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Quake 4

Raven & ID software teamed up to create a new chapter in the Quake lineage, adding to the Strogg alien storyline from Quake 2. You get to control Corporal Matthew Kane, a veteran of the Strogg's assault on Earth. This time around, the marines are taking the fight to the Strogg homeworld to strike a blow to their communication network. The storyline develops slowly to a twisting crescendo in the middle of the game and then falls to a repetitive snail's pace to finish out the last half of the single player game. While the presentation of the game is mostly fluid and polished, I couldn't help thinking many of the game's elements felt contrived and reminiscent of Doom 3.

While Quake 4 doesn't have the engineered frightening moments of Doom 3, you get the feeling that the level design is pretty close to what ID used in Doom 3. The narrow corridors, the futuristic technology, the freakish monstrosities; all of these gameplay elements are recycled in Quake 4. That being said, the weaponry, teammates, and vehicle inclusions are what differentiate Quake 4 from Doom 3.

At the onset of the game, you have an infinite-ammo pistol at your disposal. This handy fallback weapon comes equipped with a flashlight which is also available on the machine gun. After that, you will receive a surprisingly powerful shotgun, a piercing nailgun, an underpowered grenade launcher, a standard rocket launcher, a plasma hyperblaster, a railgun, a lightning gun, and a BFG knockoff; the dark matter gun. These weapons become available as you progress throughout the game. You also get various upgrades, such as larger clip sizes or more precise modifications, from your teammates if you ask nicely.

Your teammates come in 3 types: standard marine, medical marine, and tech marine. The standard marines don't pack much firepower, but they are good distractions while you take down the big bad Strogg. The medical marine can cure you if there isn't a battle going on. The tech marine will provide 2 services: repairing your depleted armor and providing those much-needed weapon upgrades as mentioned previously. The A.I. of your teammates isn't particularly ingenious, but they get the job done adequately.

The vehicles in Quake 4 are surprisingly varied ranging from hover tanks to mechanized walker suits. The firepower on these vehicles packs quite a punch with high caliber machine guns rounds and cutting artillery shells. Unfortunately, the controls for the free moving vehicles are a bit loose. Attempting to fire accurately while navigating the hover tank can be a futile effort especially with the stronger Strogg villains after you. In addition to those vehicles, there are a couple rail vehicles you get to ride while manning the mounted machine gun.

The A.I. of the Strogg villains can be summed up in 1 word: ATTACK! I understand the collective brainpower of a mutant, freakish alien race can be low, but how about some unified formations or even the occasional retreat? Sadly, the enemy A.I. becomes very predictable and severely repetitive as the game progresses. Raven/ID should have spent more time increasing the intelligence of their villains rather than adding as many new variations of villains.

The multiplayer section of the game is quite disheartening to say the least. For a series that built itself on being one of the best multiplayer experiences available on the PC, it seems like multiplayer was just an after-thought in Quake 4. The in-game session browser is buggy and nearly unusable out of the box, but you can update to 1.04 to resolve some of the issues. The map selection is few in number and Raven/ID hasn't seen fit to release any more. The number of modes really hasn't been expanded on much from Quake 2. For those looking for an excellent multiplayer session in the Quake universe, stick to Quake 2 or 3 for the time being.

The graphic engine is the same used in Doom 3 with some added improvements. It takes a behemoth of a graphics card to pull off all the fancy effects at a high resolution, but the eye candy is vastly impressive. The baddies are incredibly detailed and animated quite fluidly. The bump-mapped textures and the shader-induced lighting really give the game that spooky ambiance that made Doom 3 popular. In addition, the rag-doll physics are used in a dramatic manner with the villian animations. Also, the cutscenes flow splendidly between the action and the story plot points. As a point of reference, my 9800 pro was able to pull off 1600x1200 at medium resolution with playable framerates.

The auditory elements within Quake 4 are a mixed bag. The voiceovers are well produced and memorable of other popular FPS games. The amount of different conversations recorded is pretty astounding for a shooter. On a negative note, the sounds effects for everything else going on is exceedingly bass heavy. This requires you to play with the volume between firefights and chats with marines. The background music is definitely not noteworthy and doesn't add much to the atmosphere of the game. I also encountered an audio bug that would make the entire audio track choppy after about an hour of playtime.

The single player game last about 10-12 hours on the default level, so you could add a few hours for the next step up in difficulty. It would have been even quicker if the load times weren't so painful. My 10,000 rpm Raptor took 45 seconds to 2 minutes to load each one of the 31 levels. As for any replay value, the multiplayer is not worth much of a look and the single player game doesn't offer anything new the second time around. Unless you are a Quake addict, wait for this title to hit the $25 - $30 mark to experience the single player game.