Quake 4 & False Dawn Review

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At this point, I would say Quake is primarily a multiplayer franchise. There are only three games in the series to date with full blown single player and that’s the original Quake, Quake II, and Quake 4. The first Quake is the outcast only because its vastly different than its successors. It was inspired by dark fantasy influences and has a very unique atmosphere and aesthetic that really hasn’t been matched in any games since in my opinion. DUSK is pretty close, though. Quake II included a brand new storyline that would be continued in Quake 4 and Quake III Arena is strictly a multiplayer-focused title as is Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Quake Live which is an updated version of Quake III, and the most recent title, Quake Champions. Developed by Raven Software and published by Activision, Quake 4 was released for PC in October, 2005, which is the version I played for this review, and Xbox 360 in November of that same year. To get this running properly, I used the Quake 4 Tweaker which allows you change the FPS limit, filed of view, despawn time of corpses, force custom resolutions, and it fixes texture issues on modern hardware. I believe many of these aspects can be fixed or adjusted by messing with the configuration files but the Tweaker makes it easier. I will also be taking a look at the False Dawn mod. False Dawn contains a new storyline, levels, new health and weapon damage systems, and it actually comes with Sikkmod to give it a more modern look. You can also download Sikkmod separately to enhance vanilla game.

Taking place after the Strogg leader known as the Makron was defeated at the end of Quake II, the story in Quake 4 centers on silent protagonist Marine Corporal Matthew Kane who joins Rhino Squad. The Squad is sent on a mission to secure the Strogg’s home planet Stroggos. During the invasion, the squad ship is shot down and crashes on the planet forcing Kane to locate his squad members while also participating in the assault. The story isn’t anything spectacular, however it is somewhat interesting just due to actual voice acting and the performances are serviceable. The most interesting part of the story is somewhere around the half-way point where Kane becomes Stroggified and because he is saved before the neurocyte in his head is activated, he can still fight with the Marines. Kane learns he can use his new Strogg abilities to get past their defenses and infiltrate Strogg facilities without issue. While the storyline may not be anything incredible, it is an action-packed romp from start to finish which is what I would expect from a Quake game.

False Dawn is set years after the events of Quake 4. The Strogg have developed a new super weapon capable of destroying the human race and it’s located within a facility on a satellite world deep within Strogg controlled space. You assume the role of a new Stroggified Marine who is apparently the only soldier capable of saving the human race. The one thing I can say about the story is that for a mod, it’s very well done and it comes complete with all new voice acting which I would say is on par with or better than the voice acting in the vanilla game.

You can walk, run, crouch, jump and can activate a flashlight to see in dark areas. However, the flashlight is only a part of specific weapons which kind of sucks because many of the environments are very dark so you’re either forced to use those weapons or deal with limited visibility. I’m pretty sure this is due to the game running on the id Tech 4 engine, the same engine Doom 3 runs on, and it is designed for dark environments. In False Dawn, you can activate night vision as alternative to the flashlight but you can’t have both activated simultaneously.  You can acquire health packs to restore health, armor vests and shards to acquire extra protection, and if you speak to Medic or Tech Marines, they will provide you with health and armor respectively. After Kane is Stroggified, your max health and armor is increased, you can move faster, and you can also acquire health from Stroyent Health Stations scattered throughout the environments. The Quake series is known for its fast-paced running and gunning action and you may be thrown off during the first half of the game because the gameplay is slow in comparison to what you may be used to. But once Kane is Stroggified, you should feel right at home. You’ll be whizzing through environments, strafing left and right to avoid projectiles, and blasting away baddies with your varied roster of weapons. In False Dawn, there are no health and armor pickups. Instead, you have a Stroyent Energy Pool. Stroyent Energy is automatically used to repair wounds and armor. You can refill your Stroyent Energy at Stroyent Stations.

You start the game with a blaster that contains infinite ammo and a machine gun with a scope but you’ll acquire other weapons as you progress through the story. The hyperblaster is a fully-automatic energy rifle that fires plasma bolts. The nailgun is a powerful Strogg rotary cannon that fires nails that can shatter on impact. The lightning gun fires a continuous beam of lightning and it does not need to be reloaded but it does drain through ammo at a rapid rate. The railgun makes a return and fires slugs which inflict massive damage, killing weak enemies with only one shot. The Dark Matter gun is easily the most powerful weapon in the game. It fires slow-moving balls of dark matter that will suck up most nearby enemies before exploding, killing them. It’s very effective against bosses, too. You’ll also get your hands on a shotgun, grenade launcher, and rocket launcher. Ammo for the weaker weapons is usually lying around everywhere and you will come across NPCs that will provide you with weapon mods to make some of your weapons more efficient in battle. You’ll be given extended clips for the machine gun and shotgun which increases how much ammo they can hold. The firepower mod increases the nailgun’s rate of fire and the nailseeker mod adds a scope to the nailgun and you’ll be able to track enemies when looking through the scope. The rocket homing mod allows you to guide rockets. The rail penetration mod allows slugs to penetrate multiple enemies. The bounce shot mod will make the hyperblaster’s plasma bolts bounce off surfaces. And the chain lightning mod will cause the lightning gun’s beam of lightning to damage multiple targets. I do find that every weapon is useful and most of them are better for specific situations and enemies. The only weapon I didn’t really use often was the blaster but it is good to fall back on if you run out of ammo for the rest. I should mention that there are two weapons exclusive to multiplayer; the Gauntlet and Napalm Launcher. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to try the multiplayer.

