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Quake 4 (PC) artwork

Quake 4 (PC) review

"There are big alienss, and there are big guns; I wouldn't have it any other way."

As a huge FPS nerd, I'm used to my AI buddies being several whole suits short of a full deck. I love Half-Life 2 as much as the next guy, but the time when my entire squad stood right in the middle of a sniper-infested alleyway despite all the doorways and broken cars around was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Halo 2's weren't much better. Open fields and empty corridors alike boggled their minds, and often, they couldn't even be bothered to get off of a vehicle. Good company? Perhaps. Intelligent? Not when they decide to attack a well-armored, better-armed tank head on.

Quake 4 surprised me. I'd heard about how much fun it was to slaughter the grotesque Strogg by the shitload with some flunkies in tow, but I'm sure you can understand that I was skeptical. With such an attitude in mind, I fetched my squad's medic and escorted him to a mortally wounded soldier. Moments later, a hulking alien beast that I'd earlier seen dragging some hapless fool off to a gruesome death came crashing up through the metallic floorboards ready to smash up the both of us. I did what any man would do: I ran. I ran, I hid in a corner with my gun drawn, and I waited for that thing to cross my sights once he'd had his wicked way with my buddy.

Several off-screen gunshots later, I felt like the biggest pussy ever. My medic--my fucking medic--had taken care of that thing all by himself in spite of my heroic and noble attempt to conserve ammo. Next time around I even got to see him in action myself, and suffice to say I was impressed. These guys aren't dolts, and they don't keel over in the face of two or three foes. They've even got their own seperate personalities. Sure, Raven aren't going to win any originality points with characters like "wiseass sharpshooter" and "bumbling technician", but it helps draw you into things when you're battling alongside distinct people instead of just some faceless flunkies.

Don't let what I've said mislead you, though. This isn't a tactical shooter, and it certainly isn't character-driven. This is Quake. You'll spend the game killing big aliens with big guns, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Cool diversions like a mech-riding segment don't amount to anything more than killing big aliens with bigger guns. Shallow, but what's not to love about tearing through the armour of rocket-armed cyborgs with your nailgun before turning them into messy red spots on the ground with the lightning cannon?

Nothing, of course. And to keep things fresh across the twelve hour campaign, military engineers can even give your guns a variety of upgrades. One quick adjustment and suddenly your lightning cannon can arc off of your original target into several others; and while the rocket launcher is good clean fun to begin with, it's even better once you're able to fire off three guided missiles in a second flat!

Your prey won't go down as easily as is implied, though, not even once you've rounded out your arsenal with the black hole gun that, uh, shoots black holes. One mission tasks you with throwing into chaos the facility that processes fallen Strogg into energy for their luckier comrades. Somebody's been watching Soylent Green. Battle through a base full of soldier-like aliens that are packing the same guns you are and you'll make it to the cavernous chamber that houses the processing unit. A display panel at the very top is used to shut it down.

One problem: the processing unit is a three-story tall beast brutally tethered to its station and mighty pissed off about it. Not a spot of the chamber is safe, his mechanical arm smashing through bulletproof glass and concrete alike as if they were paper. Just imagine what he does to you if you're not careful. But this isn't actually a boss fight proper, and the display panel at the top will indeed shut him down. By, you know, forcing a feeding tube into his mouth and pumping him full of poisonous gas until his belly explodes in a hail of flesh and blood that sprays all across the room. Awesome.

Yet not everything is sunshine and roses. Much of the rest of Quake 4 is neither as creative nor as gory, the latter a negligible disgrace but a disgrace just the same in light of how Quake II let you blow your enemies apart into deliciously gory chunks. Hell, it encouraged you to--dying Strogg of the past kept blasting away at you as they lay dying, while the 2.0 models just vanish into a cloud of green nanomachines.

Of more importance is the creativity issue. Considering the backstory that Strogg creatures are gracelessly cobbled together from various machinery and human body parts, you'd expect to spend less time fighting humanoid gunslingers than you actually do. The better enemies range from ice-spewing, fire-launching wraiths to lumbering titans that charge at you with meter-wide drills. Neat, but why do we only fight one of those for every baker's dozen of generic infantry? Not that you won't love blowing them away just the same--the railgun rises above the underwhelming goriness by turning lesser foes into crimson showers--but a bit more variety could only have helped.

But while it could have been even better, I still had a blast playing Quake 4. There are big aliens, and there are big guns; I wouldn't have it any other way. Battling alongside your sharp soldier chums is an awesome bonus after putting up with their less intelligent cousins in so many other titles, but don't kid yourself. This isn't an immersive experience and it certainly isn't a lethargically-paced "horror" game along the lines of the unfortunate Doom 3. It's a mindless blaster through and through, and I mean that in the best of ways. This is Quake.

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Staff review by John L (December 18, 2005)

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