So you’re actually left wishing things had moved on a bit further since Quake II. Didn’t we have a right to expect something more imaginative? I know vehicle combat is a new thing for the series, but even here it all seems very hemmed in and over-controlled. In Halo 2 you felt that taking a vehicle was a valid tactical option. Here it’s your only option, and once you reach the end of the vehicle combat sequence it’s taken away from you.
Multiplayer Quake 4 suffers from similar issues. Don’t get me wrong: it’s going to delight the Quake deathmatch hardcore. It’s a big, bloody, fragfest of a game. The weapons are stupidly powerful, yet oddly well balanced, and while there is a fairly meagre assortment of maps, they certainly do their best to encourage all-out carnage. At the same time, there’s little room for subtlety, tactics or anything much beyond sheer reflexes. With little more than the basic Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, this isn’t the most versatile of multiplayer games, and you’re left wondering why iD and Raven haven’t done anything to take the genre forward. After Counter-Strike, Battlefield 2 and the last Unreal Tournament, Quake 4 feels like a big step backwards.
Luckily, the game’s saving grace is that it’s always such an enjoyable step backwards. On its own level of dumb, heady spectacle, Quake 4 constantly delivers. In single-player and multiplayer, it’s a great, bombastic audio-visual experience, and one of the most compelling games around. But when it’s all said and done – when you’ve had your ten to twelve hours of single-player fun and brushed up on those rusty deathmatch skills – you still can’t help wishing for some more signs of real imagination. After the controversy over Doom III, Quake 4 feels more like a rallying point for the faithful than a confident stride into new territory. Come on iD, isn’t it time you headed out to some brave new worlds?
Quake II meets Halo and Call of Duty in the Doom 3 engine, but not quite as brilliant as that sounds. The action is intense and the visuals are gorgeous, next-generation stuff, but the gameplay hasn’t yet caught up with Halo.