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Quake 4 (Xbox 360) artwork

Quake 4 (Xbox 360) review


"Because it's December. And I've not covered Q yet."




There's these things in video games called legacies, and they can work for or against you. iD used to have a pretty good handle on this back in the day; Doom 2 was significantly better than the original, for instance, and even the early Quakes showed nothing but marketed improvement with each chapter released. But then, iD decided to get with the times. Thousands groaned.

I did not care for Doom 3. It was not an improvement on the two games before it. It was not an enhancement, a step forward or even a particularly good game in its own right. iD’s maniacal level design had been thrown to the wayside to make room for flat, linear maps. Swarms of hell-spawns, mutants and zombies that once patrolled the areas in waves were replaced by singular shit-brown imps that sprang from closets attempting to give the player a cheap scare (spoiler: they fail). There were no desperate firefights, no clinging to your life by a single thread and no realms of secrets. There was just you, a senseless flashlight gimmick, too many health and/or ammo pick-ups, and perhaps a gathering of five targets at a time. I won’t lie; some people perhaps unfamiliar with the game of old loved the new veneer of pizzazz; the rest of us walked through a game seven shades too easy and shed the hypothetical tears that we're all far too manly to actually offer.

Then Quake 4 came along, and right away you can tell it was the kind of game that Doom 3 should have been.

Like Doom 3, the opening section of the game is filled with other humans, but in this case, instead of chilling out on the Mars space station and doing nothing more threatening than routine maintenance, they're preparing for WAR! Unlike Doom 3, the other humans rushing about the place actually serve a purpose. They fight the Strogg with you.

The Strogg are your typically violent alien species that survive by stealing biological samples from other races then wielding on cybernetic implants, and have targeted humankind as their next supply stop. Following on from where Quake 2 left off (Quake 3 was the obligatory ((and awesome)) arena title) the Strogg have been forced back from Earth, and humanity is able to take the fight to them. The start of the game doesn’t paint a very optimistic scene for your invading forces: preserved perfectly in the vacuum of space, long-dead marines float almost serenely past the fixed camera, cleaved clean in half, trailing intestines dangling where their legs should be. Cataract eyes stare blankly at the debris of long-destroyed crafts that share the velvet skies with them. It’s hardly a Kodak moment.



But it is very much a sign of things to come. The transporter you board is promptly shot down, and your invasion starts with the bumpiest of landings. You fade in and out of consciousness, alert enough to see the stalking nightmares that the sturdier marines try and fend off: building-tall arachnid mechs that fire endless gouts of plasma dominate the alien skyline, blocking out sections of the planet’s three moons, alive enough to recognise the screams and cries of the marines that fall prey to its onslaught. A medic tries to help you, but is cut down messily with a wave of bullets. You black out to the sounds of sporadic gunfire and the crumpling of metal.

Doom 3’s cinematic introduction of wandering almost randomly through claustrophobic corridors wanted you to feel like the hellish forces that jumped out of dark corners like small children at Halloween are too much for you to take on your own. It failed. Quake 4 is more ambitious: it wants you to think the forces you are up against are too much for an entire army. And it even succeeds! For a while.

Getting back to your feet and finding a weapon (an inexhaustible pistol that can be charged up much like the plasma pistols from Halo) will get your wounds seen to and your armour patched up by your surviving forces, who then promptly throw you into a light-choked outpost to check up on the status of another battalion. Your first encounters of the Strogg are just seconds away, and, even armed with the game’s weakest weapon, you’re able to make easy progress. Space-age doors slide open with an obligatory ‘swoosh’ to reveal simplistic grunt Strogg with simplistic weapons like pistols, machine guns and shotguns grafted where their arms should be. The cover is plentiful, and the targets dumb enough to provide ample chance for a string of head shots. It’s with smugness and confidence that you plod onwards, even discovering a handy machine gun to drop foes all the quicker. Straggling marines you save from abduction follow you, taking defensive positions behind numerous pillars and crates, peeking out from around the sides to snipe at targets -- but not me! This is a cakewalk, and I’m up ahead, stealing all the kills for myself.

The long, dark corridor should really have served as a warning of things to come, as should the two marines I picked up dropping back, but I was suckered in. I knew the mission objective was just ahead, so I took no heed of the warning signs, flicked on the flashlight attached to my machine gun and carried on.

