Activision and id's latest shooter Quake 4 lands on the Xbox 360 with some impressive visuals and a solid multiplayer mode. The solo mission is decent and features an interesting plot twist that gives the game a unique feel. Another twist is the squad based play with a group of marines accompanying you on the missions. The game has more in common with Quake II than QII and features an excellent online arena battle mode that's frenetic and addictive, living up to its legendary predecessor in many aspects. From a visual standpoint, the game's use of the Doom 3 engine allows for a realistic, yet gritty look and runs smoothly on the console. Quake 4 is an excellent conversion of the PC version that continues the Xbox tradition of solid FPS action on the new console.
Set directly after the events in the series' second installment, Quake 4 takes players deep into the world of the Strogg, as the battle these fearsome aliens on their own planet. An elaborate cinematic sets the stage, as your marines land on the barren planet and is summarily attacked by these evil forces in brutal fashion. You watch your fellow soldiers blown to bits and barely make it out of the first stage by a narrow margin. Then you enter the Strogg stronghold, and must battle them as you make your way through the narrow, dimly lit corridors. You have a variety of weapons at your disposal including blasters, shotguns, sniper rifles, and other items. Unlike Doom 3 however, your weapons are now equipped with flashlights, which means you can fire and know what you're looking at. The gameplay stays fairly true to id's traditional formula, there's a lot of shooting and you'll find yourself battling many foes. There are loads of enemies in each level of Quake 4, which is crawling with foes, making it a stark contrast to the slower-paced Doom 3. This makes for a more intense game with a much faster pace that can be unrelenting. Unlike earlier shooters, another twist lies in the fact that Quake 4 implements a cursory squad-based combat system. This allows you to interact with other marines in certain areas, and some will accompany you through the missions throughout the solo campaign. They can perform a variety of tasks such as lending cover fire, sniping enemies, and sweeping out areas before you arrive. You can also interact with the medic character to give yourself a quick health boost if you need it. While you can't command these characters directly, they're relatively intelligent and will definitely help you out. In the earlier stages, they'll lead the way and can do a lot of the grunt work for you. This approach definitely brings a different feel to the gameplay, though Quake 4 is still very much a traditional FPS title at its core.
While it isn't revolutionary, Quake 4's level designs are more interesting than you'd expect, and features both indoor and outdoor areas where you can battle it out on the Strogg planet's surface. The corridors aren't entirely linear either, and many have hidden areas and alternative paths. It pays to explore each level since there are usually hidden items and bonus ammo waiting in these secret locations. Players will find that the pacing of Quake 4 is quite fast, and you'll spend the majority of your time battling enemies,but there are also several puzzle based elements where you have to find and use switches and locate terminals to activate events or unlock doors. Some of these puzzles are tricky and the solutions aren't immediately obvious, requiring multiple steps to complete. Breaking through these areas usually leads to a huge firefight with tons of Strogg attacking your squad at once. The enemy AI is surprisingly aggressive and the Strogg have no hesitation in charging your character and getting right in your face, making it essential to take them down quickly. They can do a ton of damage at close range. You need to kill any enemies you see immediately before they have the chance, so don't let them run around you and sneak up from behind. A few shots with your sniper rifle can usually do the trick effectively with most of the standard enemies. Some of the more intelligent Strogg such as the Gladiator beasts can anticipate your moves, making them much harder to kill, and leaving you in a defensive position where you have to escape their attacks by doing unexpected things such as strafing or jumping out of the way. This sophisticated AI system effectively mimics the tactics and techniques used by human players, making the enemies less predictable than expected. The use of AI makes Quake 4's solo mission more intense than you'd expect, adding a sense of chaos that heightens the game's intensity. The boss encounters also add to the intensity of the proceedings, with screen-filling foes flying and crawling in unpredictable ways while attacking your characters relentlessly.