Quake 4 includes a good variety of enemies. Less threatening enemies include different guard types, tactical Strogg, zombies, sentries which float through the air and are equipped with dual machine guns, and grunts which will mostly utilize melee attacks but every now and then they may fire from their shoulder-mounted rotary machine gun. The tougher enemy types include gunners which have a decent amount of armor and fire bursts of nails, berserkers which come straight for you upon detection and attack with either their blade or mace, and gladiators which are one of the more deadlier enemy types in the game. They’re equipped with shields, a shoulder-mounted railgun, and an arm-mounted plasma blaster. There are even tougher enemy-types, some of which may be considered minibosses. Light tanks are large humanoid enemies that will fire a flurry of blaster bolts and they can also fire powerful fireballs or utilize their flamethrower when up close. Heavy hover tanks float through the air and carry two weapons; a missile launcher and a wrist-mounted blaster. Then there’s the harvesters which primarily appear during vehicle sequences. These are massive spider-like enemies equipped with full-auto blasters and can launch swarms of homing rockets. There are a few unique enemies encountered throughout the story which include the teleport dropper, iron maiden, and scientist. The teleport dropper is a four-legged Strogg that can drop miniature teleport stations which allow reinforcements to come teleporting in. Iron Maidens are encountered toward the end of the game and can be very dangerous. They float through the air and fire rockets. At close range, they can scream and emit a supersonic energy wave. They can also disappear and re-appear at will. Scientists are another floating enemy type and they can fire gas grenades.

The game includes four difficulty modes – private, corporal, lieutenant, and general. The higher the difficulty, the tougher the enemies, and you’ll take more damage from attacks. The game does auto-save pretty frequently and you can quick save at any time so if you do die, it’s not likely you’ll have to replay through a huge chunk of a level. I would say the enemy AI is decent but nothing special. Some enemies will actively try to dodge your attacks, some will roll on the ground, take cover, and run around the environments. Most of the tougher enemy types just come straight for you without trying to avoid any of your shots, minus the gladiator who will activate a shield every now and again. In the later levels you’ll come across teleport stations and enemies will use them to come teleporting in but you can destroy the stations which is highly recommended. There are what I’ll call traditional boss battles peppered throughout the story and all of them are relatively easy as long as you circle strafe and know how to avoid their attacks which really isn’t hard. Most of them require you to shoot them until they die and if you have ammo for your more powerful weapons, they can go down pretty quickly.

False Dawn includes significant changes to the combat. During gameplay, you’re told the Strogg are equipped with a new type of armor that renders your standard weapons ineffective. You’ll want to use more powerful weapons to penetrate the armor. In general, you’ll want to target any unprotected areas such as flesh or exposed wiring. As far as I can tell, enemies just take more damage before dying but battles are more challenging. Knowledge of the weapons is important in False Dawn because the combat is more intense and you need to be much more careful. The mod does indicate you’re meant to play this slowly which may be odd for those used to Quake 4’s fast-paced gameplay but if you don’t slow things down a notch, you can easily die. You’ll want to take cover when under heavy fire, maybe even run back a bit if you get overwhelmed, and engage tougher enemy types from a distance.

The story in Quake 4 plays out in levels separated by loading points and the environments are pretty linear overall with some branching paths leading to goodies like ammo, health, and armor, but I can’t say I ever got lost. The environments can be somewhat repetitive in their appearance at times but not so much that areas become confusing. You can bring up a list of mission objectives at any time during gameplay if you’re not sure what to do. You will have to solve basic puzzles in order to progress every now and then and they do kind of mess with the pacing but luckily, they’re few and far between. You’ll be riding elevators, interacting with terminals, and activating things. You will have to watch out for some environmental hazards like explosive barrels but you can blow them up, yourself, to damage and/or kill any nearby enemies. In many levels, you’ll be accompanied by Marines and they will shoot at and kill enemies. They sometimes get in your way which becomes annoying but most of the time they’re well behaved. Many of the Marines will die whether it be due to story reasons or because they’re just throwaway NPCs but even if you can keep them alive, you’ll be separated from them at some point. Mission objectives will include things like escorting and protecting NPCs, getting to a specific location, or just activating something. You’ll always be going from point A to B and usually shooting a ton of shit in between. Some levels have you riding in vehicles and manning weapons to defend them from enemy aircraft, turrets, and ground forces. You will get to pilot an SMC Hovertank equipped with a cannon and machine gun and you’ll also get to pilot an SMC Walker which is like a mech, equipped with a machine gun and missile launcher. These vehicle sequences are pretty cool and break up the action nicely.

