While console shooters like Halo have gotten a lot of press in recent years, I will freely admit to being a PC man first and foremost when it comes to the genre. Getting the chance to use mouselook and engage in some old-fashioned shooter action is a wonderful nostalgic thrill. While stories are nice, brainless, shiny, visceral action still has a place in modern games. Proving that tried-and-true formulas are still enjoyable today, Star Wars Battlefront II and Quake IV deliver visually impressive violence-fests that uphold their series pedigrees with distinction. Read on for my impressions of these two new games with thoroughly familiar experiences.
- Title: Quake IV
- Developer: Raven Software
- Publisher: Activision
- System: PC (360)
- Reviewer: Zonk
- Score: 7/10
Quake IV is the story of a marine participating in the invasion of the planet Stroggos. After the events of Quake and Quake II, humanity has had enough and is taking the fight to the dirty space aliens that wrecked up our planet. The single-player mission that explores this story is well presented. The developers seem determined to have Quake stand up to more modern gaming experiences, and there are some successes on that front. Quake IV's AI is nothing particularly intriguing for most of the game. While both your soldier buddies and alien opponents will occasionally take some cover, for the most part they have a saturation-with-plasma-fire approach to combat. Towards the end of your combat tour, though, highly intelligent Strogg become your opponents. They're highly aggressive, have the same weapons you do, and know enough to get behind a crate when a grenade lands in front of them. It would have been interesting to fight more of these baddies throughout the game, as for the most part the average Strogg is cannon fodder.
The story itself features elements you'd never expect from a Quake title. There's a little bit of mission variety, for one, with some fetch the hoozle missions, escort missions, and rail shooting mixed in with the usual run and gun. While they all devolve into 'shoot things and keep moving' it's obvious that Raven put some thought into providing a variety of experiences. At least one level actually takes you out of the fighting and attempts to flesh out your understanding of protagonist Michael Kane's world. You're given the chance to wander around part of a dropship, encountering fellow marines and overhearing numerous scripted conversations. While it can't hold a candle to City 17, the non-combat detail is a first for the series and once again shows Raven's commitment to modernity.
As you'd expect from something built on the Doom engine, Quake IV looks terrific. One reason that the graphics stand out so much is that, unlike in Doom 3, you can actually see the environments, objects, and creatures around you. While there are some dark sequences several of your weapons have flashlights built into them, making the darkness more ambiance than gameplay element. Character appearance and animation is top notch, and the scare factor of critters leaping at you is heightened by the sometimes disturbing ways in which Stroggification has warped your opponent's appearance. Composed sound elements plays a subdued role, with minimal musical cues doing their best not to get in the way of the action. Sound effects are loud and for the most part satisfying. Weapons have weight, and cries of anger and pain definitely get across success or failure as you shoot at an enemy.
Despite the game's adherence to elements from previous Quake games, Quake IV somehow fails to capture nostalgia and comes off feeling retread. The modern graphics simply highlight the sometimes simplistic level design, and while there are some physics elements used in the game for the most part the Doom engine feels more funhouse than realistic environment. Gameplay, too, feels very much like the same experience we had in 1999. Nostalgia is one thing, but the fact that the Quake world has nothing new to offer after a six year lapse is frustrating. The bottom line: if you've played previous iterations in the Quake series and enjoyed them, you'll like Quake IV. It's a solid, fast, frantic style of FPS that is becoming far less common nowadays. The frustrating mix of new and old may throw gamers who aren't fans of the franchise and accepting of gameplay from the previous decade.
- Title: Star Wars Battlefront II
- Developer: Pandemic Studios
- Publisher: Lucasarts
- System: PC (PS2, PSP, XBox)
- Reviewer: Zonk
- Score: 8/10
With the exception of the Super Star Wars series of titles back in the SNES days, Star Wars movie-specific game titles have almost universally disappointed. The blending of the mythology into a more cohesive whole makes for a much richer and ultimately more rewarding environment to set a game, and SWB II makes full use of all six movies. The single-player campaign starts you off in the final days of the Clone War, filling the boots of a Clone Trooper under the command of a Jedi Knight of the Republic. If you've played the previous title you'll have almost no trouble getting into the thick of it. Gameplay is essentially unchanged, preserving the wise decisions from the original title's designers. You'll have the option of choosing from among several unit types to spawn onto the battlefield. Each has a specific set of weapons to draw on, such as a heavy weapons trooper or a sniping unit. The average Battlefront mission tasks you with keeping control of several nodes scattered across the map. Nodes can be flipped from one side to the other by occupying the area around the node with troops. Most maps are won when all nodes have been converted to one side or the other. SWB II"s single-player campaign switches this up a little with non-node mission objectives. One level, for example, requires you to hold just one node for a specific length of time as a massive force of droids marches on your position. Another has you fighting off the monstrous Acklay creatures before they can kill too many of your troops. This variety adds a little more interest to what would otherwise be multiplayer games played between you and a bunch of AI.
Visually SWB II is an obvious improvement over the previous title. There's a great deal of detail, and the overall presentation of the game has been refined. Both the visuals and soundscape do their best to adhere to the Star Wars universe, and succeed admirably. Ships explode, battle droids splinter, and gungans gargle with the sights and sounds you'd expect from a licensed title. As with all Star Wars games, the sound experience is particularly enjoyable. John Williams scores strain to be heard over the zip and pop of blaster fire or the scream of a passing Tie Fighter. While there aren't any appreciable physics elements, playing SWB II also probably won't strain your graphics card overmuch. The feel and look are dead on, dropping you into the mythos of the galaxy far, far away.
While the single player game is enjoyable, multiplayer is really this game's strong suit. Extremely large battles are possible, and every aspect of the single player campaign is available to multiplayer combatants. Maps are fairly roomy and are usually set in extremely evocative locales. While fighting on the snowy ground of Hoth was done to death five years ago, some of the new levels offer a distinctly different experience. Kashyyyk, Dagobah, and Coruscant are all battlefields in this (sometimes continuity breaking) free-for-all environment. Action isn't nearly as fast paced as Quake or Unreal Tournament, but that's okay. The joy to be had in popping off shots at a fleeing droid or charging Rebel soldier means that it's fun to savor the moment. The 'hold-the-node' gameplay is the default choice, but just like in the single player experience there are space battles and objective missions to be had as well. There was very little slowdown or technical problems related to the game during battle I participated in, and the necessarily aggressive tone that teams have to take to win matches ensures both offensive and defensive players will have a blast.