Something thatís rarely discussed by game reviewers but is often a factor is the idea of expectations. When marketing, previous games from the same developer or even previous games in the franchise lead us to believe that certain features will be present and that the game will play a certain way, we review it with those expectations in mind. This works both ways Ė games that are unexpectedly good are rewarded for that. Take, for example, Galactic Civilizations Ė itís not revolutionary and in fact a rather simple Master of Orion/Civilization style game, but it was done very well and came hot on the heels of Master of Orion 3, a game that most certainly did not live up to the hype.
So in my first attempt at Quake 4 review I was quite confused. The multiplayer just does not live up to what we hoped for. It is, as advertised, ďlike Quake IIIĒ. More specifically however, it is nothing but
Quake III Arena. Oh sure, there are a couple new weapons like the nailgun, and there are newer maps, but the gameplay hasnít changed. There are no new game modes, no tricks, nothing Ė and unlike Q3 itself, it didnít reach that magic middle between what Quake and Quake II lovers wanted. In short, when it comes to multiplayer, Quake 4 has little to offer to owners of the previous game. On the other hand, the singleplayer game is spectacularly surprising. This is not unlike ordering a sirloin steak dinner and getting the house lobster instead. Itís still very good, just not what you expected.
Here I am then, having my expectations recalibrated, on my second attempt at describing the Quake 4 experience. Even that isnít easy, given the two-faced nature of the singleplayer campaign. At the start, the player is a regular marine from Rhino Squad, working with other marines and enjoying bits of action quite similar to the parts where Gordon worked with his fellow resistance members in Half-Life 2. Of course, as with Gordon Freeman, our protagonist Matthew Kane always finds himself ordered into the most difficult and important situations by himself, while the routine jobs get full support of the squad and commander. This is a certain bit of logic that weíre still hoping that Valve and id may shed light on someday, but it certainly makes for compelling gameplay. When you reach about the halfway mark in the game, you end up being alone almost all the time.
The Half-Life 2 comparisons are not to suggest that Quake 4ís campaign is quite as good as Valveís masterpiece, but it is definitely in the same ballpark. There is considerably more standard small-room and corridor shooting than in Half-Life 2, but the Quake 4 experience is surprisingly varied. There are some larger maps, especially those with vehicles, and at one point you actually manage to go about ten minutes without killing anything as you make your way through your unitís landing craft. On the whole, Half-Life 2 has a slightly more restrained tempo and a more organic feel between missions, a sense that they are tied together, than Quake 4, but the margin is much slimmer than you imagine.
Then we reach the halfway mark of the game where you end up more or less without a squad at all. Imagine Doom III without most of the annoying bits like teleporting enemies and monsters doing nothing but waiting in secret closets for you to cross an invisible trigger so they can pop out behind you. A few teleporting incidents can still be found, but they are mercifully rare relative to Doom. Even in the later stages, the story still manages to be quite interesting and events continue in the background as the player fights through his own struggles, providing a rich context for your actions.