It goes without argument that the Quake franchise has been one of the most successful and widely known series ever produced. From its releases, or simply the fact that many successful titles utilize the various Quake engines, the series is legendary. The evolution of first person shooters has been a long journey, from the days of DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D to highly dynamic and jaw-dropping games like Half-Life 2, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and the entire Quake franchise. Published by Activision and developed by id Software, Quake 4 is the next-generation of the highly successful franchise, but can it live up to the reputation of its predecessors and the high expectations?
The Quake 4 story is fairly straightforward; it's the generic action plot you're already used to. You've decimated a cybernetic species known as the Strogg, a race who absorb other species into their biological frame. At the finale of Quake II, the Strogg home planet is in ruins after an Earth assault by a lone soldier who managed to infiltrate the Strogg defenses and destroy their collective brain, the Makron. This however, was not successful in defeating the Stroggs, and with their defenses still inoperable, Quake 4 begins with Earth's forces ready to deliver a final blow. You must work through the remaining Strogg defenses, and finish the job once and for all.
I'll leap right into Quake 4's biggest selling point; its graphics. The Quake 4 engine is capable of incredible things, notably capturing astounding amounts of detail. The amount of fine grain in Quake 4's graphics is bewildering. Facial expressions and character motion capture are comparable to those of Half-Life 2 and the dynamic lighting and the fine attention to detail on every environmental object and scene is a sight to behold. Character renders, especially those of the Strogg units, have an incredibly high polygon count and combined with dynamic lighting and shadows, the graphics are close to the best we've ever seen up close and personal. There are several differences between the Xbox 360 edition and the PC, noticeably several framerate issues at different points in the game, primarily in the second half, a definite disappointment. However, when you step back and look at the display on a large high-definition screen, it's a sight to behold.
The Quake franchise has never been overly plot-driven, not that there isn't intrigue and a fleshed-out story, but I've always found that the random attacks and mayhem seem to overshadow any plot developments and as the story progresses the enemies just get bigger and badder. Quake 4 is a definite improvement over previous releases, focusing on a more "objective-based" model, but it still isn't as dynamic as say Half-Life 2.Where Quake 4 shines is in the tactical team-based attack formations. As I've discovered, the AI is surprisingly "intelligent," and these squad-based battles are a welcome change to the typical first person shooter fanfare. Quake 4's single-player mode takes you through the Strogg homeworld storyline, but I found I was never able to really get into the gameplay. Although there are minor puzzles along the way, I found the storyline to be very linear, simply follow the trail of where the bad guys are jumping out at you. In fact, I found myself bored at the single player mode about half-way through the story, simply because there was nothing to keep me playing. Once you've blown up a few thousand Strogg, what's the point in blowing up a few thousand more? If you've played the previous Quake titles, you may find this one to be just more of what you've already seen gameplay-wise, not quite the innovation we'd hoped for.
Speaking of yelling, those superior officers sure do know how to get your butt in gear. The voice acting itself is phenomenal; every character has something to say. Whether they are muttering over a recent command decision, complaining at the shoddy equipment, or simply talking over you, the environments are alive with activity. The sheer volume of dialogue presented is impressive, and the fact that it's voiced well is an added bonus. Another minor complaint with the Xbox 360 edition is that I found the voices to be quieter then the PC, and on occasion even difficult to make out. Besides the dialogue, sound effects themselves are also well presented, gunfire and shells exploding, communications equipment, and equipment trudging along the ground adds ambience to the overall environmental feel.
As with most of the Quake titles though, the real heart and lasting appeal of the gameplay lies in the multiplayer, and unfortunately this is where Quake 4 falls short. In this rendition, Raven has spent a great deal of time and effort on the single player mode, and it shows; a well compiled and professional presentation. Unfortunately, it seems as if they've spent too much time in perfecting the single player, and neglected the ever-so-popular multiplayer portion that has consistently defined the strengths of the Quake franchise. The typical favorites are back, deathmatch, team deathmatch, and the like, but the game only supports matches up to eight players, shallow by today's massive online battles in most recent shooters. While the PC edition supported up to sixteen players (and that seemed too few), the big complaint here is that other Xbox 360 launch titles were able to easily support up to 32 players at once (a la Perfect Dark Zero), and for a title which relies so heavily on the multiplayer component it's a disappointment to see it fall short.
Quake 4 is by no means a leaps and bounds improvement over previous Quake titles. Sure, the graphics are spectacular, but the gameplay really hasn't been enhanced that much. Quake 4 is a very solid release, the biggest setback is simply that it "feels" like every other first person shooter released in the last few years. In the case that you're not a fan of repetitive blowing up of random things, and shooting wave upon wave of enemies, then the Quake series really isn't your fanfare. Otherwise, gear up, grab a machine gun, and get blasting, as that's what Quake does best.