The big twist of Quake 4 is that your character is captured by the Strogg and gets turned into one of them. This is very much like being assimilated by the Borg, except you get rescued just before it finishes, so you get to keep your free will. This is one of those things which should have been a surprise, but every article, review, and preview of the game made a point of announcing it. They gave it away in great big block letters and gigantic screenshots. Nobody treated like a spoiler, and it should have been.
While playing through the game, I knew it was coming. Instead of feeling panic and shock, I thought, “finally!” This took a lot of the impact of the event away and ruined the most powerful moment in the game.
But I want to talk about this a bit, because a lot of thought went into this. Read on for more spoilers. Note that I’m going to have some gross (violent) screenshots, so you might want to steer clear if you dislike that sort of thing:
The fact that the player becomes partially Strogg-ified is a key element of the plot: It offers and explanation as to how your character can accomplish so much. He has the strength and power of a Strogg, but the intelligence and creativity of a human.
Being Stroggified is pretty disturbing. I thought we would see the action from a third-person view. This would have let us see what was happening to the character, but would have given us that third-person insulation. It wouldn’t have been personal. They could also have done it in first-person view, but then we wouldn’t know what was really happening to the character. Instead, they made an interesting compromise:
|Wow. My body is looking good and in great shape! I hope nothing bad happens to it!|
Now, this isn’t really accurate. You don’t really see yourself this way when you look down, but it works and it makes the ensuing horrors a lot more frightening.
The thing starts off like a funhouse ride. You’re trapped in some sort of pod on rails, which is carrying you along a winding path so you can never see too far ahead. You can only see the pod directly ahead of you.
The blood on the walls makes no sense here. I think they went overboard with the blood, and the result is a diminished effect. Why are the walls here coated in blood? Nothing is happening at this point in the ride that should be getting blood all over the place.
|We arrive at our first stop in this funhouse.|
The game lets you see what’s about to happen. The car in front stops, turns, and then the marine in it gets a giant needle rammed into his chest. The sounds he makes indicate that he is not enjoying it. Then he turns and moves on, and the pods move forward again. Your turn.
I don’t have a screenshot of the needle in action, but I will point out that it does not look particularly sharp. Part of it is clear, and we can see that a lot of thin green liquid is being pumped in. This hits on another common suspense theme, which is being injected with unknown substances.
After your shot, the doctor comes over and has a look at you. Note that here we can see the limits of the Doom engine in action. As I mentioned before, everything has the same specular behavior. The artist can turn it down (or off) but not adjust how it interacts with light. Notice that this guy has no shine at all. He should be glistening. However, there is no way to make him look “wet”. If he had any specular shine, it would just make him look like he was made of Barbie-doll plastic.
|Hello doctor. Will this be covered by my HMO?|
Now we come to the next stop. We see our buddy up ahead move under the circular sawblade, the saw goes down, a fine mist of blood comes up, and then we roll into place. Unlike last time, we can’t see what is going on until we get there.
The character actually passes out for a few moments during this part of the proceedure, and when they fade in again we can see that the legs have been revoved mid-thigh. This is pretty alarming to look down and see your virtual legs gone. You’ve only been aware of them since this process started a minute ago, but when they are gone it’s a real loss.
Next up is a machine with replacement arms and legs. The action is thankfully hidden behind a big piece of machinery that moves in and blocks our view, but when it pulls away the new arms and legs are attached.
|Not bad. But industrial orange isn’t really my color.|
The last step is my favorite. A little robot arm with a needle on it swings into view. It shines a red light on you while it hunts around and looks at your head from different directions. Then it darts inward, there is a flash, and suddenly your new Strogg mod chip is installed. When you enter this room the screens have strange symbols on them and the aliens are speaking gibberish. When the needle pulls back, you can suddenly understand the aliends and read the display screens.
Someone put a lot of thought into this. They used a lot of cinematic tricks, but also a lot of tricks that are only possible within the context of the computer game. Despite the gore, these few moments of the game showed a good bit of restraint and made the effect more potent.
I wish that same skill in suspense and revelation had been applied to the game as a whole: The rest of the story is very bland by comparison.
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