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Quake IV

Xbox 360 gets more beef than strogg-anoff (heh, geddit?) as the FPS sequel blasts next-gen

The Quake 4 story picks up where Quake II left off, casting you as Kane, a spec ops soldier battling for humanity's cause in the seemingly never-ending conflict against the alien Strogg. The war isn't going too well, so you add some plucky marines are sent deep into enemy territory to pull off the most audacious strike of the conflict so far.

What follows is a rollercoaster ride of old-skool run-and-gun mayhem, through dimly lit levels teeming with nasties that are itching to rip out your spine and play it like a glockenspiel. The plot - which features a great twist midway through - unravels through a series of in-engine cutscenes and battlefield chatter.

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Combat is every bit as intense as you'd expect from a Quake game, even if there is some visible slowdown during larger battles. This is war at its most immediate and simplistic - run into a shadowshrouded room, senses heightened, buttocks clenched, and wait for the inevitable attacks. Granted, it's a dated premise that the likes of Halo 2 and Half- Life 2 have long since superseded, but for those of you still hankering for pure, unadulterated shooting mayhem, where explosive barrels are liberally dotted near enemy hotspots for your killing convenience, you won't find much better.

MY NAME IS GLADIATOR
Skirmishes are made all the more intense by some smart AI. Top intelligence marks must go to the Strogg grunts, who utilize cover with lifelike awareness, ducking and diving behind walls and crates, then popping out to unleash a salvo at your head. These firefights, along with epic confrontations with the game's biggest, baddest, railgun-toting Gladiator - who comes kitted out with a shield that'll repel just about anything you can throw at it - are by far the highlights of the game's countless battles.

Perhaps Quake 4's greatest letdown is its collection of unimaginative bosses, who await at the end of each level. Giant cyborgs who lope around with thunderous steps, but who can ultimately be outwitted by simply changing direction every few seconds so they can't get near you. Giant mechanised spiders that are criminally rooted to the spot instead of chasing you on their lanky metallic legs. These should have been pivotal moments, but they end up as irksome distractions.

Quake 4's visuals are simply jaw-dropping. Striking, shadow-filled levels and lifelike character models radiate from the screen with utter clarity, and go a long way towards justifying that expensive new HDTV.

The alien world that you must battle through not only looks believable, it feels it too. New orders constantly filter down to you from HQ, while AI-controlled team-mates regularly aid you in completing certain tasks. These computer-controlled comrades add an even greater level of immersion to a battlefield that already teems with death and panic, reacting sharply to every circumstance and selflessly healing you (if they're a medic) or replenishing your armour (if they're an engineer) when you've taken a harsh battering.

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Making its debut in the Quake series is vehicular combat, and it seems the wait has been more than worth it. Schlepping your way slowly across an arid, enemy-infested territory in a giant walker, or powering through a level that's teeming with ground and aerial threats in a hover tank provide some of the game's most manic and entertaining moments. There are also a few on-rail segments which see you manning stationary weapons on moving vehicles, but these often feel overly simplistic, and reek of the kind of lazy shooting gallery segments that have been blighting the FPS genre for far too long.

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