Quake4 PCZONE Preview
Well, friends, here it is. Quake Oh-Four. In many ways, the game I've been waiting for my entire career. How do you do it justice? (The world's first look no less!) I wanted to start with a great Quake anecdote, relating one of the moments that made this series so special - but after several failed attempts, I realised it was futile. No single moment can encapsulate the enormity of pleasure brought to us over the years by the name Quake.
Think about it for a second - if you've ever been a fan, the sublime gaming memories will soon form a flood. The first time you ever played a 'true' 3D game. The sound of a Deathknight's sword clanging against stone. Your first rocket jump. The exultant 'ker-ching' as you grabbed the red armour. Q2dm1: The Edge. Perfect railgun shots across the reaches of space. Q3dm17: The Longest Yard. Mods: Lithium, Action, Jailbreak, Painkeep. The Quad Damage, the nailgun, the lava traps. The Shambler.
To my mind, it's the greatest series of games ever created, and it's sure as hell the one that's stolen most of my waking hours over the years (not to mention sleep - Quake dreams are a common sign of addiction). To me, Doom 3 was always just going to be a warm-up, a chance to break in the new generation of technology, iron out any problems and pave the way for the main event... Quake Eye-Vee.
WHO ARE YA?
But what is this new Quake? Up till now, all we've known is that Raven is developing it, which is good news - it's made some of the best shooters of all time. We also know that it uses the Doom 3 engine: this may be obvious, but again it's good news, despite some concerns about numbers of enemies on-screen. There's also been mumblings that the game will be single-player focused, with only minimal effort put into multiplayer, but it's never really been clarifed. Clearly, we need some hard answers, and luckily, Raven is finally ready to spill the beans.
"To start with," launches lead designer Jim Hughes, "Quake IV is all about being part of an epic sci-fi battle filled with fast-paced. explosive action. We're using the Doom 3 tech, so you know that we'll deliver an amazing experience, with both stunning visuals and heart-pounding, intense gameplay. You take the role of a marine in a massive invasion of the Strogg home world, where you experience the war while fighting alongside the huge marine invasion force - as well as on your own in some cases."
So this is, in essence, a sequel to Quake II rather than Quake III? "Well, in terms of single-player, Quake IV picks up where Quake II left off," says Eric Biessman, project lead on the game. "But the multiplayer experience is more akin to Quake III: Arena. Say what? Multiplayer akin to Quake III? Hallelujah and praise to all things good.
"This is a continuation in the Quake series," smiles lead programmer Rick Johnson. "We felt that Quake IV would be best served by capturing all the things that made Quake III great. We've got hyper-fast action, deadly weapons, bounce pads, trick moves - you name it. Die-hard fans will feel right at home."
So let me get this straight. Quake IV is the sequel to both Q2 and Q3, revisiting the Strogg vs Marine storyline on the one hand and following up the best deathmatch game of all time on the other? That's one hell of a task, surely, even for a team of Raven's calibre.
Admittedly, FPS developers used to create full single- and multiplayer components as a matter of course, but with today's development requirements, it's getting increasingly unmanageable. All the best mulitplayer games since Quake III have been designed as such - UT, Battlefield, even Counter-Strike - while the likes of Doom 3 and Far Cry have proven mediocre in the head-to-head stakes. How, you might ask, does Raven hope to do both sides of the game justice?
The answer is simple enough. First, the company is building on familiar gameplay rather than starting from scratch - so don't expect the same kind of decisive innovation we saw in Quake III - Arena. And second, the engine and tools came ready-built by id, with everything down to physics and vehicle code already in place. As Johnson says: "The Doom 3 tech provided each of us with many of the fundamental systems straight out of the box, so to speak. Plus, on top of that there's been a lot of involvement from id Software along the way - they would find the best way to do something and pass that info on to us. It saved us a lot of time, so most of our work has been towards the creation of Quake IV itself."
WHICH IS WHICH?
All well and good. But in some ways this raises another oft-voiced concern among fans: with the development of the two games being so closely intertwined, are Doom 3 and Quake IV at the risk of overlapping? In many ways, the two games are part of the same progression - the Doom/Quake series let's call it - and there's never before been an instance where they've appeared back to back like this, on the same technology. So, discounting multiplayer for a moment, what, exactly, is the difference?
Rick Johnson: "Well, Quake IV is more like an intense action movie to Doom 3's horror movie feel," explains the ursine coder. "Instead of scaring the player, we're going all out to deliver a fast-paced adrenalin rush of combat."
So you might say that Quake IV is to Doom 3 what Aliens is to Alien, then? After the hopeless one-man battle against the Strogg in Quake II - where your lone space marine got isolated from the main (and inevitably doomed) assault force when his spaceship crash-landed - this time you're bringing the cavalry.
