It's official, Quake deathmatch is back and it's faster and better looking than ever, pitting you and up to 15 others in a furious futuristic joust. Never before has there been a multiplayer shooting experience like it, a challenge of skill that's so utterly pure and unadulterated. All of the chaos, all of the anger and every last drop of mayhem from Quake III has been siphoned out and rammed into an engine so sublime that it practically sucks you through your monitor and spits you out into another world, where a split-second can separate the vanquished from the victor.
But enough about Quake 4's multiplayer... For now anyway. Why? Because, my frag-frenzied friend, unlike its predecessor, Quake 4 isn't being sold as a multiplayer game. Y'see, some people whinged about Quake III: Arena's lack of single-player action. They moaned and they complained - then went off and made some tea - then they came back and moaned some more.
And so, in an attempt to alleviate their bleating, and in an effort to bring the best parts of Quake II and III into one unified and all-conquering whole, id and Raven decided a return to the single-player campaigns of yore to complement what is undoubtedly the purest deathmatch experience in the known universe. Including Wigan town centre on a Saturday night. Yes, that pure.
A NEW CAMPAIGN
So, what's the single-player game like? Well, you play as Kane - a soldier embroiled in the seemingly never-ending Human/Strogg conflict (from Quake II), sent to an enemy planet to execute a daring raid that could turn the tide of the war. What follows is a rampaging ride of destruction, punctuated by periods of exposition and some slick cut-scenes that build the tension and raise the stakes ever higher as the campaign progresses, while a surprising plot twist halfway through adds some extra spice.
Your adventure is further enhanced by the stupendous Doom 3 engine, which makes your dark, sinister surroundings look more drop-dead gorgeous than Elle McPherson on a bed of cold meats, though admittedly, outdoor areas are still a problem. The physics are also almost beyond reproach, conveying a true sense of weight and realism to Quake 4's alien world, despite the occasionally erratic tumble taken by a felled opponent.
As for the combat, it's also a winner. Visceral, intense, challenging... Every bit the blood-caked battlefield we'd hoped it would be. From the opening mission to the final titanic confrontation, your trigger skills are tested to breaking point, especially on the higher difficulty levels that'll have even the most hardened FPS-nut pounding his (or her) fists in frustration.
WORLD OF HURT
Straight from the off, you're submerged into a world that genuinely looks and sounds like a warzone. Incessant, panicked radio chatter from other strike teams bursts through your headphones, and new orders filter down from command HQ as you scythe your way through wave after wave of pug-ugly nasties. Medics and technicians heal you and restore your armour - perhaps a little too often if truth be told - while certain specialists even beef up your weapons and make them more powerful and versatile.
The feeling of isolation so prevalent in Doom 3 is nowhere to be seen, with solo missions often morphing into team=based affairs, pitting you and AI-controlled comrades against overwhelming enemy forces. Plus, with a well-judged soundtrack - satisfyingly booming effects beefing up the atmosphere still further - you're never in any doubt that this is a world at war.
Of course, all the atmosphere in the world is for nothing if a shooter's AI isn't up to scratch; and while Quake 4 is unlikely to win any awards for this, it doesn't disappoint either.