Ironically the follow-up title; Quake 2, took place in pretty much the same environment and setting, but couldn't really be considered a direct sequel. The game basically evolved many of the concepts that were available in the first game and fleshed out the multiplayer experience beyond the original offering. There were also three expansions released nearly a year later and console ports for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo 64. Of course back then the multiplayer on home consoles was restricted to split-screen on the same TV.
In 1999 Quake3: Arena was developed, but instead of being a sequel to the franchise it focused mostly on the multiplayer aspect and tried to compete with Unreal Tournament. The single player campaign was essentially stripped and you were basically tossed into an arena (duh!) to duke it out with AI combatants. This version also saw a release in 2001 on some consoles; namely the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, though SEGA's system was the only one that could pull of the online multiplayer at the time. Now, here we are four years later and staring at the newest addition for the Quake series.
A change in venue this time around meant that the game was actually developed by Raven Software (Hexen, X-Men Legends) with some collaboration with id Software. The team also had the Doom 3 engine provided for their development pleasure so comparisons to that game are undeniable. Ironically if the fourth installation in the series were to be called a "sequel" to any of the prior games, it would have to be the second.
As Matthew Kane (marine extraordinaire) you are pitted against a cyborg alien race known as the Strogg. Kane gets introduced quickly to the horrors of war as you take part in a bloody thick battle campaign. I'd like to say that the story is gripping and interesting, but honestly there isn't much of anything here that hasn't been done before. The plot is relatively light and though there are more than a few cool moments, the game never excels in its development. Of course this is the first Quake game to focus on a single player experience as much as a multiplayer one, so I suppose you have to give and take a little bit. What's left is a wonderful first person shooter that does what it came to do, but doesn't necessarily fill the void that fans have been looking for.
Let's get one thing straight; this is a FPS on the Xbox 360, so if you have ever played a shooter before you basically know what to expect as far as the controls go. This is especially true if you have had the opportunity to check out Doom 3 or even Resurrection of Evil. It's not that it's really a bad thing to use a tried and true control method, but when you play a lot of shooters you eventually want at least something to be different. Call of Duty 2 offers some alterations to the control schematic and so does Perfect Dark Zero for that matter. I guess familiar has its benefits and all, but it would be nice to have a developer think outside the box once in a while.
There is an event at some point later in the game where Raven Software had the opportunity to really turn the experience on its head, but unfortunately it didn't. That means the action here is essentially Grade A standard as far as originality is concerned. The atmosphere plays a lot to elevate many points of the game and the light system from the Doom 3 engine certainly has a way to keep you on your toes, but even so I wasn't able to shake the "been there, done that" feeling.
Unfortunately the AI doesn't get creative that much either. Sure they skulk around in the dark and pop out from behind doors like a Jack in a box, but are they smart? Not really. Around the midway point the game kicks it up a notch and things start to get interesting though you won't really have to flush the enemy out like you do in Call of Duty 2. It is entertaining enough to keep you playing and slaughtering Strogg will satisfy your bloodlust. In the end though the action becomes kind of droll at some point and it really just feels like shoot another bullet, drop another body.
The health system is kind of cool since it integrates an element of strategy and a sense of urgency into the mix. Instead of most FPS games where you have to find health packs or duck out of the fire for a moment to recharge your shield, in Quake 4 you actually have to seek out a medic and engineer to get you back up and running. This means that you have to be sure to do your best to keep everyone alive or else you're going to find yourself up Strogg Creek without a shotgun. This could have made a very interesting co-op element for Xbox Live but unfortunately we aren't presented with anything of the kind. The game could have been infinitely better if you could have pulled a squad of friends together and try to keep each other alive throughout the campaign.
The multiplayer that is presented here is also kind of a let down compared to other games in the genre. The only modes that you can really play here are Deathmatches and Capture the Flags. In total there are only thirteen maps as well so the pickings are rather slim compared to other experiences that you can have on Live. What's more disappointing is that the games only allow for up to eight players. I don't know about you but I'm used to having 16 player fragfests that can run all night long if you get the right group of gamers together. That just doesn't seem to happen with this version of Quake 4 sadly.
So all in all is the newest addition to the Quake franchise a system seller for the 360? Probably not. It's a decent port of the PC version though there are obviously some limitations that come into play here. The game tries to do what previous installments in the series haven't and that's to combine a single player experience on top of a robust multiplayer one. The end result is a game that features a strong (not great, but strong) single player campaign and a mediocre to disappointing multiplayer selection. The gameplay itself features some nice elements but maybe not the most creative development. If you're looking for a creepy and action packed FPS then you've come to the right place, but it's probably not enough to make you stop playing Perfect Dark Zero, Call of Duty 2 or Halo 2.
The application of the Doom 3 engine here means that Quake 4 boasts some amazing visual effects. The strong use of the light and shadow system makes the interior environments feel like you're stumbling through the dark in a hostile world; which is pretty much what's going on anyway. You'll cling to your flashlight as if your life depended on it, because it basically does. This gives the game a fantastic atmosphere that is rivaled only by Doom 3 as far as the Xbox console is concerned.
Character designs are great as well with some lifelike animation and textures. My only beef is that even though there are many different Stroggs to take down, they all look the same due to the short amount of time that you come in contact with them. Once you get a lot of them and some marines in a room together the framerate also tends to dip a little bit. The game is graphically intensive, which I understand, but this is the next generation and that type of thing shouldn't really happen. In the end though the HD presentation of Quake 4 is fantastic and it will look great on whatever it is that you are running (480p, 720p or 1080i).
With a strong Dolby Digital showing the game comes alive with the sounds of an alien war. The voice work in the game is truly the shining jewel in Quake 4's crown but the music comes in at a close second place. It's mostly atmospheric and such, but it really adds something to the intensity of the game. The sound effects themselves may be a little humdrum but as you're playing the game you probably won't care an awful lot; especially when your trigger finger is itching. It's a solid package in this department as well and will really rock the base from your rear speakers.
Technically it's the first "new" showing of the Quake series since 1999, so how does it stack up? The story may be better than the rest of the games in the franchise and the multiplayer is on par with the series, but not entirely robust. Unfortunately compared to other shooters on the market today the game comes across as feeling lacking with a mediocre single player experience and sparse options to play on Live with. Out of the three FPS games on the 360 right now, this is probably the weakest of the bunch. The game is strong enough on its own merit, but a little disappointing in the end. Even so I'm still going to recommend it for 360 owners, but would recommend Call of Duty 2 or Perfect Dark Zero even more.