The hovertank sequence is cool, but it's also really easy.
You'll also fight alongside some other marines at various points in the game. While they aren't perfect, they do seem to fight a lot better than you'd expect from squadmates that are completely out of your control. They also seem to take a lot more damage than you'd expect, but that doesn't mean they're invincible. If you let one of the game's key characters catch too many hot ones, they'll go down, and you'll lose as well. Incidental marines that you encounter along the way, however, are free to die without any penalty. Some marines are flagged as medics or engineers, who will heal you and repair your armor, if asked. Fighting alongside other marines brings some variety to the game, as do the game's vehicles. You'll get to pilot a hovertank and a mech, and at one point, you'll work the gun on a tram to defend it from enemy attackers. The vehicles heal themselves over time, just like the shield system in Halo, which make these sequences very easy. Still, rolling around in the game's vehicles and blasting stuff is still fun, and the sequences are short enough to not get in the way.
While the single-player doesn't feel like a throwback, firing up the multiplayer side of the game is like going on an archaeological dig. As you dig, you'll unearth a take on Quake III Arena's multiplayer for up to 16 players. While the goal was clearly to duplicate Quake III Arena's fantastic deathmatch, the feel of the game isn't quite right, which, aside from the inclusion of a few maps from previous Quake games, doesn't manage to pull off the nostalgic feel it was probably going for. Instead, it just sort of feels like a relic, delivering the barebones standard modes of deathmatch, team deathmatch, one-on-one, and two versions of capture the flag.
That's not to say that the multiplayer isn't exciting. It's fun, it's fast-moving, and deathmatch is the star of the show, but it's also nothing you haven't seen and played to death already. While all of this stuff was fantastic in 1999, it's a little stale now. The weapons from the single-player side are included here, but they're streamlined to not force you to reload your weapons. The level design is full of Quake III-style jump pads, and you'll have the same sort of air control that you had over your airborne combatant in Quake III. Even the announcer sounds virtually identical to the one from Quake III, and makes the same kind of commentary you've already heard a billion times. The frantic multiplayer has its moments, but it's disappointing how little the multiplayer has evolved.
In Doom 3, the graphics were the star of the show and basically made the game's whole theme possible. Without those high-quality lighting and shadow systems, how could hell's demons hop out at you from the darkness? Quake 4 has an entirely different theme to it, but it still makes fantastic use of the Doom 3 engine. Exploring Stroggos is exciting on its own, just because the game is full of interesting areas that look absolutely amazing. The design of the various alien areas get to be more and more breathtaking as you work your way deeper and deeper into the game. The models of the other marines on your adventure look great, too. Many of the enemies are updated takes on foes found in Quake II, but as you'd probably expect, they look a whole lot better now. It also has support for widescreen monitors, but it doesn't seem to actually support widescreen resolutions. All of this graphical prowess comes at a price; you'll need a pretty stout machine to run it well. Machines that just barely meet the game's minimum requirements will get a reduced version of the experience that runs smoothly, but the scaled-back detail detracts from the experience.
Dude! Behind you!
Quake 4 has great sound that helps highlight the experience. The weapons sound appropriately tough, which is always key for a shooter. But the game is much more than the sounds of weapons and explosions. The voice work is sharp and believable, and helps give a little more life to the marines around you. However, sometimes you'll hear different radio chatter repeat frequently, especially if you're taking your sweet time getting to that next objective. Also, sometimes you'll get radio transmissions in the middle of a fight, and the voice gets drowned out. Fortunately, that speech is never too important. The game's music is understated, but fits in with the atmosphere. There are even a few musical stabs in the game that play when you open a door and see an enemy on the other side, almost as if it's attempting to poke fun at Doom 3's constant "what's behind the next door?" scare tactics.
Overall, Quake 4 is kind of a weird case. The single-player is great fun, but the uninspired multiplayer leaves a lot to be desired. The end result feels like two different games. The single-player has a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to it that makes a great showpiece for the Doom 3 engine, while the online portion feels like it fell out of a time warp. If you're looking for Quake III Arena's deathmatch with better graphics and much higher system requirements, this is your game. But if you're looking for some new ideas from the series that made online deathmatch a big deal in the first place, you're barking up the wrong tree.