This is a review of Quake 4 and FBT still spends most of it moaning about Quake.
If Doom was the Star Wars of gaming, Quake is the prequels; Everything is there, it looks great, but they’re shit rip-offs when you get down to it. Only the multiplayer saved it; and the sequel wasn’t even a sequel - it was a new IP, they just couldn’t think of a better name, which tells you everything you need to know about id by this point. Quake represents where id went wrong and I hate Quake more than the Star Wars prequels. It was a polished turd.
Nothing more than a tech company by 2004, id busied themselves sullying Doom's legacy with Doom 3, aka 'buy our new engine'; they off-loaded the Quake franchise to old pals Raven. I have a huge soft spot for them; besides making one of my fave Doom Clones, Heretic, they also hit both Star Trek and Star Wars out of the park with Voyager Elite Force and Jedi Knight Outcast/Academy. But I still avoided Quake 4 because it was a Doom 3 clone. More dark corridors and jump-scares? Naa. But now, a decade on and one Steam sale later, can Raven do what id couldn’t - Make a good game out of the Quake universe(s)?
With id out of the equation and good old fashioned war movies as inspiration, Q4 actually gets the job done right. A military FPS, Q4 picks up directly after Enemy Territory and Quake II – finally, some Quake Continuity. Plus, it’s single-mission driven; the first Quake game which is more than just lip-service for the multiplayer. The Strogg, an cybernetic invading force seen in Q2 has been beaten (well done Doomguy of Q2) and our hero, Kane, is deployed on their homeworld to mop up. But of course, the Strogg aren’t quite as down and out as the military thought, and soon enough we’re in a battle for our lives. It's got a D-Day meets Starship Troopers vibe, and while it's standard ‘get this door open’, ‘go find a medic’ orders, the missions often turn FUBAR as the Strogg push back - in Q4 it feels realistic in the way the army has misjudged Strogg forces and you get the sense we're just being played with.
Rather than be a straight FPS with us wading through infinite Strogg, Q4 goes for the realistic approach; its a CoD-classic era tactical shooter and we’re often accompanied by other commandos, either from our squad or other regiments (Including Raven squad, complete with their logo as their patch) and they’re expendable - losing them is occasionally scripted but not always, and ending up alone can get under your skin; you suddenly feel outnumbered. Still, it's not all on you; safe-areas where you hang with other troopers reveal missions they're on, sorties that got their teams cut to ribbons and you pick up snippets of transmissions detailing other events; you get the sense that you’re part of a bigger mission, Q4 really tries to explore the grunt experience and seeing jets scream past in dogfights or troop carriers land or get bombed as they evac makes you think we’re all in it together. We listen to other troops discussing events from the earlier games, worry about ‘the folks back home’. It reminds me a lot of Raven’s Elite Force - no Seven of Nine though, but you can’t have everything.
The game itself has some nice epic moments to give it that war movie vibe; there’s a great moment where you help secure a landing zone for a carrier, then watch it circle and land, then climb aboard, all in one shot. While we wander the ship, it circles to the next LZ and we deploy into another battle zone. You always feel as if you’re pushing toward a goal, doing your bit to stop the Strogg.
The Strogg are basically what the Borg would be like if they assimilated the WWE. Huge cyborg mentalists, sporting the kind of dismemberment and horror that’s usually reserved for Clive Barker; even Pinhead would be like ‘that’s a bit much’ and they provide some great firefights; it’s not a case of who can pump the most bullets into the other first (although it seems to be them generally). They’re formidable. Most of the Strogg’s military is converted humans from past battles, adding a macabre element and there’s the standard gunners but also big rigs like the Harvester, a giant spider-like creature that reminds you of the striders from Half-Life – a scripted moment when one barrels towards you, legs stomping while you and your team are stuck in a corridor is awesome-scary. There’s freaks like the surgeon guys who haunt the medical bays; cut-off at the waist and hovering, they take great delight in swooping down, swinging surgical instruments, while returning from QII, the Iron Maiden has had an upgrade including the ability to teleport, going from nuisance to rocket-propelling threat. Meanwhile heavy-unit The Gladiator has to drop its shield to fire so it’s a quick-draw or run-quick. Q4’s enemies aren’t hugely original but they have some tricks up what’s left of their sleeves and while most of Q4 is close-quarter corridors, they’re nicely laid out with various ways to advance or get the upper hand if you spot them in time; the game balances slow, uneasy exploratory levels with throw-down shootouts keeping it interesting. Progressing often requires a bit of thought and backtracking, rather plodding ever-onward and there’s quite a few outdoor levels, including some vehicular action; hover tanks, exoskeletons and jumping aboard troop carriers to keep the Strogg off our tail. It is industrial in look and without doubt falls into a Doom 3 feel at times, being built on idTech 4 but it’s got some sci-fi to take the dreary edge off and Q4 quickly develops its own personality. Kane himself though is just a Doomguy; it has Doom 3’s weird ‘zoom out of his head’ cut-scenes and he’s the strong silent type, a grunt committed only to the mission - which the marines have started to lose the initiative on. Then, you lose more than that.
