I’m actually a bit late to playing Quake 4. See, ever since I first bought it, replays have been oddly coincident with Simply Red and/or Mick Hucknall having a new song out. I’m not a fan of Simply Red and/or Mick Hucknall by any means, but I generally play games with the radio on in the background and… this kept happening.
I say I’m late because Simply Red had a single out over the summer, but I didn’t replay Quake 4. It must have planted some seeds though, because here I am now with that Quake 4 feeling in my guts. Come on, then.
The introduction is so completely overblown that it can’t fail to grab you. Picking up exactly where Quake II left off, humanity is in the process of launching a full scale assault on Stroggos and, once again, you’re shot down. This time, though, rather than forging on alone you get to play follow-the-leader with fellow marines — “a lone marine” managed to do a hell of a lot of damage, but this second wave makes a far better go of it with squads and tanks and mechs and air support.
When you wake up in the wreckage of your shuttle, it is to a rampant warzone. Jets whooshing overhead, bombs falling, explosions rocking the ground, streaks of dust and smoke — sights and sounds assault the senses despite the pedestrian gameplay at this point (it is an introduction after all).
The cacophony continues throughout, of course. There are unfortunately no subtitles for radio chatter, so it’s easy to lose the precise nature of the screams under the gunfire, but maybe that’s the point — your orders are generally “follow the doors with green lights”, so there’s no need to listen, but the radio chatter from your fellow marines battling in other places adds to the colour of the game.
It makes the world feel so much more alive, like events around you really are proceeding on their own.
Having said that, some of the scripted sequences that apply that cacophony more directly to you are pretty on-the-nose. While Bulletstorm perfected the formula of making you feel like you were really in it without overt railroading, Quake 4 is from the early days where they ensure your character is kept at a safe distance from most set-piece action. Sometimes it’ll just up sticks and letterbox into a cinematic, which is arguably preferrable to lame excuses — like one marine sticking his arm out to stop you going through a door, so that another marine can get set upon by a Strogg without your pesky player interference. This literally happens.
Of course Quake 4‘s poster-child feature is the king of all cinematic set-pieces, the Stroggification sequence. Sadly robbed of its power by being spoilered on the bloody box, and in the bloody manual, this is a first-person cinematic where you can only look around at your own body as it is brutally mutiliated and warped into a hideous alien cyborg.
The sequence itself is pretty well-done, if a little gruesome for my tastes, but it’s how that change from bog-standard human to amped-up monstrosity plays out in the actual game that really shines.
The obvious stuff is that your maximum health and armour are boosted, along with your running speed. The game could be accused of being sluggish, like most mid-noughties shooters, but after your transformation it’s far more comfortable.
The really nice touch, though, is that wall signs and telescreens you couldn’t read before are flipped to using stylised English characters instead of random glyphs — now you’re a Strogg, you’re able to understand the words around you. Not that you ever particularly needed to, but it’s the thought that counts. (Some text remains illegible, but we can put that down to the neurocyte not being fully activated, right?)
Similarly, there are strange Strogg devices that look like hearts attached to the walls throughout many levels prior to your assimilation. These have no function until you’re one of them, when you realise they can be used to refill your health. This alleviates the contrived scattering of human health packs and armour in areas that are supposedly a long way behind enemy lines.
Maybe the biggest let-down about Quake 4, and the root cause of most bad vibes that seem to be directed at it, is its weapon set.
The main problem is that the roster contains three machine guns. The machine gun, the hyperblaster, the nail gun are all very minor variations on the same theme of spray-and-pray. The fire rates and clip sizes and projectile speeds and visuals vary slightly, but these three weapons ultimately fulfil the same role.
Then the obligatory explosives, the grenade launcher and rocket launcher, are irritating because their blast radii are far larger than the explosions they produce would suggest — so it’s impossible to guage what distance for use is “too close”.
Even the Dark Matter Cannon, the super-weapon, is a bit of a let-down. It launches a huge singularity that pulls enemies towards it, but very gently and it doesn’t seem to do all that much damage to them along the way. It doesn’t feel powerful.
Though even with weaponry there is some room for playfulness. The shotgun, the most boring and rarely useful weapon in the game, must in the beginning be reloaded shell-by-shell. Which means if you get caught unawares while in the middle of reloading, you can immediately stop and continue firing with a half-full clip. (Until you get the fast reload mod and it’s almost instantaneous.)
The lightning gun is also a good lark. It emits a constant, powerful stream of electricity and doesn’t require reloading, but it also shakes the screen something awful so you have to balance holding down the fire button to obliterate your foes with stopping to reacquire actual targets in the chaos. Then you get the chain lightning mod and it bounces between enemies too. Mmmm, giblets.
Yes, arguably the most important element of a shooter is the shooting, and Quake 4‘s guns are on the whole rather wobblier than they have any right to be. On the other hand, I never liked Quake II for its guns either — and Quake 4 makes up for the deficit with bombast and atmosphere and massive, striking chunks of scenery.
Yes, it’s a stupid action film story with not-great shooting, but the package is bulked up by a whole heap of subtle but brilliant touches. Yes, maybe those things are so subtle you probably missed them in all the noise. Even so — I stand by my opening sentiment. As a whole, Quake 4 is not a bad game!
I have Quake 4 Special Edition, installing to Windows 7 64-bit.
- The disc autorun wouldn’t start at all but, setup.exe itself was fine. It hung for about 10 minutes on the “Removing applications…” step but I just waited it out and everything worked.
- Patch 1.4.2 is required before the game will even consider starting (that means the Special Edition was not final after all, booo)
- Textures were stuck on potato-resolution, even on max settings, so I had to set these configuration values in “…\q4base\Quake4Config.cfg” (source):
seta image_downSize "0" seta image_downSizeBump "0" seta image_downSizeSpecular "0" seta image_filter "GL_LINEAR_MIPMAP_LINEAR" seta image_ignoreHighQuality "0" seta image_useCompression "0" seta image_useNormalCompression "0" seta r_renderer "best"