I bought Quake 4: Special Edition without hesitation a couple of years back as I had read that it had scored very well on the single player with about 80%+ average on Metacritic. Back then, I decided to play through Quake 2 and it's two expansion packs and I thought it was fairly fun. I had also tried out the first 2 hours of Quake 4 and thought it was fairly entertaining. Back in my head there was niggling doubt about the simplicity of the enemy AI and the very simplistic gameplay as well as some of the set pieces in the game environment were less then stellar. However, I was convinced it would getter bigger and more exciting as the game went on.
I recently picked up Quake 4 again to sit down and properly play it. Unfortunately, the niggling doubts only grew larger the more I played it and by the end of the game, I was fairly disappointed by this extremely mediocre game compared to other available titles at the time. Below is a summary of what I felt about the game.
Disappointing enmey AI and simplistic enemy animation - There's nothing particularly wrong with this for an action shooter, but compared to realistic movements of Condemned: Criminal Origins and F.E.A.R. at the time, enemies come off as almost comical in the way they move and hop around and the lack of AI doesn't help. It's strange that that your team mates however are a bit smarter and will take cover and even use meelee attacks against the enemy.
Raven software was responsible for Soldier of Fortune which boasted realistic enemy damage where shooting a part of one body would be different from other parts of the body and cause different reactions. It was one of the best features of the game. It's strange that they didn't implement at least a toned down version of that. Enemies bare react to bullet fire.
Boring gameplay, static envirnoments and lack of fun physics and weapon selection - Given Raven's history of the Jedi-Knight series and X-men Legends, you'd think they would have learnt how to create some fun interesting weapons selections but most of the weapons are not only stock standard but lack any real fun. For example, the lightning gun in the game when fired, creates thunder and shakes the entire screen but barely makes the enemies quiver. As for the last weapon which is a miniature black hole gun, you would think it would have caused enemies to torn apart or sent flying which is very curious since it doesn't seem to do anything at all.
The game uses a physics engine similar to other titles of the time but never truly puts the physics engine to the test or even to enhance the atmosphere. The most you'll get out of it is the occasional flying rag doll and exploding barrel. This only contributes the barren static environments which lack any real sort of interactivity. Playing a game like Painkiller (released before Quake 4) for even 5 minutes shows you just what a good physics engine can lend to gameplay. The titular painkiller remains one of the most creative weapons in any FPS game allowing you to juggle, electrocute and dice enemies.
There's plenty of eye candy and voices in the game to try and draw you into the world, but the lack of interactivity feels more like you're scrolling through a comic book rather than an interactive environment.
In the original Quake II you also had an inventory system which allows you store health packs and grenades and other power-ups for later use which this game lacks, which makes it even less innovative!
Poor game level design - I get the feeling that the corridors and areas are very similar to Quake II and even less ambitious. In my opinion Quake 4 shines when it gives you large open spaces and tactical options and explosions galore occurring around you. Instead, it tends to lock you up in small industrial corridors and all sorts of tiny rooms and passages. And it's such a shame that you will spend most of your time in buildings compared to the promise of open areas that the opening couple of levels gives you.
Stroggification does nothing - Part way through the game, you get turned into a Strogg after a rather gory sequence and its one of the key advertising features of the game. It would have been a good excuse to introduce RPG like elements into the game similar to the Deus Ex series or System Shock 2 allowing you to obtain new abilities. Alternatively it could have been interesting to play mind games with us by making the player character be more susceptible to Strogg mind control and giving us glimpses into the nightmare of being a Strogg or the horrors of war.
Unfortunately the game does neither. Being a Strogg is no different from being a human character except you get slightly more life, apparently you move faster (not that I noticed the increased speed) can use Strogg healing stations, read a bit of Strogg and hear Strogg broadcassts.
I can think of several powers that could have really enhanced the game in less than 5 minutes. Here are a couple which could have easily been fitted in and really contributed to the game atmosphere:
Visions: visions of previous events that have happened in the area such as humans being Stoggified. Would have really added to atmosphere.
Berserk mode: Improved attack damage for Strogg weapons, increased character speed and reduced damage.
Corpse steal: Allows you to absorb enemy corpses for health and ammo when they die.
Resurrection: Revives a downed enemy to assist you for a limited time.
Ability steal: Allows you to steal an enemies weapon or ability and use it instead.
Strogg Armour: Automatically regenerates armour after a while
Overall I was very disappointed. Game such as Deux Ex and System Shock pioneered the RPG-action shooter while games such as Serious Sam and Painkiller refined pure action pumping adrenaline old-school shooter. It seemed that Quake 4 wanted to follow the pure action pumping style but failed miserably in providing the over top explosions and fun weapon gameplay and wide open areas. As such, I strongly recommend you don't buy this and save your money for other more worthy games. It might even be better just to buy the older Quake II instead!