Game: Quake 4
System: XBOX 360 DVD-ROM, PC DVD-ROM
Release: November 2005 (XBOX 360), October 2005 (PC)
Quake 4 for the XBOX 360 is a first-person shooter that will leave you with mixed feelings. On the one hand it boasts a competent single-player campaign that, while not groundbreaking, is thoroughly enjoyable. On the other, the lack of multiplayer options and startling performance issues mar what could have otherwise been a strong launch title for the platform. In all, does Quake 4 do enough right to make you forget about its shortcomings? Not really.
The Strogg Berserker is a prolific enemy in Quake 4.
The single-player storyline picks up where Quake II left off. The Strogg, an alien combine that razed Earth years before, has found the fight brought to its doorstep by human marines and its leader assassinated by the unnamed (Grunt?) protagonist of the previous game. It now falls to Matthew Kane and the members of Rhino Squad to destroy the Nexus – the central hub of Strogg communication – and thus expedite a human victory on Stroggos. As seems to be the trend these days, the developers at Raven hired a science fiction novelist to pen the storyline and some C-grade Hollywood voice talent to enliven the characters. What they failed to realise however is that sci-fi writers and small screen actors aren’t exactly the most able or qualified in their fields. The plot itself is painfully derivative. Missions are glorified marches from point A to point B and none of the characters, least of all the mute Kane, elicit any kind of emotional involvement. However it is still functional and while you will rarely care about who dies or what is going on, you’ll never be left completely clueless as to what to do next.
Your fellow marines will be hard to protect, but no big deal if they die.
Saying Quake 4 was made using the Doom 3 Engine id Tech 4 was a seal of graphical excellence back in 2005. It does fall prey to some of the criticism of Doom 3- it is primarily set indoors and its wide open spaces are unremarkable looking. The trade-off is that Quake 4 looks great... technically. It has great textures and geometry, great dynamic lighting and shaders... except that it runs at a snail’s pace. The XBOX 360 hardware is far and away sufficient to max out a game like Quake. Inconsistent framerates, rarely ever rising above 30 but very often dropping to less than 10, are therefore disappointing. That is a gross understatement as well since this is the title’s most obvious flaw. While PC versions received a patch early in the game’s lifetime to remedy an issue with multi-core processing, the 360 version has yet to as of December 2007 and likely never will. Obviously rushed out the door to meet the console’s launch, the performance of Quake 4 has ‘lazy’ written all over it.
Quake 4’s outdoors are nothing special.
What makes the stuttering framerate even more tragic is the marvellous art direction the game been crafted in. Taking cues of everything from Aliens to Soylent Green, the planet Stroggos is a biotechnological nightmare. All architectural and creature designs combine metal and flesh in barbaric ways, and the planet itself is basically a living base. The Strogg creatures themselves are not born- captives and prisoners-of-war are biologically changed into Strogg warriors via a series of implants and behavioural control devices. One of the many unsuccessful plot twists sees Kane become ‘Stoggified’ and the player bears witness to the gruesome process since Kane is unanaesthetized throughout. Although metallic halls and the same few cyborg warriors may seem boring early on, the more elaborate set pieces like the Stoylent Creature or Network Guardian bosses later more than make up for the monotony and really show off what the Strogg are about. The low framerate may make it hard to enjoy the scenery, but there will be moments where you just have to stop and check out that torso in a jar, or the giant room-sized heart pumping blood through a number of different pipes while beating violently.
The Strogg Harvester is one of the first, and surprisingly one of the smaller bosses you face.
The visceral feeling of killing these bizarre enemies wouldn’t be possible without an equally well-crafted assortment of weapons. Any FPS stands on the strength of its weapons and Quake 4 doesn’t disappoint here. There are a number of close-range and long-, human and Strogg weapons to use. Everything from Quake II returns and the new, less typical tools like the Nailgun and Lighting Gun make selecting the correct arsenal for a given encounter even more interesting. Weapons can also be upgraded over time. Your Nailgun can be modded with a scope and homing feature for instance and the Rocket Launcher is given a barrel-reloading mechanism at one point to allow for quick, massive damage at long range. There is no melee weapon however and when facing some of the heavier close-quarters foes the stock shotgun just won’t cut it. Overall the armament is varied and balanced and with the exception of the default Blaster nothing ever becomes truly obsolete.
This gun gains the ability to ‘chain lightning’ across multiple foes.
A number of other gameplay mechanics debut in an attempt to break up long spells of shooting. Working in a team was a feature that was pushed for Quake 4 pre-release and crops up in a few places throughout the campaign. The feature is just broken. Allies will run head first into oncoming fire and die at the drop of a hat. Tech Officers and Medics, who are there to replenish health and armour, routinely meet requests for help with ‘sorry, I’m busy’ and in all are more nuisances than anything else. On the flipside, whenever you get a storyline NPC with you, just hang back and let them take out everything. They do so with surprising ease and are invincible- allowing you to literally walk through some of the toughest encounters in the game. Unsurprisingly there is no co-op mode available either online or off. Another big feature was meant to be Matthew Kane’s Strogg form. However, apart from an orange HUD, there is apparently no difference between humans and Strogg. Being one of the enemy had a huge potential which isn’t utilised in the game at all. Finally, vehicles are present for the first time in the series but just as easily could have been left out. When in a vehicle, whether the hover tank, the tram or the walker mech, the first-person view is maintained and there is no real way, apart from the modified heads-up display, to know that the player is even in a vehicle. In each case a mounted machinegun and sometimes a missile launcher replace the normal arsenal but otherwise it is like travelling on foot. Vehicles make no appearance in multiplayer either, which may have given them some gameplay significance otherwise.
