First Look: First Look: Quake 4

The Quake game franchise has long suffered from an identity crisis—veering wildly from story-based challenges to arena-style destruction. With Quake 4, which is currently in the final stages of development, the first-person shooter shifts once again—this time back to where it left off in version 2. It’s the first semblance of continuity for the game, and the result is a strong single-player storyline and great production values—though its online play may leave you wanting.

In Quake 4, you’re Matthew Kane, the FNG (Freakin’ New Guy) in the Rhino Squad—the rudest, toughest, and meanest SOB’s in the marines. As your ship is descending on Stroggos—home world of the Strogg (imagine an angry, more muscular version of the Borg from Star Trek )—it comes under enemy fire and crashes. You pick yourself up from the wreckage, (and the burnt, torn corpses of your new unit), grab your gun, and get on your way.

The first part of the game emphasizes squad-based missions. You’ll have to secure a facility, blow up a strategic target, infiltrate an enemy stronghold, and so on. You’re backed up by a computer-controlled fire team. The team sometimes includes a medic and a tech who can replenish your health and armor as the Strogg shoot at you.

There are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting. You’ll get to operate vehicles, work stationary gun turrets, and even get inside a Strogg’s head, in a way. You’ll also amass a great variety of weapons—everything from a basic machine gun (with a muzzle-mounted flashlight) to nailguns (much more vicious than the kind you’d expect to see hanging from a building contractor’s belt).

Quake 4 also features robust, cross-platform multiplayer support. Even though it’s based on the same graphics engine that powers Doom 3, the game supports as many as 16 players simultaneously (Doom 3 was limited to 4 players). The Mac version includes a dedicated Quake 4 server, so you don’t need to depend on PCs or existing Quake 4 servers. You can host your own online games right from your networked Mac.

Although the multiplayer mode is reasonably varied—it includes Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and other games—it doesn’t exactly break new ground. If you’ve played multiplayer shooters before, you’ve already seen most of this. But still, it gives fans of first-person shooters something fun to do.

Sound quality is another strong point of the game. Not only will the soundtracks and sound effects get you in the mood, but regular radio chatter over your intercom will keep you appraised of what’s going on around you. While Kane himself doesn’t do any talking, the other marines on Stroggos do an effective job of filling in the blanks. You’ll often get your mission assignments or useful bits of intel from other marines, so be sure to listen up when you see the intercom signal flash on your heads-up display.

Quake 4 is one of the first Universal games from Aspyr. My experience on a Duo Core iMac was good—I was able to run Quake 4 in high-quality graphics mode and 1024-by-768 resolution quite effectively. Quake 4’s minimum system requirements call for a 1.67GHz G4 or faster Mac with 512MB of RAM, and a Radeon 9600, GeForce 6600, or better 3D graphics chip with at least 64MB of RAM. When this game is closer to release I’ll revisit its performance on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs and give you a full battery of benchmarks.

Needless to say, Quake 4 is an extremely graphic game. Rated for mature audiences, the action is soaked in blood and gore. So if you’ve got a weak stomach or are thinking about buying it for a younger, or more sensitive player, consider yourself duly warned.

The bottom line

Quake 4 is a satisfying, state-of-the-art first-person shooter. However, the game’s online features may leave multiplayer mavens wanting more.

Quake 4 - beta tested
PROS: Inspired single-player story mode; gorgeous graphics; good voice acting.
CONS: Uninspired multiplayer action
PRICE: $50
OS X COMPATIBILITY: 10.3, 10.4
PROCESSOR COMPATIBILITY: Universal
COMPANY: Aspyr Media.

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