Monday, November 14, 2005

Quake 4 (Xbox360) Hands-on Preview

One of the pioneers in the first-person shooter genre is powerhouse developer id Software, and their long history of groundbreaking titles is well reflected in their success. Riding on the heels of last year’s Doom 3 release on the PC (which was then released on the Xbox earlier this year) id Software is preparing to give shooter fans something they have been waiting nearly eight years for; a sequel to the mind blowing Quake II release. While Quake III: Arena focused on fast-paced multiplayer combat, Quake 4 is a seamless transition from Quake II, as the story picks right up where it left off- giving players a chance to take part in yet another fierce campaign against the Strogg. We’ve already had a few chances to take a sneak peak at Quake 4 in action, but we finally managed to sit down and get our hands on the Xbox 360 controller, as we played through a few of the game’s initial levels to bring you our first hands-on preview of id’s introduction into the next-generation of console gaming.
Survival of the Fittest
For those of you who have played Quake II, you’ll remember that the game concluded with the destruction of the Strogg’s collective leader, the Makron. After fighting a series of epic battles against the Strogg, mankind had almost seen the decimation of Earth, as the enemy forces were ruthlessly assaulted by the invaders from the planet Straggos. Quake 4 will once again take players into the mid 21st century as they continue to battle the Strogg, and a newer, even more powerful collect brain known as “The Nexus”. The Nexus has already started to regroup in an effort to build a stronger planetary defense system designed to prevent another human invasion of Straggos; like the one that was able to miraculously destroy the original weapon know as “The Big Gun.”
During the opening scene of Quake 4, we watched as Earth launches another offensive against the Strogg home planet to hopefully strike the Strogg before the new Makron has enough time to successfully create a new defense system that could prevent mankind from any chance of survival. As a massive ship nears the planet Stroggos, we get a look inside one of the dropships being dispatched to the surface to take part in the ongoing attack. Here we are introduced to Matthew Kane- a member of Rhino Squad- which is leading the next wave of Earth’s invasion, as he prepares to enter the planet’s atmosphere along with the rest of his platoon. We were able to pick up on some of the communication chatter taking place between Kane’s squadron leader and another group of soldiers on the planet who had just taken out the Makron. This was a nice way to let players familiar with the series know that Quake 4 wasn’t missing a beat from where Quake II had left off. While it’s not vital to have even played Quake or Quake II, as the game focuses on a new character fighting as a part of a larger squad as opposed to a lone soldier fighting alone, it’s interesting to be able to pick up on some of the early references to the previous storyline.
During the drop sequence, there is also another interesting tidbit we noticed. A few fellow Rhino Squad members are talking about “the new guy” in reference to Kane, and one of them suggests, “a guy like Kane can get us all killed.” Before getting any understanding of what he means, another soldier tells him to zip it. This suggests some type of questionable background that has given Kane somewhat of a bad reputation among his squad mates that will most likely continue to develop as the game progresses. A subtle detail to notice early on in the game, but something we expect to play a larger role as players learn more about Kane’s history and how it could relate to future events, as well as how he is treated by fellow soldiers.
Without setting up much more of the story, the action quickly kicks in as soon as the drop ship crashes onto enemy soil. Like the previous invasions of Straggos, Kane’s strike force is met with solid opposition, despite having successfully weakened the Strogg (but only temporarily). The sheer impact of the collision of the dropship into the planet’s surface knocks Kane out for a short period, as we watch him drift in and out of consciousness. Another member of his squad comes over to assist and tell him he better get the hell on his feet, but before he is able to be of any help, enemy gunfire blasts its way through his torso. A few minutes later and Kane finally comes to, ending the opening sequence and giving players control of Kane as the gameplay begins. This is the point where Quake 4 separates the men from the boys, and where we picked up the controller- taking charge of Kane in his efforts to help Rhino Squad defeat the Strogg once and for all.
Shaken and rattled from his rocky landing, Kane gets himself to his feet, and players will need to quickly find some cover as loud explosions and gunfire fill the surrounding area. Here we get our first taste of the game’s environment and the constant battle taking place in all areas of the planet. In the distance, a huge spider-like mechanical vehicle is slowly crawling along the surface of the ground, attacking soldiers with a powerful laser that leaves billows of smoke anywhere it fires. As we moved Kane from one area of cover to the next, we managed to first come across another soldier who gave us a bit of information about the ensuing battle before telling us to keep moving. Shortly after we bumped into a wounded soldier being attended to by a medic and another group of Rhino Squad who was attempting to reestablish communication with Earth. After picking up an assault rifle from a fallen soldier, Kane is ready for action, and we got a nice rush of adrenaline listening to Kane lock and load the weapon.
