Quake, like Doom before it, has become an institution on the PC. Whereas Doom has always been the cover star, Quake has simply sat quietly in the background amusing millions with its solid blend of atmospheric single-player action and some of the best multiplayer ever witnessed. Microsoft made a canny move ensuring that the latest Quake would appear on its brand new console, but it seems it may have got slightly less than it bargained for with id/Raven’s latest collaboration.
So, why isn’t Quake 4 the world-beating launch game that it should be then? Surely it’s pretty much the same as the PC version, which has cemented a position just behind FEAR as the second best FPS of the year. Well, the problem is that Quake 4 really doesn’t try anything new, and whereas other Xbox 360 launch titles like Call Of Duty 2 and Project Gotham Racing 3 can embrace ‘me-too’ gameplay and live to tell the tale, with this game it just seems a little on the tired side. This isn’t much of a problem for fans of Doom 3 and the like, who enjoy being shepherded down a series of corridors dispatching an enemy (or group of them) in each area – but for anyone looking for something that little bit more epic and awe-inspiring from the next-generation of consoles, the linearity of the game will be massively off-putting. After all, it was possible to wander through alien environments and blast things with a shotgun on the Xbox. The textures may look a little shinier, and the enemies a little more detailed, but the basic premise of the game has been done to death – and in some cases – it's even been done better.
The decision to return Quake to both a single- and multiplayer experience has received mixed responses from the hardcore fans. On the one hand, it’s great to see the story progress, but on the other, the single-player mode has never been the strongest element of the game: that has traditionally been the territory of Doom. Having spent time with both sides to the game on the Xbox 360, it’s clear that the ingame engine is still geared much more towards that fast and frantic frag-fest that is Quake multiplayer than it is towards actually carrying a storyline from start to finish. That’s just a polite way of saying that the single-player campaign is pretty dull next to the multiplayer, and pretty quickly, most will become fairly apathetic to the struggle between humanity and the Strogg. It’s not that the script or the premise behind the story is at fault – it’s just that the game is so linear and clichéd that after a while it becomes pretty predictable. When this happens to a game that relies on shocks and surprises to keep the action flowing, problems start to arise.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom; and anyone who appreciates a good run and gun will be more than pleased with what Quake 4 has to offer. As has become standard with every id-approved game, the combat engine is razor sharp and extremely solid. There are no collision or clipping issues here, and every shot is pinpoint accurate. The weapon balancing is also pretty tight, helping the game maintain a fair yet challenging difficulty curve throughout the whole experience. The main problem is that the game’s frame rate doesn’t exactly run at a constant. In fact, it’s pretty shoddy during some of the more intense action sequences, significantly reducing the enjoyment anyone will be gleaning from the game, as they attempt to stutter their cross-hair over the jerky enemies. Why on earth this is the case, after other more hardware-demanding games have managed to achieve a solid rate of 60fps is beyond our comprehension.
The other issue is with the game’s pace and longevity. Quake 4 may not have the longest single-player campaign on the Xbox 360 but it by no means has the shortest, as anyone who picks up a copy of Call Of Duty 2 or Condemned will be able to testify. And yet you will reach the game’s finale sooner than you’d imagine – perhaps it’s the overly dull level designs that seem to bring up the closing credits screen all too quickly – you may feel like you are playing on auto pilot after a few hours in Quake 4’s grip. With that said, there are plenty of Strogg to be gunned down in between the start and finish, and for fans of mindless, no-brainer action, this will be a massive plus for the game. The real problem is that there is little else beyond that, save for the killer multiplayer mode…
That’s right, Quake 4 comes with an updated version of Quake III’s multiplayer, and for Live users, this should be reason enough to fork out for a copy of the game. Although it’s yet to prove itself over Microsoft’s new-and-improved Live service, the theory behind Quake’s arena combat shows nothing but promise. The action on offer is without doubt the quickest and most ferocious combat that can be experienced on consoles, surpassing that seen in Halo 2 and in some respects, Perfect Dark Zero. The painfully simple, yet utterly foolproof approach of offering up savage combat with a variety of powerful weapons just works so well for Quake. This game is undoubtedly one of the most basic multiplayer titles ever, and whereas this will help it gain a cult following amongst hardcore online gamers, the fact that the same in-game engine has been used to power the single-player campaign will leave most high and dry. Quake appears to have backed itself into a corner and is left with the option of offending the sensibilities of single-player campaigners at the expense of offering up more of the world’s most addictive multiplayer.
Players really have to ask themselves what they are expecting from Quake 4. Sure, it’s as basic as shooters come, but is that what you splashed £300 on a new console for? The game is incredibly atmospheric in places, but it never comes close to reaching the same levels of tension that are achieved in something like Condemned. The action is intense, but nothing remotely like Infinity Ward achieved with Call Of Duty 2. Where the single-player gameplay is concerned, it just seems like everything on offer has been done better elsewhere, even with the relatively small batch of games that constitute the Xbox 360’s launch lineup. We could at least have hoped for a decent PC port, but the issues with the game’s frame rate have meant even this simple task has left us disappointed. With the next generation of games, the lowest we’ve come to expect – even at this early stage – is a decent port.
More than technical issues, the problems are with the game itself. In single-player mode there’s something deeply upsetting about battling through the most advanced shooter ever made, only to be greeted with a naff tank, mech, or tail-gunner section that seems to have been thrown in as a last-ditch attempt to add a little variety to the game. Why, oh why, does every FPS absolutely have to involve some sort of naff on-rails section that insults pretty much everyone who plays that game? Next-gen technology should be helping gamers fight through worlds in whatever way they please, not restricting them to the same (although admittedly prettier) linear routes. We should feel like we’re part of an epic struggle between two different races, not just one of a small rabble blasting stuff in buildings that seem to consist entirely of winding corridors. Even the boss fights, which have often been the high points in the Quake series, seem a little tame and predictable in the latest outing. Once again, there’s no real fault with them other than the fact that gamers will have seen it all earlier in the year while they were struggling through Doom 3 on their Xbox.
Perhaps when the next Quake (or Doom) surfaces on the Xbox 360, the developer will be putting Microsoft’s technology to better use. Maybe, the PC version will feel and look slightly dumbed down in comparison to the console game for a change. Either way, the aim for id in its next X360 game should be to at least eradicate some of the more irritating aspects of the game such as the extensive load times, and the fact that bodies fade away almost the second they hit the floor and that staggering frame rate. Would it be too much to ask for a simple melee button next time around? What about the chance to climb out of the corridors and roam around freely over a Strogg-infested landscape? If Quake fails to keep up with other FPS series in this generation, then it may once again find itself as no more than a hardcore multiplayer series with little to offer the offline gamer. For the time being, the multiplayer will be well received, but many will be left with an empty gaming stomach after this outing, and should expect more the next time Raven decides to shake the earth in this next-generation.