Monday, August 27, 2018

Replay Review: Quake 4

Quake 4 was released in 2005 and continued the sci-fi single-player narrative id began in Quake II by doing what it does best - pitting you against the forces of the Strogg so you can kick their ass - with a Hyperblaster! Quake 4 is the very definition of a mid-2000's bog-standard shooter, it is nothing special and brings little to the table. So why play? Well it was developed by Raven Software who were major players in FPS development at the turn of the century with multiple successes in both the Star Trek and Star Wars IPs and the Soldier of Fortune games. Development was supervised by id, the people that defined the FPS genre but I guess the real reason it's just nice to play something dumb that you don't really need to think about - that's Quake 4

2004's Doom 3 was id's proof of concept tech demo of their Tech 4 engine and they gave it to Raven for this, the fourth iteration of the Quake franchise. Tech 4 included normal mapping and specular highlighting for the first time but it's primary innovation was its use of entirely dynamic per-pixel lighting, as opposed to pre-calculated per-vertex lighting or lightmaps and Gouraud shading. The engine was designed for somewhat dark environments and criticized for its perceived inability to handle extremely large day-time outdoor areas. This coupled with the fact that id didn't licence Tech 4 before Doom 3's release (which was delayed) meant that Epic Games cornered the market with the Unreal engine to this day. For such an essentially dark game as Quake 4 this meant that the lighting effects alone would be responsible for it's graphic fidelity and finally getting a chance to see it in it's ultra glory in 4K was worth it.

Unlike Quake II, this game features (and is pretty generous with) AI teammates. Yeah, they shoot and kill enemies only about a tenth as effectively as you do and seem to be blessed with much better armour because it takes a lot more for a Strogg to kill them than it does to kill you! That's fine because more often than not a 'live' team member needs to 'stay with the computer to open the door' or some other plot device designed to send you out on your own again - patterns which Raven used as superior plot devices in Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force earlier. Team mates provided a much needed realistic idea of being in a war zone with entire units of troops (something that the WWII games of this period were already doing) with fluidly changing objectives rather than just plodding on as a one-man-army which was a concept that is best was reserved for Doom or games with unrealistic mega-hero or Mary Sue characters. One of your team mates is voiced by Peter Stromaire himself so that makes it worth it alone but the late Charles Napier puts in a good turn as General Ulysses Harper.

I prefer Quake 4 to Doom 3 because the sci-fi combat on an alien planet setting is superior to the sci-fi horror aspect of Doom 3 which was too dark and the jump-scare tactic got old pretty fast. Essentially in Quake 4, you're a space marine who is dropped in to fight the evil Stroggs again and destroy their communication equipment which will render them incapable of continuing to fight effectively. Because of my previous experience with Raven's games such as the sublime Jedi Knight II, I was expecting much more plot wise with Quake 4. Sadly this didn't really come to pass, it appears id exerted too much influence and prevented Raven from crafting a plot fitting the adventure.

It's not the shortest FPS of this era and while one could probably complete it in 7 or 8 hours, less than other games that year such as Call of Duty 2 or Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. I note that F.E.A.R. which was released at the same time and had a similarly modern engine was also an 8 hour game but by virtue of the fact it had an better plot it was not as noticeable as Quake 4 as being too short. Raven only did 2009's Wolfenstein following this and  they now seem to exclusively support whatever primary developer is working on the Call of Duty franchise.

Quake 4 is still worth loading up but has issues on modern graphics cards with more than 1 Gb VRAM (which I guess is practically all of them), and it looks terrible even with ultra textures and HD resolution. One must rummage in either GOG or Steam forums to find configuration settings which you can edit into your installation with a text editor, which is a simple and painless process to get it working correctly. One example is here.

Pros: Shoot aliens with a variety of great often classic weapons like the nailgun, combat is king. It has Peter Stromaire
Cons: Short. No environmental variety. Wafer thin plot.

Quake 4 is available on GOG for €14.99 or on Steam for €14.99, both overpriced so wait for a sale and get it for about €3.50.

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