Quake 4 has essentially been forgotten in 2021, and most folks are fine with that. Even id itself seems willing to let it rot away in some forgotten morgue, with the official Quake collection on Steam omitting Quake 4 entirely. But I was curious. Was Quake 4 really that bad? And if so, what went wrong? So I bought Quake 4 in 2021 and played it and I can report that it’s...not great, but for some interesting reasons.
Quake 4 came out during a strange time for id shooters. Doom 3 had released the year before, and while critics and some fans enjoyed it, many felt it was too slow compared to older id games. And while Doom 3’s engine was technically impressive, it really could only do one kind of game: Doom 3. It was a game built for an engine and it meant that the next game to use that tech, Quake 4, would be like Doom 3 in a lot of ways, both bad and good.
However, id didn’t develop Quake 4. id moved on to Rage, a game that would continue the developer’s long era of misfires and flops. (It wouldn’t end until 2016’s Doom.) Instead, Quake 4 was developed by Raven Software.
The result is something that isn’t bad, but not good either. Just competent and playable. It’s the kind of game that is really hard to talk or write about because it’s so tepid, so intrinsically mediocre, that it leaves you little to praise or criticize. It does its job, and nothing more. The guns are serviceable but nothing special. The story is simple, but not interesting. The level design works, but isn’t exciting or memorable in any way. In fact, I can’t even describe a specific level or section of Quake 4 in any real detail because it all just blends together.
As such, here’s all I remember about Quake 4 only a few days after playing it.
It’s nothing that special. I doubt most folks would list it as one of their favorite weapons from a video game, or even would remember it a few weeks after finishing Quake 4. But the assault rifle works, feels good, and drops enemies quickly, even later in the game.
I know id didn’t make this game, instead only supervising its development and advising the folks at Raven Software. But it’s a Quake game with id’s logo on it, and it has a fucking awful shotgun. That is probably illegal, I think. If not, it should be. What makes this shotgun bad? Its biggest problem is how tight the spread is, leading to many situations where I would miss enemies at point-blank range. Missing enemies in close combat with a shotgun in an id game is a travesty.
You spend way too much time in this game riding elevators. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with your idiotic AI squadmates. On two separate occasions I got stuck in one of these elevators and had to reload a save because my teammate decided to block the door. If we ever get a Quake 5, please skip the elevators. I’ve had my fill of them.
Quake 4 can feel like a game trying to be Half-Life 2. A great example of this comes in the bad vehicle sections. Half-Life 2 also featured some questionable driving bits, but at least in that game you got to explore cool varied environments, like an empty seaside highway. In Quake 4 the vehicle sections are all set in boring-looking empty arenas of dirt and rock. They aren’t hard or annoying, but unremarkable and take too long.
Doom 3 gets criticized for being too shadowy, but I always liked its look. Doom 3’s sharp, dark shadows are stylish and create a cohesive look that is both scary and believable. In Quake 4 the shadows are back, and still look good, but aren’t really used to create tension or scare the player. I still like ‘em though!
Quake 4’s enemies all look too similar, leading to the problem where you enter a room and can’t easily tell which foe you should prioritize. Many times I would run into an area, see an enemy and not worry, only for them to almost kill me a second later. Aha, that was actually the deadly big guy, not the pushover big guy. In comparison, pretty much every Doom game has easy-to-read enemies that you can instantly spot from across the map, and plan for accordingly.
And that’s all I remember besides the final boss fight, which tosses a ton of enemies at you in a way that feels like an old-school id shooter. But this being Quake 4 it doesn’t actually come together, as the movement and weapons aren’t well suited to bigger, arena-style fights. Then the game ends. At some point during all of this, your main character gets turned into a half-robot alien man. It doesn’t matter. I know it’s the Strogg, the jabronis from Quake II, but it really doesn’t matter.
I didn’t know what to expect from Quake 4 in 2021. What I found was an unremarkable shooter that functions on various basic levels, but doesn’t do much else. Having now played it, I get why so many folks have forgotten about Quake 4. I’ll probably forget I played it in a few years, which won’t be much of a loss. Maybe that’s why id and Bethesda failed to include it in the Quake collection on Steam: They forgot about it too. That seemed weird at first, but now I get it. Makes sense.