Time was, you knew where you were with your Dooms and your Quakes - id Software's Doom and Doom II provided a mindless blast through the catacombs of hell, whereas the opening brace of Quakes were more sophisticated fare, featuring something resembling a story. The multiplayer focused Quake III: Arena turned everything on its head, whereas Doom 3 provided a tense trawl through the zombie-ridden corridors of a Mars outpost. Which brings us to Quake IV, a narrative-based affair that follows on from the story of Quake II and is based on the Doom 3 engine. And developed by Raven, not id, which takes the role of executive producer. Confused? You will be, although hopefully less so once you've read our report on the world's first public viewing of the game in LA.
First things first: that story. If you don't remember the ending of Quake II, the Earth Defence Force took the battle back to planet Stroggos and knocked out their sophisticated air defence. This enabled them to land, whereupon they took out the Strogg leader, Makron, in the hope that the Strogg hierarchy would crumble. Conveniently, this didn't quite work out, and Quake IV finds you as a different character, hovering above Stroggos as a member of Rhino squad, a small part of a massive invasion force. Unfortunately, your drop-ship is hit and crash-lands. In the confusion of the ensuing battle, your squad leaves you for dead. Clearly, you're not, and having regained consciousness, your first task is to reconnect with your squad, and presumably thank them.
KANE AND ABLE
It's not exactly Citizen Kane, but it is Matthew Kane, the name of the marine that you play. Something of a dark hero with a mysterious past, Kane is a square-jawed brick shithouse with a buzzcut hairdo and a steely glare who commands respect from all whom he meets. As one fresh-faced recruit exclaimed in the action we saw, "I thought Matthew Kane was just a story they made up to scare recruits..."
The appearance of Kane marks the first time in the Quake series that the lead character has been given an identity, not a decision that id took lightly. Tim Willits is the creative liaison between id and Raven, and he explained the thinking behind the move.
"Because one of our objectives for this title was to make more of an engaging story, we wanted to have your squad have an identity and have guys you recognise, and you kinda learn their personalities and things. They have to talk about you, and it really made no sense for them to say, 'Hey, nameless marine guy over there,' so we felt that it made more sense for him to have a name and an identity."
Quake IV is also representative of the trend towards more narrative-based games. Willits claims, "Gaming now has surpassed television and movies for people's time and gamers have matured, games have matured, and people expect the full range of entertainment in a single game. You can't have random action without context, without some meaning behind it. People just expect more now, they want the full experience, so in order to deliver that you need story, you need different gameplay experiences."
From what we've seen, those 'different gameplay experiences' should make Quake IV the most varied title in the Quake - or indeed Doom - universe. Whereas Doom 3 was a largely solitary experience, Quake IV will at various times have you fighting as part of a squad, embarking on solo missions and piloting a range of vehicles. We managed to establish that a hover-tank is involved at some stage, and were also privy to a viewing of the Walker, a great big brutal affair that crushes foot soldiers like bugs. Currently, all vehicles are driven from a first-person perspective, and id insists that it will not be mimicking the Halo-style third-person control system.