You can read in the screenshots some hints of what this could mean: squads of marines fighting waves of hideous gladiators, dogfights in the skies over Stroggos... A proper, bloody war of the worlds. It's a bit early to tell for sure, but Raven could well be attempting to marry the intensity of a Call of Duty with the scale and vehicles of Halo. Which is a winner in anyone's books.
A STROGG'S LIFE
According to the storyline of course, the Strogg were pretty much defeated at the end of Quake II ... You destroyed the planetary defenses and took care of the pesky Makron - what could possibly be left to do?
"Ah, yes, well," smiles Eric Biessman. "After the death of the Makron, the Strogg quickly regrouped under a new and more powerful Makron." Would't you know it... "However, all is not lost. With the Strogg's planetary defenses still destroyed, Earth's forces can now deliver a full and final assault."
So, the stage is set. In many ways, it's the same plot as Quake II, except the human counterattack goes a bit more to plan this time - at the beginning, at least. Later on, so we gather, the army of soldiers fighting alongside you begins to waver, and it's up to you to plunge single-handed into the depths of Stroggos to defeat the Makron, mark 2.
Shouldn't be a problem for the likes of us, of course, but even so, Raven has decided to level the playing field a bit with a rather cool new gameplay device. "Eventually, you venture deep into the heart of Stroggos," explains Biessman. "Past the human factories, and directly into the cyber-realm, where you eventually become a Strogg yourself."
Yes, you read right. At some point in the narrative, you've been forced to become that which you've been fighting - an ungodly cybernetic freak with metal arms and an oil filter where your genitals once were. While we're yet to see this in action, the gameplay possibilities are superb.
From what we can gather, you have to step into a Strogg upgrade booth, where you're fitted out with a range of cybernetic enhancements. What these are we can only speculate - a rocket-launcher arm, a faster nervous system, a George Foreman Lean Mean Grilling Machine? Whatever, it promises to give the latter stages an interesting flavour, and answer some of the problems of repetitiveness found in Doom 3.
Quake IV's environments also promise to differ substantially from the gloomy corridors of id's most recent opus. While these screenshots contain their fair share of dim, metallic doorways, we're assured this is only a small part of the game's vision.
"We've worked hard to create an authentic sci-fi world," agrees Hughes. "Without getting too specific, we're creating lots of varied locations that you visit on your trek across the Strogg home world - including both indoor and outdoor environments. From journeying deep into Strogg industrial complexes to driving vehicles across the barren and blasted planet surface, you'll experience a huge variety of visuals and gameplay."
This puts at least one concern to rest regarding the Doom 3 renderer - that is was designed for indoor locales and would fall over when Quake tried to get some fresh air. Don't expect landscapes to rival Far Cry, but you will see some sky.
"In terms of art direction, we've tried to retain the artistic look and feel of Quake II," chips in Kevin Long, lead artist. "But, obviously, we've updated it with new artwork, textures, skins and models. We've drawn upon lots of sci-fi and horror novels, comics, anime and films as inspiration, as well as our own ideas. I think we've managed to create a really horrific alien world and culture."
"Many of the original creatures have returned as well," says Eric Biessman. "We've got Gunners, Strogg Marines and Gladiators, to name a few. Plus, we've added new creatures to surprise veteran Quake fans, and each enemy's been heavily updated to take advantage of the power of the new technology."
What this doesn't address is the other big concern we've got with the new Doom engine - that it was designed to handle only about four or fice (highly detailed) enemies on screen at once. Waging a war with only five combatants on the battlefield is going to be difficult to say the least, so unless Raven has found some way of squeezing more power out of the engine and/or our PCs, we can't see the game running smoothly at this level of detail. But then, what do we know?
Technical concerns aside, we're very excited about the addition of vehicles to the Quake series. While the team is not being too candid about the full range of transport on offer, we were able to observe armoured jeeps, buggies, and perhaps a scout bike or two on the Marine side. There are also a range of hover tanks for the Strogg, along with the various flying craft you can see in the screenshots. Clearly though, there's a war going on, so we'd expect to see a full range of military materiel, it's just a question of which ones we get to pilot - and what part they play in miltiplayer.
WE WON'T TELL ANYONE ELSE...
The problem is, the team is still being extremely cagey about details, leaving us with a great many unanswered questions. Lightning gun: in or out? Rocket-jumps: yes or no? Railgun: how cool is it? (There has to be one) What are the multiplayer modes and do any of them involve vehicles? Will there be gore zones and dismemberment as in Soldier of Fortune II? (Please!)
id Software, for its part, assures us this will be "a worthy successor to the Quake franchise", and at this stage, there's little to suggest otherwise. But until we see jump-pads, railguns and boiling, bubbling lava traps, we won't sleep completely soundly. Because for those of us who care, this game is more important than Doom 3, Half-Life 2, Halo 2 and any number of other shooters. This is Quake IV, and they simply have to get it right.