Quake 4: First impressions

By Shamus
on Aug 30, 2006
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Cliché 1: Lots of videogames and Paul Verhoven love to imagine a future where 102lb girls fresh out of high school can slug it out in the trenches as infantry units while wearing lighter and more revealing versions of what the men are wearing.

Cliché 2: Lots of videogames and most Hollywood screenwriters dislike or misunderstand military etiquette. Main characters almost never respect the chain of command. People who go in for the “Sir yes sir!” formality are usually throwaway extras or otherwise unsympathetic. Real heroes march to their own beat and don’t take orders from anyone. Real heroics happen when people disobey a direct order.

These two clichés are not terrible crimes against the plot. Butt-kicking females can be fun sometimes. A rogue soldier can be compelling. But writers have taken us down this road so many times they can’t seem to find their way back. The clichés are now tiresome. Just once in a while can’t we have a hero with discipline and respect for authority? Can’t we have a story where females fill an interesting and vital role without them trying to out-macho the men?

Quake 4 manages to sidestep both of these, and the result is that the story seems a lot more grown up and a lot less cheesy than you might expect from something with the name ‘Quake’ on it. While it isn’t a deep game and the story is not one filled with mystery and wonder, it does manage to tell its tale without resorting to sloppy or heavy-handed plot devices. Quake 4 is the story of a fairly large military operation – the invasion of an enemy homeworld. There are setbacks and surprises, but most of what captured my interest was the small details that gave the world some polish, with a nod towards realism.

Quake 4: Hannibal
The player is assigned to the USS Hannibal, a ship which is roughly the size of a football field. The landing sequence is pretty cool to watch, but don’t stand directly underneath it. Trust me.
Even though the game is set in space, in the far future, they still try to portray the military in a way that is familiar and makes sense. The infantry forces are all men, which might be sexist but makes perfect sense when you see what is asked of them. Some of the pilots are female, which also makes sense. If we were in a ground war for the survival of Earth I would expect everyone to take part, but I would not expect them to send in teenage girls to haul around guns the size of a man’s leg and go toe-to-toe with the seven-foot Strogg soldiers.

The military looks like a real military. Your character is part of a real squad of genuine characters, instead of being sent in alone or part of a team of interchangeable generic guys. They are an able group of guys, and provide real help instead of getting in the way as NPCs often do. Through radio chatter the game hints about other things being accomplished by other capable marines, and how those actions are part of a larger operation. All of this gives it a nice touch of authenticity. The player plays a vital part in the operation, but they do not play the only part and they still need the help of their squadmates. Being a normal, average grunt isn’t a lot of fun, but single-handedly defeating the enemy forces doesn’t make sense. This game strikes a nice balance between those two extremes.

Quake 4: Command briefing
Rhino Squad salutes the officers as they enter the room. How the writers were able to smuggle the closely guarded secret of “saluting” out of the military is still a mystery.
At a few points in the game you get the chance to go back to your base ship, the Hannibal. Onboard, the game does a good job of making it look plausible. People wear uniforms. Their haircuts are regulation. They are clean-cut. They stand watch. Repair mundane objects. Gossip about other operations. Enlisted men rise and salute when the general enters the room. In short, they act like soldiers.

The only breach of military etiquette that I’ve spotted so far is that my character is a corporal, but other enlisted men keep calling me ‘sir’. (This confused me at first. Every time one of them said ‘sir’ I would turn around and look for the officer he was addressing.) Still, this means the game is practically a documentary compared to most Hollywood military movies.

Quake 4: Lt. Voss and Pvt. Sledge
Lt. Voss (left) checks out the room our team just secured, while Pvt. ‘Sledge’ (right) guards the corridor behind us. Because I’m a man of action, I volunteer to gather up all of the ammunition and healthpacks and randomly push all of the unmarked buttons.
This authenticity extends into combat. They cover each other, stagger their movement, regroup before moving forward, and use objects as cover in a way that makes sense. They don’t jump into your line of fire and will hold their fire if you blunder into theirs. Lots of games have experimented with team AI like this in the past few years. This is the best implementation I’ve witnessed so far. They move and act like a team, and this makes having teammates a pleasure instead of a punishment.

I’m sure these details mean nothing to some people. In the hands of different writers, the soldiers could be a bunch of long-haired bad boys with tons of cool, seething with attitude, covered in tattoos, who all have humorous phallic nicknames for each other and no discernable command structure. Thankfully, they went a different route and gave us something fresh. I appreciate that.

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7A few comments. Call it seven-ish.

From the Archives:

  1. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    I recently played an awful first person called Killzone. they had some of these same group tactics implemnted in the game which I thought was cool but the fellow team mates were awsome shots. this sounds like a good thing but I found myself getting lazy and letting them go in ( they seemed to be invincible as well) and do all the work I would then go in and clean up the booty. I was also frustrated that they always and I mean always took the best cover spots. I can’t tell you how many times I would run in to a battle and be left standing out in the open because there was no place to hide. that pissed me off bad. the only time I really did anything was when they told me ” I was the only one who could do it” *sigh* You mean to tell me you dousch bags couldn’t climb that water tower and fire the sniper rifle yourself. there were so many little things wrong with that game I just wanted to spit blood all over the creators children. this game also had the audacity to say before its release that “it’s going to be the new Halo on the playstaion” Good way to shot yourself in the foot before the war even started.

  2. Will says:

    Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault did a pretty decent job of implementing teamplay. You start out in “basic” with your squad, run through the tutorial, and finally you’re shipped out to Pearl. All your teammates were given names and identities. You had one guy on the BAR, a medic, and the other standard equipment.

    One umm… “neat” little detail was if you got yourself really banged up and called for the medic, when he came to patch you up, he would occasionally pause to turn and vomit.

  3. Crusader Corim says:

    Actually, if I recall correctly, the Marines and Navy (who most of the future military units tend to be based on) call all superiors, even females and non-coms, “sir”.

    So it may be even more accurate than you think. (Intended or not)

  4. Martin says:

    Marines only call officers sir, calling an enlisted man ‘sir’ is typically taken as an insult. And you only salute indoors if you’re ‘under arms’ meaning you’re on some sort of official guard duty.

    /q4 nitpick

  5. cheesemaster says:

    In the hands of different writers, the soldiers could be… covered in tattoos, who all have humorous phallic nicknames for each other…

    Clearly you’ve never seen the Australian Army. You’ve described half of our Defence Force just there. But for some reason all of the armies in the future are the US Marines, with a few different accents if you’re lucky.

    (sorry on commenting on something so far back in the archives, but that quote just reminded me so humourously of soldiers I’ve worked with that it demanded a reply)

  6. Palantas says:

    I thought the game did a decent job of portraying a military. Games screw that up beyond belief sometimes.

  7. Steve says:

    I like the idea of being a military personell guy in a game. With realistic military :).

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