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And unlike Doom 3, the pacing is superb. Quake 4 specialises in throwing wave after wave after wave of baddies flying at you, and in the large portions of time when you’re too busy shooting to think, it really does a great job of convincing you that you’ve enlisted in a space-age D-Day. The enemies are varied and unrelenting, and your own comrades give the action a strong sense of personality. With their differing accents and hardnut looks, they seem just like characters in a clichéd war movie of your choice. Really, that’s just as it should be.
What’s more, the game really does try hard to give you variety in your missions. Whereas Halo’s Master Chief is The Man as far as your fellow marines and The Covenant go, in Quake 4 you’re just a grunt; a beefed-up gopher on orders to get this door open, escort that guy to his objective, or take a hovertank to the regroup point and meet up with your unit. In other words, this is a game that’s desperate not to be just kill, kill, kill.
But all this pseudo-sophistication is really just a smokescreen covering the antique game mechanics underneath. Firstly, all that following orders can’t disguise how shockingly linear the level design is. Behind the scenes, all Quake 4 is doing is steering you efficiently from one firefight to the next, with no real opportunity for individual tactics or out of the box thinking. There might be an occasional secret arms cache, but most of the time you might as well be on rails.
Secondly, while your team mates do a great job of looking smart, it’s all an illusion. OK, at their best they can save your bacon or take down larger Strogg with unbelievable ease, but for the most part, all the clever scouting routines and flashlight waving in the world can’t hide the fact that these guys still get in your way, and couldn’t hit a cow’s backside with a bass guitar, let alone a banjo.
Not that the Strogg would have much chance of beating them in space University Challenge. On harder difficulty levels – and I really would recommend playing this on a harder difficulty level – they are mean shots, but tactically speaking they’re useless. In effect, Strogg strategy hasn’t come on much since last time, with our flesh-moulding fiends stuck with three settings: duck and cover, stand and shoot, or charge oblivious. F.E.A.R.’s smart AI makes it all seem a little bit silly (check out the full F.E.A.R review next week), and Half-Life 2 did a whole lot better last year.