When Quake 3: Arena and UT hit the shelves, the classic storyline style of the FPS may have seemed dead, but it wasn't long after that Activision announced Quake 4 would carry on from the traditional FPS style of Quake 2, and while it is finally here four years after almost to the day, during this wait it never really received a whole lot of hype - no phony release date announcements, no major security breaching leaks, just a few showings here and there at the major events and an on time release. A humble and simple process, for a reasonably humble and simple FPS.
Quake 4 puts the gamer back into the war of Human v Strogg after the events of Quake 2. As we all know, the story of Quake 2 basically is as follows - the Strogg are threatening Earth, and in a counter attack, the Humans send out forces to battle the Strogg on their home planet. These forces are practically eliminated entirely upon entry except for one Human warrior, who manages to kill the leader of the Strogg; Makron. While the Humans believed such a blow was fatal to the Strogg, no such luck would eventuate as the Strogg continued to fight, albeit battered and bruised. It is now that the Humans feel an offensive will eliminate the Strogg presence once and for all, which is where Quake 4 picks up. As Matthew Kane, a member of the Rhino Squad, you must front the human invasion force against the Strogg on their home planet for a second encounter, but this time around you have fellow troops and vehicles at your side.
There are two versions of Quake 4 available - the basic version which comes with Quake 4 on CD's only, and the Special DVD Edition, which comes with Quake 4 on a DVD plus a Bonus DVD featuring the Making of Quake 4, as well as Quake 2 and both Quake 2 addon packs - The Reckoning and Ground Zero. What's amazing about this is both versions cost the same, so unless you don't have a DVD drive in your PC, there is absolutely no reason not to get the Special DVD Edition - you get Quake 4 on one DVD rather than a few CD's, plus bonus content for no extra cost. Win win.
As mentioned above, vehicle control has been introduced to Quake however there are only two ground vehicles available to control - a hover tank and a mechanized walker (i.e. mech warrior). More variation would have been nice, and the situations you actually use these vehicles in the game are pretty far and few between - in fact, you only get one go at both throughout the entire single player experience. With that said, the inclusion of vehicle control is nice, but it isn't nearly as integral as it could have been.
Another area of disappointment regarding Quake 4's gameplay is the fact the game is still very much focused around you being the hero. This is, obviously, the style of classic Quake, but with the introduction of squad based combat to the series, it would have been nice to see far more squad based gameplay. The whole idea of Quake 4 is you're in the middle of a large war, but you never really get that feeling, as most of your combat is inside compact buildings. When you have troops following you around, they do contribute to the combat rather well, so having more squad situations would have worked well - maybe not for the Quake traditionalists, but for the general audience. Further more, there is a distinct lack in controls as far as squad combat is concerned - or better yet, there are none at all. Since in almost every squad situation the troops are following you, it would have been nice to see some sort of "command" system or at least a way to direct troops even if only to tell them when to stop and go. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort exists.
Even without any control over your squad though, the game is still quite impressive when the action heats up, particularly when squads are concerned. Not only are the enemy units quite challenging, but your fellow troops will actually engage, shoot and successfully kill enemies. This may seem like an obvious feature, but often games fall short when it comes to the intelligence of NPC squad units - but not Quake 4. You will also notice them take cover and communicate with each other, which is a nice touch.
However, even with the vehicle control and squad combat, Quake 4 still very much feels like the game which its engine is based on - that of course being Doom 3. First of all, the graphics look similar, but it goes much further than that - the whole single player structure of Quake 4 very much resembles that of Doom 3. You receive real time objectives in the form of audio communication from your superiors. You have an almost endless amount of corridors and tunnels to navigate through with the occasional out doors environment. The interface looks and feels similar. Even the way in which enemies jump out in front of you reminds you of Doom 3. I'd say if you played one after the other without paying much attention to either storyline, you'd feel they were pretty much the same game. While the use of the Doom 3 engine has certainly given Quake 4 some advanced qualities, it doesn't do wonders for its originality, and the fact Raven Software have not strayed from the fundamentals doesn't help.
One area where Quake 4 does separate itself significantly from Doom 3 however is with its multiplayer mode. You have five basic modes - Death Match, Team Death Match, Tourney, CFT and Arena CFT. All of these are reasonably self explanatory as they're not really new, but that's only because MP modes have pretty much been covered in the FPS world for a while now. There is a maximum player count of 16, which isn't huge, but high enough for some intense MP gaming reminiscent of Q3A. The only downside is no bots seem to be included, which is a bit of a shame really, but otherwise, the MP mode featured here really puts Quake 4 in a realms of a complete FPS experience, somewhat combining Quake 2 and 3. From what I experienced however, there are no vehicles to control in Quake 4 MP so the only part that carries over from the single player mode is the weapons and player models.
Naturally, being based on the Doom 3 engine, Quake 4 is a nice looking game to say the least. The environments, while not hugely varied, look as great as ever with very immersive and detailed surroundings, particularly when you're indoors. Seeing as the game is based on the Strogg's home turf, the engine is put to good use in creating surreal fantasy environments, however they do feel an awful lot like Doom 3's at times as already expressed. One area Quake 4 has over Doom 3 visually is in the character faces. Some faces in Doom 3 didn't look overly authentic but the faces in Quake 4 look fantastic, as does the detail in armor and weaponry on characters. Of course, all this comes at a cost. Our 3500+, 1GB, X850XT system ran Quake 4 fine at 1280x1024 without any anti-aliasing, but to get the best Quake 4 has to offer you'll want pretty much as top of the line as you can get.
The problem with Quake 4 is that, for the most part, the single player mode suffers from the same simplicity as Doom 3 - random shooting through a maze of "appeasing-at-first, but-boring-after-the-100th-time" environments. With traditional Quake style weapons (and a new "Dark Matter Gun"), new enemies and (only slightly) different environments, at times it can feel more like a mod for Doom3 than a brand new game, but the improved squad combat (albeit less than comprehensive) and vehicle control do at least bring some new structural enhancements to the fray, and when you factor in a multiplayer mode in the style of Q3A, in an overall sense you do get a reasonably unique experience with Quake 4, just don't expect it to "wow your world", this is really one for the hardcore Quake fans or gamers who just want some old fashion mindless action.
NOTE: The standard CD version and the Special DVD Edition of Quake 4 are the same price in Australia, this may not be valid for all regions.