At this point, we take Kane inside an alien structure, and just as he walks through the doorway, a large, hulking Stogg is dragging an injured (but not dead) Marine across the ground by his leg. The Marine- unable to get up- continues to fire his rifle at his Strogg captor, but to no avail. We fired a few shots at the Strogg, hoping to free the soldier, but the Strogg was able to go through a doorway that closed and locked behind him- preventing us from being of any assistance. At this point, we were able to switch on a rifle-mounted flashlight that enabled us to keep Kane’s gun aimed and ready without having to lower it to make use of the torch. The flashlight helped increase visibility in the dimly lit Strogg structure, but this is not Doom 3, and the surroundings are nowhere near as dark as id’s horror/shooter title. The interior areas were still fairly dark, but the flashlight served more as an enhancement to Kane’s vision, rather than a necessity. There were plenty of corridors connected by hallways that opened up into larger rooms with mechanical objects sprawled throughout the compartments. Many of these objects served as cover, as Strogg forces rushed towards Kane and took fire.
Just as we started feeling like we needed some fresh air, Kane exited the structure into a more open area outside the Strogg facility where a large trench had been constructed. Here we moved Kane through a series of pathways while passing by fellow Marines in action against Strogg forces surrounding the area. With sounds of constant gunfire and explosions combined with the ongoing chatter and communication among soldiers, it was quite evident that Quake 4 is doing a great job of creating a more realistic combat environment that gives players a sense of being in the middle of actual events taking place in some far off land, within a distant galaxy in the universe. The result of such an immersive setting is a much more exciting gameplay setup that goes far beyond the concept of a lone soldier taking on the massive enemy forces Rambo-style, as we’ve seen before in the franchise. Quake 4 gives a much more intense sensation of a living, breathing environment, where the events unfolding on-screen are taking place, and players are just a small part of the larger picture.
Skipping ahead to another section early on in the game, we finally checked out a level that enabled Kane to climb aboard a huge mechanical walker armed with both a rapid firing chain gun and a powerful rocket launcher. Because of its size, this mechanical walker is very slow and sluggish, but what it lacks in speed it more than makes up for in offensive output. As we expected, there are much more than the typical Strogg soldiers to combat in this level, as much of the action involves airborne enemies who fire rockets or drop pods that open up when they hit the ground. The pods then turn into machine gun turrets that blast away against the heavy walker. After some getting used to the change in movement mechanics, we quickly found a strategy that seemed to work quite well. The rocket launcher is capable of firing of six rockets before it auto-reloads, so you will have to fire all six rockets to do so. If you only fire three rockets, there is no way to reload until the remaining three are fired off. The time it takes for the massive machine to reload will leave Kane vulnerable, so this is generally a good time to switch to the machine gun and wait for the rocket launcher to ready itself with six fresh rockets.
The level consisted of a mix of outdoor and indoor areas through which the giant mech would have to move, with the interior section consisting of a few Strogg that were easily disposed of. Outside in the open air the combat was much more difficult, as the airborne Strogg forces were relentless in their attack. At one point a pair of enemies fired multiple missiles that could be shot down using the walker’s machine guns before we were able to take the enemies out of the sky with a few rockets of our own.
Built using id Software’s advanced Doom 3 technology, Quake 4 feels a lot like Doom 3 control wise, but the gameplay has gotten a nice shot in the arm with more advanced AI and more detailed combat situations. The Strogg will use objects to seek cover as they fire their weapons and then dodge behind a corner or a large crate to reload. There is still a lot of the familiar id style enemy AI that tends to rely on closing the gap between them and Kane as quickly as possible, but a few of the more intelligent soldier enemies do employ a number of evasive maneuvers along with their assault. A few other enemy characters still simply bum rush the player hoping to maul them before having enough time to fire their weapon, but that’s something we’ve come to expect from an id Software produced shooter.
