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Quake 4
February 27, 2006 | Alex Nonnemacher

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Perhaps your best friend in Quake's brave new world is your flashlight, which is conveniently strapped to your machine gun. Like Doom 3, there is a premium placed on mood and atmosphere, and that means darkness—lots of it. Levels are dark and creepy, and you rarely have a chance to see what Strogg monsters await you around the bend. Rather, you creep from room to room and wait to hear the half-mechanical, half-monster bellowing of the Strogg. Sometimes they pop out of the floor. Other times, they ambush you from the ceiling.

The Strogg characters are familiar, although they've been updated for the new millennium. Guards look far less human, for one, sporting more of a gnarly, used-to-be-human countenance. The burly Enforcer still has his prosthetic weapon, but occasionally swaps in a grenade launcher. Parasites seem bigger and faster, and the fearsome Gladiator's first appearance certainly sends shivers up the spine. Berserkers, too, sport a shocking new feature.

You also get to play shooter on rails from the flatbed of a truck, and pilot a tank. These missions add some variety to the otherwise run-and-gun shooter action that id games are famous for, although they don't exactly add anything new to the genre. In fact, you get a bit of a sense that maybe id felt like they needed to add some vehicles in there to stay current, which may be true, but there's still room for innovation in a shooter.

Quake 4 also offers four online multiplayer modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, single-elimination Tournament, and Capture the Flag. Punkbuster support was available on the beta used for this preview.

Curiously, Quake 4's marketing and promo materials let what should be one big cat out of the bag from the start: you will become half-Strogg. Although they fail to do a Borg-like assimilation of your consciousness before you're rescued by your fellow marines, you become something less than human. This seems like walking by a movie poster for the Empire Strikes Back way back in 1980 and seeing "Vader is Luke's father!" printed across the bottom.

Gameplay was reasonably smooth on my PowerMac G5 Dual 2.0 GHz for such a visually intense game, although load times were long and painful. Admittedly, this was in fullscreen mode at the lowest resolution available (640 x 480). The gigabyte of RAM likely helped, although I was suspicious of my long-in-the-tooth 64MB Radeon 9600 video board's ability to play ball. Happily, Quake 4 was highly playable, although the framerate chugged when things got dramatic, for instance, when a hoard of Strogg would make a big entrance into a room and blow things up. Actual combat was otherwise smooth. Aspyr recommends at least a 1.67 GHz processor and a 64MB video card, although a 2 GHz processor and a 128 MB card or better are recommended.

For Intel-powered iMac CoreDuo and MacBook Pro owners, the beta I received is indeed a Universal binary. As the game is released into the wild, it will be interesting to see how it plays on Intel-based machines, especially compared to pro G5 machines.

Quake 4 looks to be a solid addition to your shooter library if you're a devotee of the genre. It is likely to attract the hard-core internet multiplayer crowd by name alone. Quake 4 is light on new gaming features, although under-the-hood developments are likely to attract developers with more creative intentions. As with most id games, it will give your hardware a workout.

Quake 4
Publisher: Aspyr Media
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