The Quake franchise was created and developed by id Software and became one of their iconic series alongside Doom and Wolfenstein. However, they did not develop Quake 4, but instead gave it to Raven Software to develop under supervision. Using the Doom 3 engine, the game makes the same evolutionary leap as Doom 3 from cartoon-like graphics to realism.
Quake 4 is the fourth installment in the Quake series with a premise that remains the same – kill the Strogg. As to a story, it does offer a little more than previous iterations, but not really by much. It's a continuation from Quake 2 where the protagonist destroyed the Strogg leader, the Makron. Now, the goal is for Earth's forces to secure the aliens' home planet Stroggos.
You play as a marine named Matthew Kane and your specialty is advanced scouting. In the beginning, your squad ship is shot down and your first mission is to regroup with the elite Rhino Squad to receive your orders. The story gives the impression of being more fleshed out simply because you now meet and talk to other people as opposed to receiving orders over the radio. However, it's not what you would call in-depth and most conversations are about your immediate goals.
With this game coming six years after Quake 3 Arena and for single players, eight years after Quake 2, the most obvious change, of course, is in the move from cartoon-like graphics to realism. The environments are certainly more realistic, but another big change is in the addition of segments that are squad-based. In previous games, you pretty much defeated the Strogg invasion on your own, but as one of a squad, tactics have somewhat changed – at least for part of the game. You don't get the frantic battles of before, but often move at a more sedate pace as one of a group. For approximately the first third of the game, sometimes you are on your own, but only for short periods. Later, things revert to a gameplay more reminiscent of previous games where you become the lone ranger. Here, you do play mostly on your own with occasional regroups with your squad members. Then you may have one or two companions for a short length of time before heading out on your own again.
The quirk to this game is when Kane is partially stroggified at a certain point in the mission. This gives him cybernetic implant advantages and makes him the ideal choice to penetrate deep into enemy territory. He can also use the Strogg health stations after this. The bad in terms of story depth is that he doesn't seem to be much fazed about getting his body parts removed by saws, knives, and needles. Yes, it's pretty gory at times.
Quake 4's biggest problem has to do with balance. As usual, you get a variety of weapons along the way, but all of them are pretty "meh" and you may as well forget the grenade launcher as it sucks the big one. The shotgun is about the best if you can get close enough to the enemy without getting killed, but perceived closeness seems a bit skewed to me and weapon damage is terribly inconsistent. One minute you can kill the Strogg fairly easily and the next you are emptying whole clips into them with little effect. Your AI partners can kill them easily with the assault rifle and yet your rocket launcher will hardly dent them. Near the end there is a segment that will make you want to scream with frustration, however it's a classic example of why a game like this needs quick save. The enemies have guided missiles that are nigh near impossible to escape as they will hone in on you while in cover. These will kill you instantaneously while your weapons are like throwing rocks at a tank. There is also little ammo or health to be picked up in this area. And this is not even the boss fight.
Regardless, Quake 4 is still fun if somewhat lacking the cachet of previous games. This one requires a little more thoughtful approach and therefore can slow down the pace considerably. I'm not sure it's even possible to capture the same feeling that playing the original Quake and Doom games inspired. Maybe realism isn't all it's cracked up to be. It takes a legendary series and reduces it to something more mediocre.
Having said that, I seem to be in the minority in regards to critical scores, but about in the right place in regards to user scores. In fairness, Raven had a tough act to follow and this was never going to live up to its iconic predecessors.
The next Quake game in the pipe, called Quake Champions, was announced at the Electronic Entertaiment Expo 2016 and will be multiplayer arena shooter only. It's back to id Sotware for development and is currently in Beta. Players will be able to play one champion for free and "rent" other Champions for a limited time or outright buy an unlimited Champion Pack.
Upon release in 2005, Quake 4 received generally favorable reviews for its single-player, but less than stellar reviews on the multiplayer. From this point, Raven moved on to develop Wolfenstein (2009). As a result of low sales, Activision laid off Raven employees and the game disappeared from sale when Bethesda acquired id Software and its licenses. Raven did develop Singularity as their next game in 2010, but since that time, they have solely collaborated in the development of Call of Duty games.