The Quake games from id Software are made up of the most widely recognized and popular first-person-shooter series of all time. So some were surprised to hear that the next game, Quake 4, was going to be a departure from the "lone hero against an army" style of gameplay used in the previous games. People were probably even more surprised to hear that the game was being developed by longtime id collaborator Raven Software rather than at id's own studios in Dallas, Texas. But now that we've finally had a chance to see the game, it seems safe to say that Quake 4 will have plenty of exciting shooter action and even a few intriguing twists and turns.
Quake 4 will be the first game in the series in which you'll play as an actual named character with an identity beyond a call sign. Specifically, you'll play as space marine Matthew Kane, an elite commando with a mysterious (and possibly checkered) past whose reputation as a tough soldier precedes him. Kane has been drafted into Rhino Squad, one of the squads of space marines currently assaulting the planet Stroggos, home of the strogg aliens. In fact, Quake 4 picks up where 1997's Quake II left off. In that game, the protagonist was a nameless space marine attempting to fight off the stroggs, who have a nasty habit of propagating themselves by capturing beings of other races, retrofitting their bodies with mechanical parts, and implanting neural control chips to turn them into mindless slaves. The climactic battle of Quake II took place on Stroggos as the protagonist traveled to the planet and dispatched the leader of the stroggs, known as the "makron." This surgical strike should have ended the conflict, but it didn't. Now planet Earth has sent in space marines like Rhino Squad to invade the enemy planet and rid the universe of the threat once and for all.
Unfortunately for Kane, his start on Stroggos won't exactly be a glorious one. His dropship is shot down by strogg antiair cannons and he is left for dead. He comes to briefly and hears a foul-mouthed comrade trying to revive him, but then the poor sap gets shot in the head. When Kane finally gets back on his feet, he clambers from the wreckage to find himself in the middle of a fierce battle with nothing but a lousy pistol and a humongous robot monster with long, spiderlike legs and mounted laser cannons trudging past him just over a hill. The dazed Kane makes a hasty and quiet retreat, running by a few scattered soldiers either tending wounded or using, of all things, a laptop computer to try to reconnect with headquarters. Kane shoots down a few strogg soldiers, picks up an assault rifle with a zoom lens (and a flashlight attachment, thanks very much), and enters a strogg complex where he sees one of the aliens dragging away a marine's corpse deeper into the compound. We fought through the first leg of the compound, which consisted of connected corridors and hallways that, unlike those of Doom 3, were decently lit and also lined with rusted, bloodstained metal slabs--much like the strogg areas in Quake II.
We skipped ahead to another field area that led to, of all things, a series of World War I-style trenches where a different squad had regrouped. Kane is eventually reunited with the members of Rhino Squad, like Cortez, the team's cold-blooded sniper who casually blasts a lunging strogg in the head without so much as a look as he rejoins you. According to id Software's Todd Hollenshead, you'll play through about a third of the full game with your teammates in the squad, and you'll find that Rhino Squad is full of characters with distinctive personalities. We rejoined the squad and eventually circled back to an intact dropship, which we entered after going through a decontamination chamber.
The dropship is a huge base of operations where marines stand guard outside classified areas, performing experiments on dead strogg corpses and generally shooting the breeze. We also heard a few awed comments about Kane ("I thought Matthew Kane was just a story they made up to scare new recruits," said one of them). Kane finally heads to the briefing area, a meeting room with a circular table, where the surviving officers make room for him and show varying degrees of acceptance ("Hey, quit giving him s***, Kane's alright," said one). We eventually learned that Kane was to be reassigned to a core group of four squads who are named for the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse (he's assigned to the squad called "death," of course) as part of a joint offensive on the strogg compound. His team's objective is to infiltrate the compound and destroy the "nexus," the strogg compound's communication network, in order to cripple the enemy. (New objectives, once received, will be added to the game's onscreen compass as waypoints to help you find them.)
We then jumped ahead to a later part of the game--a critical, pivotal part of the single-player story in which Kane's squad is thwarted by the stroggs, captured, and then sent to the "medical facility." Apparently, the strogg idea of a medical facility is a mechanized conveyor belt where still-living victims are strapped to metal slabs and "assimilated" into brand-new strogg soldiers. This was a particularly grisly sequence in which Kane (who, from the first-person view, can see only his bare feet twitching as he lies down on his slab) gets ferried from station to station, where he witnesses what's in store for him next, as he can see another soldier just ahead of him on the conveyor belt. Kane then endures a series of gruesome "operations," including having a gigantic needle jammed through his skull, and having two rotating blade saws actually slice off his lower legs below the knee to replace them with artificial legs. Kane fades in and out of consciousness as he is whisked past various terminals, and he begins to realize that he can actually understand the strogg language (which had previously been nothing but jumbled symbols on the compound's computer readouts).
Through a stroke of luck, he is rescued just before the final part of the strogg assembly line, which would have implanted a control chip in his brain. His body was suspended above an amniotic tank just as another squad of marines bursts into the compound. Before one of them could put you out of your misery, another recognized you and instead brought you down from the tank to join them, to considerable disagreement from the rest of the squad. From this point in the game, Kane will be equipped with the superhuman abilities of the strogg, including faster running and higher jumping. Also, his ability to understand the strogg language and interface with strogg technology will make him the linchpin in crippling the enemy's communications and eventually winning the war.
We then jumped to a final action area, in which Kane, now clutching his rifle with metallic hands, is in the desert of planet Stroggos once again, up against enemies like the enhanced strogg berserker (a huge strogg with a heavy club in one hand and a long, sharp knife blade replacing its other arm), which still has a nasty habit of lunging toward its enemies. Kane was able to commandeer a walker--a huge two-legged mech suit that will be one of the game's drivable vehicles. From what we could tell, walkers will be equipped with two standard weapons mounted on each arm, a heavy-duty machine gun on one side and a repeating rocket launcher with a five-round clip on the other. The walker helps Kane devastate regular strogg troops, but he'll be up against much bigger and tougher enemies.
Unfortunately, the demonstration ended at this point, and id Software representatives weren't able to reveal much more information about the game, such as its multiplayer details. Hollenshead did explain that id and Raven looked to previous Quake games for inspiration and determined that Quake II was the "best in terms of single-player story," and that Quake III: Arena was the "best in terms of multiplayer." The id CEO made broad statements about being able to expect the sort of multiplayer matches that were featured in Quake III, like deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag (and possibly some variants of capture the flag), characterized by battles with rocket launchers and railguns. Still, Quake 4 packs a significant visual punch thanks to its Doom 3-powered graphics. And while we were shocked that id and Activision would go so far as to reveal such a critical plot point, Hollenshead assured us that there would be at least a few more twists and turns that we hadn't yet seen. Quake 4 is scheduled for release later this year.