Review by midwinter

"Frag Hard, Die Young"

Not since Doom 3 have players been presented with such a convincing case for simplicity. By boiling the first person shooter down to its component parts, Raven's Quake 4 has reconstituted itself as a shambling nightmare of machinery and flesh. It's pure, run and gun action free of the genre's recent "improvements", and those dissatisfied with Perfect Dark Zero would do well to check it out.

Your name's Matthew Kane, and you're about to kick a lot of arse

Microsoft's Xbox 360 launched with the promise of putting players at the center of their game, and Quake 4 has done just that. Sacrificing complexity for a loaded blaster and a dozen rounds in the clip, it pushes you through enemy territory with a single, clear objective: protect your balls by any means necessary. Tension is generated thanks to a steady stream of cannon fodder while the graphics engine neatly delivers a battlefield pot-marked by horror. Your fallen comrades for example, lay eviscerated on operating tables, their internal organs painfully external and responding to the ministrations of a nearby machine. The sights and sounds of the planet Stroggos are as fearsome a setting as any for a firefight, and effortlessly draw players in through a combination of shock and awe.

With a modified Doom 3 engine though, great visuals were always a given. Indoors, Quake 4 comes to life as machines of all shapes and sizes whirl away in the background, lending the atmosphere a desperate sense of uncertainty. Lights flicker, shadows move, and off in the distance what might be half a dozen Strogg foot soldiers lock their weapons ready for combat. But then Quake's never been a subtle game, and when the action strikes it comes like a hand grenade, exploding death and destruction across the screen. Rockets fly with deadly accuracy as rail guns tear through flesh. Meanwhile there you are: screaming obscenities and mowing down anything that moves.

Simply brilliant.

What I'm not telling you however, is that Quake 4 is prone to occasional slowdown. Whether due to an accelerated development, or Raven's own inexperience with the Xbox 360, there are times when the action begins to break. And when that happens, you'll see the game in a whole new light. Understand then, immersion is what Quake 4 has instead of fresh ideas, and having lost its crutch, players are left with a basic first person shooter that gets the essentials right, but offers nothing more besides. It's many scripted events are increasingly well executed, while the ability to pilot a tank was a nice touch as well. Unfortunately though, its quality moments are undermined by a single major flaw, and having spent the cash on a new Xbox 360, some may find that unacceptable.

Still, those that stick with it are sure to enjoy what Quake 4 has to offer. There are few games that can boast an arsenal quite like this, and there are fewer still that actually make it work. From the rapid fire brutality of the nail gun, to the hyper blaster, to a dark matter cannon that fires quantum singularities, each and every weapon packs an awesome punch. And should you still need some extra support, there's always the camaraderie of your fellow marines when things get tough. They know how to handle themselves in firefight, and will respond in a believable, "Semper-Fi, Do or Die" fashion to anything the game presents. Taken with their well defined personalities however, you'll soon understand that these trash talking bad arses are more than capable of keeping you backed. Even once your ammo counter runs dry...

Online though, Quake 4 is a completely different beast. Building on ID's Quake III Arena, Raven have delivered one of the finest, competitive shooters the Xbox 360 is ever likely to see. Free of slowdown, the action tears along at a terrific pace, rushing players through one well designed map after the next. Indeed, veterans of the genre should feel right at home as many of the strategies they once developed on the PC prove as relevant here as they were back then. Hunting your opponent by the sounds they generate is still a valid tactic, as is rocket jumping and the occasional tele-frag. If I were to complain, I'd probably ask Raven for a few more game modes, but with the ability to download extra content at a later date, there's always the chance such things will be fixed.

As a launch title, Quake 4 is flawed where it counts the most, but there's still no denying the rest of package is very well thought out. Connected to a high definition TV and a home theater set-up of equal quality, players can look forward to a war-zone choked on chaos and blood. The controls are of course perfect, as is the pacing which allows you to find your feet before it knocks you to the ground again with a monstrous final push. If you're willing to live with slightly lowered expectations, Quake 4's going to rock your world. And if not, well, there's always Perfect Dark Zero. Right... ?

Pros
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* Picks up from where Quake 2 left off
* Totally immersive action
* The controls are spot-on
* Simplified, fast paced shoot'em up action
* There's a huge range of weapons
* Both NPC and enemy AI proves utterly believable
* The action has been well graded
* Multiplayer is based on ID's awesome, Quake III Arena
* Thunderous 5.1 Dolby Surround support

Cons
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* The frame rate takes a hit from time to time
* As far as first person shooters go, Quake 4 is pretty basic
* What's with renaming the BFG?


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/18/06, Updated 01/19/06


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