Last year, I waxed enthusiastic about id Software's DOOM 3, a first-person shooter that updated one of the company's classic horror titles with state-of-the-art graphics and sound. DOOM 3 wasn't perfect: Its multiplayer version was a molasses-slow step back from previous id Software titles, and many complained about the dark and dreary environments of the single-player versions. But the game was certainly a technological achievement. I only wondered whether a future title would take that technology and wrap a better game around it.
Quake 4, developed by long-time id Software partner Raven, is that game. Visually similar to DOOM 3, Quake 4 even features a somewhat similar single-player experience, which takes place on a far-off planet infested with aliens. Thematically, Quake 4's single-player mode is a direct sequel to id Software's Quake 2 and continues a plotline in which Earth's humans are pitted against the alien Strogg. Graphically, Quake 4 resembles DOOM 3, but the game features much brighter colors and more outdoor environments. And although you play a similar space marine character, in Quake 4 you're usually doing so with other computer-controlled teammates, which reduces the isolation you might have felt in DOOM 3 (but is arguably less effective because computer-controlled players are often heavily scripted and often perform better against the enemy than they should).
Midway through the Quake 4 single-player experience, your character is captured by the Strogg and mutated into a biomechanical Strogg killing machine. However, you’re rescued and returned to duty in the human armed forces. From that point on, your available armaments and capabilities change a bit. There are also chances to man vehicles and large mounted guns throughout the game. All these additions break up the traditional first-person experience you've come to expect, enhancing game play. As with DOOM 3, many aliens interact with the environment in fun and scary ways, but when they do so, they often permanently alter the game level. I especially enjoyed one sequence in which an alien clawed at me through some pipes and then created a huge hole through which my character and others could travel. In DOOM 3, this scripted event would have been limited to a scary moment of a hand shooting through the pipes.
Surprisingly, the multiplayer Quake 4 experience is hugely successful, offering a lush, fast-moving experience that’s much closer to Quake III Arena (and the underrated Quake III Team Arena mission pack) than to Quake 2 or DOOM 3. Indeed, whereas multiplayer functionality was DOOM 3's biggest weakness, this feature is magically turned into Quake 4's biggest success. How they accomplished this feat, given the overhead of the DOOM 3 engine, is a mystery. But multiplayer Quake 4 is every bit as good as that of Quake 3 Arena, and that's quite an accomplishment, given that game's timeless popularity in the online world. Evidence of Quake III Arena influences abound, from the style of the available power-ups to the inclusion of two familiar outer-space maps that will have Quake III Arena fans cheering with delight. The weapon selection, in both single- and multiplayer versions, is straight out of the DOOM/Quake handbook, and as you might expect from a Quake title, the rocket launcher has been somewhat scaled down to better balance the weapon selection in multiplayer mode. Everyone's favorite Quake weapon, the rail gun, is back and better than ever. In later parts of the single-player experience, you'll even receive weapons upgrades that, again, take game play to a new level.
Like DOOM 3, Quake 4 runs best on modern PC hardware with a high-end video card. Visually, it's one of the sweetest-looking PC game titles I've ever seen. I'll be playing this one for some time to come. Highly recommended