainstream cinemagoers will know him as Satan from Constantine, while the rest of us remember him as the blonde psychopath in Fargo (or the nutty Russian in Armageddon). He provides the voice for the only noteworthy character in the whole game: Strauss.
The graphics truly are amazing and as mentioned earlier you don’t need a high-end PC to get the better of them. I managed the whole game in High settings and a resolution of 1024x768. As far as Quake 4 is concerned graphically it is one of the best-looking games on the PC.
The sense of war in Quake 4 is also one of its best features. Regardless of what you feel as you shoot the next dumb enemy you really get the sense you are one man in a full-scale conflict.
And finally, the absolute best criticism I can say about the whole game is that you feel compelled to play straight through to the end. That isn’t because it’s fun – it’s actually rather dull. It’s because things move by so fast the sense of speed captures you. As linear as it as and in spite of how much it drags you through the game you step into a rhythm and just have to keep playing.
But those aspects truly are the only good things in this game. The Quake 4 we have is ultimately not the Quake 4 that was born of four years worth of development. There is just no way in hell. And from a developer this kind of game is appalling.