I like to think skill saved me when a huge cyborg gorilla smashed through the wall to my left, but it was more likely due to panic fire. This stout ape charged at me, bellowing; shoulder-mounted mini-guns whining, just audible over the beast’s war-cry and tearing my armour to shreds. From the hole it made emerged a smattering of grunts and a wall of lead that I didn’t have room or time to dodge. The marines that sought cover previously fired from bastions of safety, proving that the ally AI was more intelligent than I. My cross-hairs sought out the ape’s head, small springs of blood splashed from its neck and face as more and more bullets ploughed in. But even before he fell, a lanky gimp-like creature came scuttling down from the far end of the corridor, an electrified lance sparkling angrily in one hand, and a swirling ball-and-chain in the other. The rest of the Strogg seem to step aside and allow him to make his crazed charge. My weapon clicked empty, the ape still stands, and the gimp’s spear is thrust into the ground making the floor dance with harmful electric pulses. My armour fails and my health plummets.



“Oh shit” moments like this are common, Quake 4 has no problem in throwing wave after wave of Strogg at you, and it won’t stop at simplistic foot soldiers. Mammoth Guardians hide behind huge energy shields that they only drop to deliver intense laser blasts; feminine Banshees emit osculating screams that disorient you before launching a sizzling flow of fireballs and missiles at your stumbling form, only to teleport across the room should you offer up resistance. Each of the three chapters spread across the twelve-hour campaign even offer solid vehicle-themed levels that have you piloting a huge hover-tank, a hulking mech or manning a heavy machine-gun mounted on an APC or tram. You'll be pelted with rockets, grenades, streams of plasma, rail gun blasts, shotgun pellets and more bullets than all the Rambo films combined can account for.

But.

After each siege, each dedicated surge of Strogg and each standing battle of note lies a wealth of ammo, armour and health niches. This becomes even more prominent after the big plot twist (can you even call it a plot twist when every scrap of promotional material shown pre-release told you exactly what it would be?) you find yourself able to employ the Borg-like heal stations dotted around the Strogg stronghold. Even on the hardest difficulty levels, it's hard to not find more health than you'll ever need, nor will you ever want for ammo.

So plentiful are the bullet pick-ups that you can quite happily select your favourite weapon and cut through the game using just that. When the simple Machine Gun is easily enough to mow down all but the most stubborn of foes, who needs to use the Rail Gun, a long range weapon existing in a game without any real snipe points around? Who needs the flaccid lightning gun that, after an upgrade, can jump electric currents between foes but has the battery life span of a 1980's mobile phone? The rocket launcher will likely rust in your inventory waiting for a big enough threat to whip it out for that will never come (if they just keep falling to the machine gun/shotgun combo -- why bother with anything bigger?) and the gravity vortex gun is little more than Doom's BFG dressed up, and the projectile’s colour swapped from green to purple and with cool gravity effects shoehorned in.

The Strogg here don't even die right. Quake 2 not only allowed you to blow the enemy corpses into bloody chunks, but encouraged you to. Downed foes stubbornly sprayed the area with gunfire as a parting gift before collapsing in a pool of their own pixalated blood. Quake 4's new and improved Strogg just fall down and fade away in a girly little cloud of green smoke.

In the end, Quake 4 is about trade offs. Gone is the overly-frantic non-stop gunning of Quake 2, but in comes a great ally system that succeeds in making the war against the Strogg seem to exist outside your limited scope. Gone is the need to search every nook and cranny for hard-to-spot health-ups or secret areas containing hidden weapons and armour, but in comes a brilliantly realised (if not completely linear) map pumped full with vastly superior and much varied enemies. There's no secret walls to find, but there is dark corridors lined with captured allies squirming against bio-tech machinery, slowly being turned further and further into the Strogg warriors you're forced to fight. There's no midi-metal, but there is constant cries over communication channels for help, screams of pain as allies fall and the echo of constant gunfire. Changes have been made. For better or for worse, Quake has been modernised.

Maybe that would be a bigger complaint if it had not been updated so well. Doom 3 showed us how bringing the founding titles of yore up to date could go horribly wrong, but Quake 4 proves it can be done right.

4/5

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (December 01, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Feedback

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Suskie posted December 01, 2015:

One of these years, Gary, I will win this thing. One of these years.
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EmP posted December 01, 2015:

Still could be this year -- I'm not at the finishing line just yet!

Every six month mark in this thing, I assume I'm well within the pace. Above it even. Every December I still find myself scrambling to finish it off. You'd think I'd have learnt by now.

It's been a really good run for a lot of people this year, though.
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overdrive posted December 03, 2015:

I'm still on a pace where it's conceivable that I will finish all 27 this year. Which better happen, as I'll not be trying this again. Too many hours I could have been playing legit good games have been wasted on the Oozis, Whomp 'Ems and Grinsias of the world.

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