Aside from improved AI, the advanced Doom 3 engine allows for larger outdoor areas that encompass huge-scale battle scenes with a greater number of characters, giving a much more cinematic quality to the experience. While moving through the trenches on the Stroggos surface, it resembled another of Activision’s titles, Call of Duty, with the constant chatter of allies and the ability to get a peak at how other soldiers are reacting to the chaos taking place around them. These elements really give Quake 4 a higher level of involvement that draws players closer into the gameplay through the eyes of Matthew Kane. There are a number of missions that will even feature squad based combat, as Kane will fight alongside other soldiers as they battle the Strogg. While players won’t be able to dish out commands to their squad, it’s nice to see more involvement of other members of Earth’s strike force, rather than having the story revolve around one nameless character (as we’ve seen before). The enhanced AI also helps in these situations where squad combat plays a large role in the level.
Multiplayer Combat
During our time spent playing the game, we also got the opportunity to try out some of Quake 4’s multiplayer modes, which were running on the PC version of the game set up at Activision’s event. The number of modes and the number of players that will be able to take part in Quake 4’s multiplayer matches is still being tested and finalized, but we were able to take part in a number of 5 on 5 player matches during the demonstration. First we played a straight up deathmatch game followed by some capture the flag, and finally a few matches of team deathmatch.
Based on id’s Quake III Arena gameplay, the mechanics of Quake 4’s multiplayer modes have a familiar speed, style and overall feel to them. Quake 4’s multiplayer action is definitely not as insane or chaotic as the likes of Unreal, but there is still a good dose of fast-paced combat to keep the adrenaline flowing, just with somewhat more grounded controls than Epic’s intense shooter. Players are able to play as either Strogg or Marines during Quake 4’s multiplayer modes.
At this point we’ll mention that the PC version and the Xbox 360 version are identical in their appearance, as developer Raven was able to get the game running on the Xbox 360 without having to cut back any of the PC version’s specs. This is a great thing because in the past (as with Doom 3) a lot of adjustments had to be made to account for the Xbox’s more restrictive resources that required such things as tweaked level design. One thing that Activision did mention, however, was that the Xbox 360 version would feature a slightly tweaked targeting system that was a bit more forgiving than the PC version due to obvious reasons relating to the sensitivity of a mouse in comparison to a console controller. The same was true for Doom 3 on the Xbox, but even more so, Doom 3 on the console did not differentiate between a headshot or a bodyshot because of a lack of the ability to incorporate the same limb mapping of the PC version. With the Xbox 360’s next-gen hardware, Raven was able to include all the advanced physics and specific mapping of the PC version to ensure that both games perform optimally using the enhanced Doom 3 engine.
The cinematic quality of Quake 4 is amazing, and both the visuals and sound on the Xbox 360 are impressive. Running at an eye-pleasing 720p resolution, Quake 4 looks as sharp as it can with tons of detail in both the environments and the character models. To be honest, the video clips that have been released simply do not do the game we saw in motion justice as they seem a lot more jaggy then we’ve witnessed. The game on the Xbox 360 looks as impressive as anything we’ve seen running on any of today’s top of the line, state of the art PC’s, which means players will get the chance to experience the same level of quality and detail on a platform that doesn’t require a $2500 PC with a $500 video card. The 5.1 surround of the game erupted through the speakers, helping heighten the feeling of being immersed within the Straggos battlefield. We expect a lot of hardened PC gamers to turn a curious eye towards the Xbox 360 version of Quake 4 with its enhanced online capabilities thanks to Xbox Live…that is, if they can get used to a controller versus their beloved keyboard/mouse setup.
The Outlook
Raven is hard at work in completing Quake 4, and id Software is standing firm on their all- -too-familiar statement, “It will be done when it’s done.” In fact, the official press release even states “When it’s done,” as the official release date, so that’s good to know! All jokes aside, Quake 4 is not a game id Software, Activision or Raven wants to rush- and rightfully so. Quake 4 is id’s most ambitious title to date, and they are making sure it delivers on all accounts to give gamers the most intense, exciting and involved shooter we’ve ever seen from the company. Based on the time we’ve spent checking it out, it looks as though id Software has a lot moving in the right direction that will push their powerhouse franchise into the next-generation of console gaming, which, by-the-way, has finally caught up to the PC experience in terms of quality and design. As long time Quake fans, we can’t wait until “When it’s done” finally arrives and we’re able to set our sights against the Strogg.

Via TeamXbox


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