Published by Activision
Developed by Raven Software
Platform: PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed on Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: Mature
My Advice: Fans of the FPS will probably want to check this one out, though it doesn't really break any new ground.
Hot on the heels of sequels to its fellow venerable shooter franchises Doom and Half-Life, Quake 4 arrived to try and cash in a bit on the nostalgia/sequel craze. The newest iteration certainly ramps up the story-telling over previous installments in the franchise, though in fairness that wouldn't be hard...there are Bazooka gum wrappers with more plot than the first two games in the series, and Quake III dropped pretty much all pretense to become a straight-up deathmatch title geared for online and LAN play only.
As shooter plotlines go, this is pretty stock fare, though it's got more depth than Doom 3 did. Missions run the gamut from escorting a combat medic from point A to point B all the way up to the total annihilation of the Strogg communications and command structure. Along the way, you get to wield a good-sized arsenal of FPS staples, as well as a few guns unique to the world of Quake (nail gun, anyone?). There are even a couple of vehicle piloting segments, putting you at the command of a hovertank or a missile-equipped mecha to cover large battlegrounds on the way to some obectives. In short, there's nothing here that hasn't been done before in other shooters, but it does all hang together quite nicely. The existence of weapon upgrades and modifications means that the tactical options open to you remain interesting choices throughout the game, and weapon selection can seriously alter your approach to particular engagements.
The game is visually comparable with Doom 3 or Half-Life 2 in most regards, though the 360 version (despite having HD capability) has some of its textures downgraded from the best and brightest possible on the PC. Some reviews elsewhere have slagged the title for serious framerate problems, but in honesty I hit two, maybe three spots in the entire single-player campaign (about 12-15 hours of gameplay) where the frames would chug for the barest of moments before hitting its stride again. I don't know if that means I got lucky or if the other reviewers got unlucky, but I can't very well lambast a game for a technical problem I didn't see. Audio is decent, though the soundtrack (such as it has one) is so plain as to be forgettable almost as soon as the disc is out of the tray. Voice acting is solid for all the major recurring characters in the story, and does a great job conveying personality of the various other marines and bad guys. Sound effects are well-used to add tension and atmosphere, and the weapon sounds all convey the sense of real military-grade firepower.
Multiplayer is cut to eight players on the 360 from sixteen on the PC, and the available gameplay types are pretty standard fare: deathmatch, capture the flag, and a couple of minor variations on those themes. Eight players is still enough to make the maps feel populated, though it is a bit disappointing. It would also be nice to see somebody do a little innovating on the shooter multiplayer front, but I'm not expecting it from an existing franchise, to be honest.