While Doom was the game that would make id Software a gaming-household name in the early '90s, over the years, the company shifted its focus away from the Doom games. As PC hardware and 3D acceleration became better and better, id became much more focused on engine development. Those engines were the underlying technology that powered the games in the Quake series, which began in 1996. Quake was among the first PC first-person shooters to let you take your multiplayer matches onto the Internet, and over the years, the series has become synonymous with great technology and exciting multiplayer. Now, in 2005, the roles of id's games have reversed a bit. The company's most recent engine is the one built for Doom 3, and Quake 4 runs on this same engine. Furthermore, Quake 4 wasn't even developed by id internally; it instead outsourced game development to the capable minds at Raven Software, who have turned in a fantastic-looking game with a great single-player campaign. The multiplayer, however, is underwhelming.
The single-player will put you up against some crazy-looking foes.
The three previous Quake games have all had very little to do with one another. The first game's story almost felt more like a retelling of Doom, dealing with inappropriately opened portals that spew out all sorts of horrific demons. Quake II ditched that storyline in favor of an Earth-versus-alien conflict that had you crash-landing on the alien homeworld in search of revenge. Quake III Arena was multiplayer focused, with no true single-player storyline other than that a wide collection of warriors--some taken from the Doom and Quake games--had been pulled out of their own timelines and into this futuristic battle arena. Quake 4 doubles back and picks up where Quake II left off. That nameless space marine from Quake II has apparently killed the Makron, the leader of the Strogg forces, and now it's up to you to get in there and try to finish the job. But, of course, things aren't quite what they seem.
In Quake 4, you play as a space marine named Matthew Kane, who has recently been assigned to Rhino Squad. In keeping with first-person shooter storyline tradition, Kane doesn't speak, but the marines around you will more than make up for the lack of chatter coming out of Kane's lips. You're the new guy, and some of the squad's even betting that you won't even survive for one day. With the Makron assumed dead, your squad is taking part in an operation to take advantage of the disarray and mop up the rest of the enemy forces on the Strogg planet. But your drop ship gets hit and comes down hard, killing a large chunk of your squadmates at the opening of the game. From there, you'll pull yourself up out of the muck and get down to business.
Eventually, your squad will get extracted back to a capital ship for reassignment. Here, you'll get to explore the ship, similar to how you could explore Voyager in Raven's Elite Force games. Then you're back out on a new mission designed to disrupt the Strogg communication network. And the story continues from there. While the story itself isn't particularly gripping, it's designed well enough to keep you interested in what's happening. There's also a potentially interesting plot twist in the game that, unfortunately, was revealed by id Software almost immediately, when the company first started talking about and showing off the game. We won't repeat it here, in case you've managed to stay away, because we have to imagine that the twist would have been a lot more interesting if you didn't see it coming. Just know that a few interesting things happen in the game, but they don't totally change the way the game is played or anything like that.
For the most part, Quake 4 is a standard, straightforward shooter in its single-player mode. While the minute-to-minute objectives might not be the most interesting thing in the world, the game's combat is generally pretty satisfying. It's almost as if Raven set out to prove that the Doom 3 engine could do more than just constantly try to surprise you, one enemy at a time. That's not to say that Quake 4's hallways are littered with angry enemies, but Quake 4 is definitely a much more hectic game than Doom 3 ever was. While you'll still deal with a lot of shadowy areas, this is less about making you jump out of your seat and more about running and gunning. When matched with the game's amazing graphical design, the single-player becomes an exciting thrill ride that, on the default difficulty setting, should take you somewhere around 10 to 15 hours to complete.
Yeah, the multiplayer looks better than Quake III did, but that's about it.
In the end, first-person shooters still come down to their armory. In Quake 4, you'll be armed with a fairly standard collection of weapons that may have originated in the Quake II universe--but that doesn't mean they're all identical. You'll start the game with only a blaster, which has infinite ammo and can be charged up for a more powerful shot. But this quickly gives way to the machine gun, which is versatile enough that you'll probably be relying on it throughout the entire game. That's mostly because the machine gun has a flashlight mounted on it. Even though the game isn't trying to spook you by having enemies jump out of the shadows, seeing better is always a good thing. Plus, lighting up some dark corners is a good way to find extra ammo and armor.
You'll eventually get a shotgun, a grenade launcher, the energy-powered hyperblaster, a rocket launcher, the railgun, a nailgun, the lightning gun, and so on, up to the game's version of the BFG, the dark matter gun. Right off the bat, most of these weapons aren't much handier than the stock machine gun. Reloading the shotgun takes too long, the nailgun has a long, chaingun-style spin-up time, and so on. Along the way, you'll run into marines who can upgrade your weapons. Your shotgun will eventually be modified to be a clip-fed weapon, making reloading a snap. The nailgun gains the ability to lock onto targets and shoot homing nails that make it behave almost identically to the needler from Halo. The lightning gun upgrade makes it chain off and attack other enemies standing near your target. The hyperblaster upgrade makes its shots bounce off of walls. And the railgun gets a power upgrade that makes it much more useful. The rocket launcher gets an auto-loader that loads up three rockets at a time, letting you fire them off in faster succession. While you'll still rely on that machine gun in a lot of situations, most of the weapons come into their own later in the game, giving you some good, tactical decisions to make as you fight.