Roughly mid-way through, it’s all on you as you reach the final button that’ll stop the Strogg. Yeah, that room isn’t clearly set up for a boss battle is it. But it’s worse than that. What follows is a grotesque trip as Kane is ripped and rendered for Stroggification. At the last second, we’re saved by our squad but a glance in the mirror suggests we’d need more than an analgesic cream to clear that up. Ever stoic, Kane seems largely untraumatized after being buzzsawed to pieces and his head cracked open. While conscious. Without anaesthetic. Man, even Doomguy looked perturbed when he lost most of his health in one shot, but Kane doesn’t even blink when he loses most of his limbs. He doesn’t even check if little Kane is still there.
Once Kane escapes, he’s Robocop with a missile launcher. Faster, meaner, a better shot and you can hear the Strogg talking and interact with their equipment now. It feels like the game just changed, but not enough. Everyone bangs on about Kane now being the army’s most important asset but we’re back to getting doors open and babysitting. It should drastically alter the game but it falls into standard shooter tropes – even his squaddies are largely unfazed by their old pal looking like the enemy. It could have gone in all sorts of ways; Kane cast out to go it alone, or hunted by his own squad, or even have him completely assimilated and turn on his pals – Kane could have been biblical reference (sort of) so to have him start killing his bros would have been sick. At least have him turn into an infiltration soldier, walking the Strogg areas without threat as you try to bring down defences, see how far you can get before that itchy trigger-finger gets too much. It could have gone anywhere but it just keeps going until it becomes standard shooter fare. It just doesn’t alter the gameplay drastically enough considering what we just watched him go through. He’s just Doomguy on Steroids and doesn’t quite feel as key to the mission as everyone bangs on about; it’s all down to Super-Kane in the end, and it’s a good ending with a nice question-mark final shot, and it works, but it feels a little bit of a missed opportunity.
Stroggification disappointment aside, Q4 is a cracking shooter. It's a real good'un. You feel like John Wayne in some 1940s war movie or western; Q4 holds up as a shooter from a period where all gamers banged on about was Half Life 2 - like Prey (the 2006 version) which this often reminds you of, Q4 has some great moments and it deserves to be played; it's more than another Quake sequel built on Doom. It’s the Rogue One of the Star Wars movies.
Raven software; always the bridesmaid never the bride, most of their successes have come from playing in someone else’s sandbox; their early games were built with id (ShadowCaster ran on an id engine, Romero exec-produced the Heretic series), while their best games, Elite Force and Jedi Knight were fan-fave franchise licences; besides Quake they also rebooted Wolfenstein and then produced a shooter based on the magazine for gun-lovers, Soldier of Fortune, which is as odd as it was ultra-violent. Then they contracted with Marvel for a series of X-Men games. Everything Raven touches is a solid, likeable game – and in the case of Jedi Outcast, an absolute classic - yet they never had an in-house property; their most recent attempt, Singularity failed and now they just churn out Call of Duty DLC. They deserve better, and it’s a shame Raven got bought by Activision; if only id bought them instead - as each id engine evolved, their games devolved. Raven's developer genius built on id's technical genius could have staved both off from being bought out by the kind of soulless companies they once rallied against. Just think what Doom 3 could have been; The Doom Awakens.
2005 | Developer Raven Software | Publisher Activision
platforms; win | X360