The Xbox 360 isn't short of good first-person shooters, with Rare's Perfect Dark Zero and Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 2 representing the genre very well indeed. The third FPS available at launch is id Software and Raven Software's Quake 4. The recently released PC version wowed gamers with its stunning visuals and relentless action. This 360 version retains the exact same gameplay, but introduces a number of technical problems that blight an otherwise good game.
Picking up where Quake 2 left off, the Makron is dead and the marines are working on wiping out the remaining Strogg infantry. Of course, things aren't that simple. The ship you're on is shot from the sky, crashing onto the Strogg home planet, killing many of your comrades, and indicating that the Strogg forces aren't as weak as predicted. As Matthew Kane, the lone hero from Quake 2, and a legend among the military, you are thrown into battle against a very angry Strogg military. You have a number of objectives throughout the game, and there's even a rather significant twist about a third of the way in.
While you take on the Strogg single-handed for a large portion of the game, you're joined by marines at various points - the handiest of which come from 'Rhino Squad'. These guys are the best of the best, elite, hard as nails soldiers, and they'll kill anything that moves. When fighting alongside them they'll really help you out, taking down enemies on their own. Members of other squads aren't quite as skilled, often dying soon after arriving, but this difference in ability is a nice touch. Medics and Tech guys come in handy too, as they're more than happy to top up your health and armour if you need it.
The weapons are the stars of the show, with the selection being a mix from the previous three games in the series. Initially you only have the Blaster, a fairly tame hand-gun that can also fire a charged shot. It's fine for the opening sections and the mounted flashlight helps you through the early 'It's dark and there are monsters everywhere' panic. You soon pick up the Machine gun, and this proves to be the most versatile weapon of the lot. It too has a mounted flashlight, making it ideal for dimly lit rooms of doom, and it also packs a bit more punch than the Blaster, plus a handy zoom function. The trusty Shotgun also comes in handy when you get a little too close for comfort, but that's not all the game has to offer.
'All the enemies are modelled brilliantly too, with some of the larger foes being a real highlight of the game.'
There are plenty of fancy weapons that make use of Strogg technology. You'll get hold of a Hyperblaster, Nailgun, Railgun, Lighting gun and a Grey Matter Gun. The Grenade Launcher and Rocket Launcher are also available for your explosive needs. Strangely, hand grenades are totally absent, and this is a little strange at first. You get used to their absence, but if you've been playing another modern FPS (Call of Duty 2 for example) you'll be cursing their omission for the first few hours of play. To keep things fresh and to give you more chance against an increasingly strong enemy (in terms of numbers and physical size) tech guys will fit upgrades to each weapon as the game progresses. Some of the best are the homing mod for the Nail Gun, the ammo clip for the Shotgun and the quick-fire and guided missile mod for the Rocket Launcher.
Enemies are pretty varied too, getting tougher and harder as you move through the game. The early guys put up little resistance, with a few shots to the head taking them down, but later enemies, such as the Gladiators and Stream Protectors aren't such a pushover. All the enemies are modelled brilliantly too, with some of the larger foes being a real highlight of the game. Whether it's the elegant Gladiator and his glowing orange shield, or the awesome size of the Harvester, towering over everything, they all look superb, and the huge variety keeps things exciting right through to the end. The AI on show isn't anything special, but it does its job, with the more advanced enemies doing a little more to stay alive than the Strogg marines that you encounter as first line attackers throughout the game.
The big problem is the game's frame rate. Early parts of the game don't fair too badly, but as you move further forward things bog down considerably, making the game unplayable at times. The PC version needed a high-spec rig to get the most out of it, but that's still no excuse for such an un-optimised and lazy port. Comparing this to the almost butter smooth Call of Duty 2 simply makes Quake 4's problems harder to take.
Frame rate problems aside, the game is stunning to look at in places, but the port also suffers from some muddy textures. The Doom 3 Engine has come under some criticism for its dimly lit environments and enclosed spaces, but Quake 4 dispels some of those myths. The game is largely played in poorly lit environments, but it's not to the same level of darkness as Doom 3, with the flashlight only absolutely essential in a few areas of the game. There are also a number of exterior locations that show what the engine is capable of. These sections usually require you to use a vehicle of some sort, and come as a nice change to the moody corridor shooting.
Discounting the fairly simple nature of the combat, there are few negatives to the single-player campaign. It is a little short, taking under ten hours to complete, later sections are a little too similar for their own good, and there are a few too many 'Go alone to activate something while the marines stand guard' sections, but on the whole Quake 4 is entertaining for its entirety. The end might be a little disappointing for some, with a rather uninventive final battle that does little more than throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, but at least it goes out with a bang.
Multiplayer also suffers in the port from the PC, almost entirely due to the poor frame rate. If you're a fan of previous Quake multiplayer offerings or old-style Unreal Tournament you'll find a lot to enjoy here, but it all depends on if you can get past the stuttering. Quake 4 is back to basics stuff, with a fast run speed and a gameplay style that isn't for the fainthearted. Compared to Perfect Dark Zero's comprehensive online gameplay, this feels a little basic, but if you get a buzz from the single-player, you're likely to enjoy playing online as well. This Xbox 360 version sadly only supports eight players online, half that of the PC version.
The only real bonus for Xbox 360 owners is the inclusion of Quake 2 as standard with all copies of the game. While this can't be played online, it supports four-player split-screen and sixteen-player system link play. The game plays surprisingly well with the 360 controller and its smooth frame rate makes you wish the main game was that smooth. It's a great bonus, but really not great enough to counter the problems with Quake 4.
Quake 4 could have been a strong launch title for the Xbox 360. Sadly, it will be the game the anti-next-gen console brigade use to show the worthlessness of the Xbox 360. The PC game running on good hardware is a next-gen visual experience. This simply isn't. The sluggish frame rate is totally unacceptable for an Xbox 360 title and hurts what is otherwise a very enjoyable game. Aside from some cool four-player Quake 2 action the only reason to pick this up is if you must play the latest Quake game, but don't have a good PC.