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Once more unto the Strogg
Quake, the very name is a legend and arguably the most popular first-person shooter in recent times. The fourth incarnation, which is sitting on my hard drive right now, has just been put through its paces. A mixed bag indeed.

The Strogg leader, the Makron, has been killed. You are a soldier bound for Stroggos as part of Earthís invasion fleet tasked to end the threat once and for all. The war is still raging even after the unexpected death of the Strogg commander, and thereís still a lot to be done before Earth is safe. Where in Quake 2 had you single-handedly taking on the Makronís forces, this time you will be fighting side-by-side with the rest of humanityís finest. The storylines are sequential, with Quake 4 beginning just as Quake 2 ended, and a lot of what you do is similar in respect to Quake 2ís game play: make your way through the Strogg defences and shoot anything that moves.

As with all Quake games, this is purely a runínígun carnage-fest, with added body parts. Itís a violent one all right, but justifiably so when you consider Quake 2 was as well. We canít have a sequelís sequel being toned down for the masses, can we! So make no mistake, this is a visceral, action packed experience with, as Iím hesitant to reveal, a few twists and turns. Good for you that I must divulge at least a small portion.

The major plot twist in Quake 4 is that you become a Strogg. Simple but effective. Youíd think this would make a vast change to the way the game plays out from then on what with you being three-quarters machine, but it really doesnít. You get captured, you get transformed (a satisfyingly cringe-worthy sequence to be sure), you get rescued. Then life as you knew it continues, with only increased run-speed and an altered HUD to show for it. As plot twists go, itís not a game-defining moment, but it does break up the slightly repetitive nature of the game that starts to show by this time.

Another aspect of the game that could have been more than just mundane is the Doom 3 engine. Granted, the graphics are pretty and the levels in Quake 4 are utterly stunning, but the interactivity is at a bare minimum. Doors are blasted open, but not by your hand - a scripted monster or fellow soldier will do it for you. Logic puzzles are few and far between, with a barrel stacking exercise being simply a few clicks of a panel (another feature of the Doom 3 engine that hasnít been exploited). Even the physics engine is left by the wayside, only noticeable when you or a squad member plough through the odd box or container left strewn around. Oh, there are crates in Quake 4 as well. The inescapable, genre-defining obstacles are back and no, you canít move them.

But letís not linger on the negative, Quake 4 has some redeeming features which are sure to delight. Firstly, as previously mentioned, the level design in Quake 4 is remarkable. Everywhere you look is detail, no polygons have been spared in making the environment as realistic as possible (one might think they had an engineer in the future stealing blueprints). To accompany this, the character models live up to and even surpass Doom 3 quality levels, with facial and body animations being fluid and almost natural. The Strogg that you blast to pieces really do...blast to pieces, especially when hit with a rocket or grenade. Some of the larger Strogg such as the railgun guy (I could never remember the proper names) will just collapse, but each body fades away in an attractive rapid decomposition-esque animation.

On the weapons front you are treated to an assortment of goodies. All three of the previous Quake games have seemingly influenced the design of your personal destruction arsenal, and there are a few new ones to boot. The sturdy shotgun is present, the nailgun from Quake is also included (and boy has it had a revamp) and the indomitable railgun is there for you to shred things with too. Approaching the mass-destruction end of the scale is the new Dark Matter Gun, which is quite possibly the most awesome gun in any FPS ever. I wonít spoil it; fire it yourself to find out, and be aware that there is no BFG in this game, so this is as good as it gets.

If you get bored of the light arms then thereís always a vehicle or two. Several levels throughout Quake 4 have you seated in a Ďhovertankí or walker, complete with shields, missiles, and a front bumper should you feel so inclined. To oppose you is the Stroggís own heavy armour, which is much more formidable. Giant metal spiders, flyers and roving turrets are going to make your joyride not quite so pleasant. These sections are enjoyable, but considering the overall length of the game, not that numerous, which is a pity.

So, Quake 4. The latest in the line of the most popular "shoot first, ask questions later" games. Similar in style to Doom 3, but more action than horror; more violence than Half-Life 2 yet tastefully done. Sporting superb environments, extreme weapons and relentless action, but it is up to scratch when you sit back and remember Half-Life 2 and Call of Duty 2? To be honest, not quite.

Donít get me wrong, Quake 4 is worth 10 hours of anyoneís time, but thatís about all youíll need to put into it to see it to completion. The game is disappointingly short, and with the admittedly repetitive nature of the shoot-move-shoot again game play, it really doesnít invite another run through just for the sake of an extra level of difficulty or two. Based on this, I canít really justify ranking it up with the likes of Freemanís latest escapade, but if youíre looking to switch off and just shoot some aliens, you could do worse than Quake 4.