The Quake series of sci-fi first-person shooters has always had a fairly sketchy history on console platforms. It has often represented the pinnacle of PC graphical capabilities, but translating those high-end graphics to affordable, mass-market consoles has usually proved to be a tough process. That trend continues with Quake 4 for the Xbox 360. Despite the 360's stature as the most powerful console on the market, it just can't keep up with this game's demanding visuals (which probably speaks more to the lackluster quality of the game's translation from the PC than to the system's power, judging by how well the 360's two other first-person shooters look by comparison). Quake 4 is a compelling game, but when saddled with an extremely unstable frame rate, it's tough to recommend.
The Xbox 360 version of Quake 4 gets pretty ugly in some spots.
Contentwise, the Xbox 360 version is similar to its PC counterpart. The single-player campaign is lengthy and fairly varied. The multiplayer has been cut back to an eight-player maximum, as opposed to the PC version's 16-player matches, but that's still enough to make the maps feel populated. The only real difference is in visual quality and performance. When running on a modern PC, Quake 4 looks fantastic, using the Doom 3 engine to display the alien world of Stroggos in a sharp, defined level of detail. A quick look up at the sky or at most of the game's wall and ground textures shows that the Xbox 360 version has significantly muddier textures. In addition, the frame rate is sort of a mess. Any time the action gets heated in a large or complex-looking area, the game starts to spin down to a surprisingly low frame rate, regardless of whether you're playing in HD resolution or on a regular TV. At some points, it gets so bad that the whole game starts to slow down, as well. You'll know when that's happening because the rate of fire on your weapons slows way, way down. Even when there's no action onscreen, just viewing the environments is enough to make the game run at a noticeably choppy rate. While there are still some cool-looking areas, the frame rate troubles drag down the entire experience.
Quake 4 also comes with a bonus disc, packed right into the case in a paper sleeve. The majority of the bonus disc contains a variety of trailers and gameplay footage from the game's development. The key inclusion, however, is a fully playable Xbox 360 version of Quake II. While it doesn't get online, it supports up to four players via split-screen and 16 over system link. It plays quite well with the Xbox 360 controller, and the silky-smooth frame rate is in stark contrast with Quake 4. It's a very cool bonus.
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 dropship 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. You'll get to explore the ship and meet some of its crew, and 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. It's also the crux of a trailer that plays if you leave the game on the title screen for a few seconds. 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 over the course of the game's 10-to-15-hour campaign, but nothing that happens totally changes the way the game is played or anything like that.
Matthew Kane goes through a lot in this alien-infested first-person shooter.
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.