Initially, Quake 4 seems like just another installment in the long-running franchise, but after the first few levels something happens to your character that fundamentally changes his actions and motivations. While this change is hinted at in many locations, we aren't going to spoil it here. It isn't a superficial change, since it gives your character new abilities and powers, which makes the gameplay feel even more intense. While your fellow marines are initially skeptical of you at first, they gradually come around and accept you. The Strogg, on the other hand, seem to only become more agitated and aggressive when they find out what has happened, and unleash even more powerful attacks on you, culminating in some genuinely intense battles. Quake 4's single player storyline unfolds at a good clip and is actually somewhat interesting, with some cut-scenes interspersed throughout the game. These usually help to guide you to the next objective as well, and help to immerse you further into the action, with the chatter from the other squad members adding to the atmosphere of the battle. The game's overall feel probably won't be a surprise to most id fans, with the familiar pace and look that have become the company's trademark. The controls are outstanding as well, with tight and responsive commands effectively mapped to the system's controller. The shooting system is somewhat more forgiving than you'd expect, for the most part. Switching weapons, strafing and running are all fairly intuitive, with the only major problematic areas arising when players face off against multiple enemies simultaneously. These are moments of frustration where the targeting reticle doesn't quite feel like it's keeping up with your action, making you an easy target. Using the sniper mode helps somewhat and this gets much better with practice. While the interface won't please PC fans used to a mouse and keyboard, console owners accustomed to the controls in other Xbox shooters like Halo 2 and Far Cry will definitely feel right at home.
Quake 4's PC roots are easy to spot in the overall approach and graphics engine but, Quake 4's visuals showcase the Xbox 360's hardware effectively. Using the Doom 3 engine gives the game a similar look, with incredibly detailed bump mapping used to give the environments an incredibly realistic appearance throughout. The environmental effects were imprssive, with some extensive light sourcing used to illuminate each level with flickering lights adding to the tension. The game also featured richly detailed environmental effects such as smoke and weather used to bring the Strogg world to life vividly. Quake 4's overall look is interesting, with a consistent appearance to the game that features clean based contrasted giving many of the environments a somewhat disturbing appearance. The game's impressive character rendering gives the marines a lifelike appearance and they move and react realistically. The Strogg themselves have never looked more impressive with their gruesome mixtures of technological and natural body parts. They have a surprisingly varied look and feel, with enemy type distinct and easy to pick out from the lineup. Quake 4's sound effects are terrific and do an excellent job in setting the mood, with excellent voice acting bringing the characters to life effectively. From a technical standpoint, the conversion to Xbox 360 is decent in the single player mode, with a fast frame rate that remained consistent throughout the game, though we did notice a few glitches once in awhile, though nothing that was overly distracting. The multiplayer mode was also impressive, with a speedy frame rate that was consistent and made for some intense battles. Quake 4's visual fidelity to the PC game is impressive with the graphics engine offering a sleek appearance throughout.
In addition to the main game, Quake 4 also includes a cool bonus disc that features game trailers, a making-of documentary and best of all, a complete and faithful translation of the original Quake II. Once you get past the relatively flat textures, you'll find that this seminal game has actually aged quite well, with its intense gameplay and massive battles remaining just as appealing as it did when it was released nearly a decade ago. Playing Quake II also shows just how enduring the formula is, with many of the primary elements still very much in evident in its state of the art sequel. This is a cool bonus, and makes the total package even more appealing. Going back to the main game, it's not surprising that Quake 4 is a solid conversion and the gameplay is both innovative and familiar, with a few twists on the formula to keep things fresh and engaging. While the single player game is challenging and interesting, most players will likely gravitate towards the multiplayer mode, which features a decent variety of maps and weapons, and returns the series to its primal roots in many respects. While there are many elements of Quake 4 that are more elaborate than the original, such as size of the levels and the sheer level of detail, the series' gameplay has evolved slowly over the years. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the small tweaks and changes this time around are more than enough, and cutting down waves of enemies still offers the same visceral thrill it always had. In the end, Quake 4's additions aren't enough to change the fundamental appeal, and act to enhance the player's immersion into the world. While the conversion from PC doesn't spark any new revelations, this excellent port makes for a solidly entertaining game that's one of the more enjoyable Xbox 360 launch titles.