The Walker Mech: Just like walking but with a stronger machinegun.
Multiplayer itself is a scant offering in Quake 4. There are the usual Deathmatch and CTF modes but the most notable thing is that the game plays almost exactly like Quake III: Arena. All the weapons and physics have reverted to their predecessor’s settings – your shotgun no longer needs to be reloaded and it seems like gravity has been turned down a few notches, the character injected with steroids and basically its like 1999 all over again. For Q3 fans this is great but for anyone looking for a genuine multiplayer system based on Quake 4, this will be a kick in the face. There are no domination modes and no vehicles (perhaps intentionally saved for Enemy Territory?), which are depressing omissions themselves but not as much so as the lack of split-screen, local play. You can link up consoles or you can play over XBOX Live. However, failing having two TVs, two consoles and two copies of Quake, you’re pretty much screwed if you want to see what little multiplayer Quake 4 has going for it. Finding a buddy online is pretty much a lost cause and so the missing split-screen solution is something that, like the performance issues, spanks of ‘didn’t give a crap’. As an interesting side note there is a dedicated XBOX Live Marketplace menu, but to my knowledge no patches or Downloadable Content have ever been released for this game.
Multiplayer stages are awfully reminiscent of Quake III: Arena.
In terms of presentation, it is clear time and effort were spent (if misappropriated) on the game. The single-player portion is of a decent length and features an awful lot of incidental voicework, even if none of it is very good. There are a number of cinematic scripted events using the in-game engine which would be compelling if not for their poor use of the engine itself. The opening clip of the marine in space contains debris and other waste drifting through space, extremely close to the screen, with ripped textures and poor skinning. When the Stroyent Creature boss is defeated, its stomach ruptures as if it was made of paper – the resultant corpse bearing a greater resemblance to a broken pinata than an organic mess. Sound is also a mixed bag. There are some good effects in there, but mostly you’ll be noticing how tinny all the gunshots sound and how the screams of agony are barely audible. Concerning music, the cinematic ambience here fails downright. Suspense if carried terribly and the music almost gives this harrowing odyssey a melodramatic feel. Needless to say the hard hitting beats of Sonic Mayhem are sorely missed. In-game GUI menus are a major feature of id Tech 4 and the ones in Quake 4 are unremarkable but competent, like the rest of the game. The main menu interface is good, but awkwardly unresponsive on the XBOX 360. Loading and saving games takes far longer than it should while thumbnails are read off for each existing save and loading itself is a catastrophe. Between-level loading can take anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes, which is really inexcusable. There are also a number of easy to replicate 360 crashes that can occur during loading. Nothing is more infuriating than waiting for a level to load only to realise your machine needs a hard reboot and that you’ll need to wait through the loading again. Often though you’ll need to redo half a level as well because Quake 4’s checkpoint and autosave systems are pathetic. Sometimes ‘Saving Checkpoint... Done’ will be displayed on the screen, but no save will exist when you visit the load screen. Another technical oversight to throw on the heap.
The menu will take ages to load with that many saves.
Unlike its PC cousin, every copy of Quake 4 for the 360 is treated as a special edition. This means they all ship with an extra disc containing videos and a perfect 480p port of Quake II. Also unlike the PC version, this port has its audio tracks intact. It might not feature its two expansion sets but this version of Quake II has Achievements. They are evenly spread across the single-player campaign and although awarding them with Gamerscore would violate Microsoft’s 1000 point rule, they are an admirable feature nonetheless. Achievements for the main game are distributed less evenly. Single player campaigns are judged on difficulty. Similarly to something like Gears of War, Quake 4 requires that you complete the game on each setting to attain all the points. There are also points awarded for completing levels with a single weapon or without sustaining damage but the overwhelming bulk of Achievements are portioned out to online modes. Given that hitting the lottery and finding another player in the Quake 4 lobby have something in common, I’m stuck with a good 500 or so Gamerscore points that I’ll never get. Minor issue honestly, but I can see this upsetting some people.
Quake II, at least, runs smoothly on a 360.
If you can ignore the performance hiccups, there is a fairly long and well made single player campaign for you in Quake 4. However, if you require strong multiplayer offerings or are unable to look past the game’s inexcusable technical failings, this might not be for you. Quake suffers a particularly bad case of launch syndrome and while it should have come off without a hitch on the powerful XBOX 360 hardware, instead the game chokes. Badly. There are no patches to remedy the problems and its entirely possible the developers have chosen to forget about this buggy port of a decent game. You should probably do the same. Either check out the PC version or pick it up if it’s cheap. Otherwise just give it a miss altogether.
Graphics (Artistic): 8/10
Graphics (Technical): 5/10