False Dawn is really just one giant non-linear level. There’s a hub area of sorts with doors that lead to different objectives. As you attempt to tackle an objective, you’ll have to complete other objectives as well. You can tackle the main objectives in any order, you’ll come across more powerful weapons as you progress, and there is a little bit of backtracking here and there. You’ll always know if you’re going the right way if there’s enemies along the path. Despite the non-linearity of the environments, it would be hard to get lost because the paths to the objectives are pretty straightforward. You should pay attention to the environments because you will have to solve some puzzles and there’s even some platforming. And you have to be careful of environmental hazards like laser grids and electricity. The environments, themselves, are really well crafted and keep in line with the environments of the vanilla game in terms of presentation while at the same time managing to feel a bit different. After all, this facility is located on a satellite world.

If you install Sikkmod as a standalone mod, you will notice it comes with more options than what’s on offer in False Dawn. While Sikkmod primarily enhances the visual presentation, it does allow players to change specific aspects of the gameplay to tweak the experience. Sikkmod is a very popular for mod for Doom 3 and I believe its variation for that game allows for more gameplay customization but what’s here is enough to change things up significantly. You can enable health regeneration and set the regen time, delay, amount, and limit. You can enable Quake II armor and weapon modes, and damage and health values, too. You can also turn on inter rank aggression which will cause enemies of the same rank fight each other. In False Dawn, the Sikkmod options are only limited to enhancing the visuals but you don’t have as much control. You can enable or disable certain visual features but that’s about it. You won’t be able to fine tune anything in-game.

Visually, Quake 4 looks okay by today’s standards. Some things look dated but overall, it looks decent. The lighting is excellent and the environments are mostly varied but as mentioned before, some areas do appear a bit repetitive. It’s hard not to think of Doom 3 while I was playing this which makes the game feel a bit odd. I think the gameplay is better than that of Doom 3 but the look and feel doesn’t make me think of anything Quake. The animations are solid, bodies will go flying from an explosion, and enemies can turn into gibs. As opposed to Doom 3, the weapons feel satisfying to shoot and there’s an actual sense of impact when firing at enemies along with blood that spews out of their bodies. Enemy corpses will disappear shortly after the enemies are killed but this can be changed with the Tweaker. The environments contain plenty of detail like corpses and body parts littered around, blood on the ground and walls, sparks emitting from various structures, and one area has some kind of slime dripping from the ceilings. With the help of Sikkmod, False Dawn looks a bit better with little visual enhancements that go a long way. The visual presentation is also a lot grittier than what you’ll see in the vanilla game. It feels much darker in tone, especially because you don’t feel like you’re in the center of a war zone every step of the way. You feel all alone in the facility. I would say the sound effects are pretty good, overall. Weapons sound like they have a punch to them when fired but I do wish they were a bit louder. Allies and enemies moan and scream when taking damage and you’ll know Strogg enemies are nearby just from their distinctive voices. When it comes to the music, I really enjoyed what I heard. There are some dramatic tunes that kick in at just the right times and the music does a great job at emphasizing tension. Although, I do wish it contained more of the heavy metal stuff we heard in Quake II. On the technical side, if you have a modern high-end GPU with a lot of memory, it apparently causes the game to ignore any quality presets except low. This can be resolved with the Tweaker or by forcing Ultra Quality with an auto-execute configuration file containing the correct commands. The PCGamingWiki page for Quake 4 will show you exactly what you need to do. Now the vanilla game ran smooth for me but it did crash a few times. If you disable the Multiple CPU/Core option in the game’s Advanced Options menu that should resolve the crashing problem. Evidently, it’s a big problem in the Aqueducts Annex level which is where I first encountered a crash. Other than that, I experienced no serious issues and had no problems with the False Dawn mod.

I really enjoyed my time with Quake 4 but it didn’t always feel like a Quake game and I think it’s due to the presentation. Now I prefer the Doom series to the Quake series but I can honestly say I prefer Quake 4 to Doom 3. The only reason I’m even comparing them is because they run on the same engine and it’s really hard not to feel some sense of deja vu when playing this if you’ve played Doom 3. With that said, Quake 4 definitely contains more action than horror and there’s plenty of enemies to shoot. I enjoyed the firepower, the enemy variety, and blasting my way through high-tech alien facilities.

Ultimately, I would recommend Quake 4 to fans of the series, first-person shooters, and action games. It’s a shame we haven’t seen any more Quake games with a story mode because I do somewhat enjoy the story established in Quake II and it was cool to see how it progressed in Quake 4. I like the whole war theme and only wish the Strogg were explored further. As for False Dawn, you can tell a lot of passion went into the project and despite its short length, it is a lot of fun. Quake 4 and False Dawn are definitely must-plays.

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