The difficulty level and intensity ramp up significantly as the game progresses; my quicksaves accumulated at an increasingly frantic pace as more lethal enemies came and ammo, health packs and armor grew increasingly scarce. Weapons grew more powerful but required better aim to use effectively – like the shaft, railgun and even rocket launcher. This is exactly what Doom III was striving to be but never quite managed thanks to contrived tools like monster closets. There are no situations that have the player jumping out of his chair, but the intensity just does not let up.
All of this is made all the more immediate due to the incredibly detailed game environments. There is no game that looks better than Quake 4. The only competition Quake has is from F.E.A.R., but we’ll call it a draw there. Quake’s levels are more interesting and vibrant, despite usually being brown, while F.E.A.R. has those sweet soft shadows and uses shaders and particles more liberally. In every other respect, including physics, it’s a dead heat.
The engine shows off its muscle not only in drawing the usual crowded rooms that id is so famous for, but in being able to handle massive levels. Vehicle maps are the largest of course, but there are some very inspiring and long sections played on foot. Many sections of Stroggos are busy with working machinery, leading to a constant and distracting hum and thump of industrial equipment to mask enemy movements. Many objects are in constant motion, keeping the player tense even in the quieter areas.
Adding more atmosphere is the excellent music selection which is highly reminiscent of the original Quake score, superbly adapted to the setting and the level designers knew just when to trigger it. Sound effects are equally superb, with all weapons giving off crisp, solid, believable effects. I particularly liked the staccato of the machine gun and nailgun, and of course the booming thunder of the lightning gun.
Speaking of weapons, they are marvelously done. Every single gun in the game has a solid feeling of heft and power. Even though there is no way to aim down the sight like you can in Call of Duty, or Day of Defeat, all weapons felt natural. One thing that required getting some used to is the remarkable splash damage from the grenade and rocket launchers; they feel like they have considerably more kick than in multiplayer. About the only gripe we have with the game is that the shaft has no stickiness to it, though it doesn’t have the “lag” of the Quake 3 lightning gun either.
Generally, I was surprised at the number of quality moments in the game. These come not from cutscenes or special sequences, but regular level design. A favorite battle is against marine-like Strogg on a series of staircases, constantly fighting down. The vehicle sequences were quite excellent as well, and of course there are the bosses (most of whom, fortunately, are killable with weapons rather than having to figure out a gimmick). Even the levels with enemy teleporters were done without being annoying, with the notable exception of one area in which the teleporters appear to be invulnerable.