Quake 4 First Impressions

Update: Full review is now posted.
I haven’t bought any games for a long while, and this evening while in my friendly neighbourhood computer game chain of corporate opression (EB), I had a choice between buying FEAR and Quake 4… I chose Quake 4 on the spur of the moment.

I’ve been playing it for about an hour, on the “Corporal” difficulty level (2/4, think it’s default). I’m thinking I probably should have gone Lieutenant, but hey, it’s too late now.

Graphics: I’m using Medium quality at 1024×768, but will be shooting for 1680×1050 when I’m not on borrowed time.

The graphics are as excellent as you’d expect, though quite dark even in the outdoor areas. Hopefully by the time Enemy Territory: Quake Wars rolls around, they’ll be in full daylight. Or at least a little bit brighter. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was fun because you could see, at least in part.

There’s been one vaguely “ooh” moment, which was the lift ride through the hangar… though it would have been more “ooh” if the view distance had been further.

It is heavily reminiscent of Doom 3, in a good way. If you crossed Doom 3 with Quake 2, this is exactly the game you’d get. Unfortunately, for all the hype, I didn’t really find Quake 2 was that compelling. The story felt tired then, and it feels a bit tired now. Do I really care while I’m blasting away? Not so much.

Sound: Predictably good.

AI: It’s a toss-up. The Strogg so far are your typical id Dumb Monster: they try to approach you until you’re in attack range, then open up, and do some token dancing from side to side in some cases. But: lots of monsters and humans at once this time – none of the Doom 3 two-on-one experiences.

Gameplay: Hmm. Working with a squad is new for Quake. I haven’t yet developed any rapport with any of the other characters, and none of them are particularly believable or well-realized. Plus, they seem to be holding me up more than helping.

The basic gameplay is the same as any other First Person Shooter: find your way around a map, kill stuff, find a switch to do something special, complete level. Gradually acquire new and interesting weapons, and destroy things with them.

Actually playing it is a lot more fun than the trailers led me to believe, but at the moment it’s not really challenging enough; I’m just sailing through the levels. Might have to go back and do it on the next difficulty level up, which is going to suck – I don’t think there’s much single-player replay value to be had.

Um, if I had to give it a number right now, it’d be 7/10. Not (yet) as much fun as the excellent Resurrection of Evil.

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An Xbox 360 Without A Hard Drive? The King Without A Sword?

I’m just playing up the King Arthur angle in a shameless effort to gain hits from Arthurian legend seekers, but seriously, the Masses want to know: Does not having a hard drive mean that the 360 is doomed before the new era is even upon us?

Well, kids, no. No, it doesn’t.

One of the really frequently-voiced objections comes from PS2 owners that were burned by the PS2 hard drive. This is understandable as the whole thing is remembered as a fiasco, but my opinion is that this situation is different – let me explain why.

First, the PS2 Hard Drive itself.

At launch, the PS2 had no hard drive. There were no games that “took advantage” of a hard drive at that time. The hard drive launched late, and launched with one title. It was big, it was reasonably expensive considering the componentry, and it was undersupported. You also needed to buy the network adapter (to use a Hard Drive!?). Games hadn’t had the hard drive in mind before, and with a massive installed base of systems that didn’t have the hard drive (and bluntly didn’t have a reason to get one), there was no point for developers to go that route. They would develop for the masses, and by and large the masses had a no hard drive model, and couldn’t see a reason to get one.

Too little, too late.

Flash forward to today: the Xbox 360 has been announced. The best value package includes a hard drive, from launch. Day zero. The package that doesn’t include a hard drive includes no equivalent – you will not be able to play games in any serious capacity without picking up at least a 64MB memory card as well. By the time you’ve spent that much, you might as well go for the next model up, and get the good stuff, but let’s say you don’t, and you survive for 6 months on the memory card alone. At that point – and this is pure speculation – perhaps the 40 gig model is out, or the 20GB price has dropped. Or you can pick one up second hand, if you can’t afford the really-quite-reasonable asking price.

And there is a value proposition to buy the hard drive – it’s not the white elephant that the PS2 hard drive seemed to be (as someone who sold their PS2 early to buy an xbox).

Storage (any storage?) gives you the capability to use Live, and having 64MB storage might be a mechanism by which games can be patched for online play on Live (when was the last time you saw a 32-bit PC executable that was bigger than 8MB?). But if you’ve got more than a couple of online-capable games, you’ll probably want a hard drive. The hard drive is easy to buy, easy to install (from the look of it), doesn’t require the purchase of a network adapter (or worship of demonic minions), and will probably end up in the majority of packages in the long run. That’s my prediction, and I’m sticking to it.

There will be reasons to buy a hard drive.

Allard says the storage is “abstracted” in Xbox 360, so developers can make use of “abstracted storage” to whatever extent it’s present.

From the Chat Transcript: (spelling fixed by me, my emphasis)

J Allard (Expert):
Q: Why do they have the core package? Why doesn’t microsoft just release the package with the Harddrive so developers will be able to fully utilize it?
A: Independent of the configurations we have at launch it was imperative that we work with developers now to abstract the storage system because (1) the drive is removable and we want people to play even if the drive is not present (2) another possibility is that 5 years from now that you want more storage on the box or on the network and be able to take advantage of that. By abstracting storage in the system we are making sure that all xbox 360 games will work on all configurations moving forward and early customers will be able to take advantage of future scenarios like bigger drives and network storage.

Let’s recap the PS2’s Good Reasons To Buy A Hard Drive:
Final Fantasy
And you needed to buy the network adapter too.

Let’s recap XB360’s Hard Drive Reasons
Backwards Compatibility with Xbox games
Downloadable Stuff From Live (game patches and other content)
Ripping Music etc
And it looks like once again: Final Fantasy. Laugh? I nearly…

The hard drive included in the All Glory package (anyone else getting Hypno Toad from the packaging?) is a 20GB model, but expect some flexibility in this space. Assume that larger and/or cheaper drives will become available as technology improves.

Xbox 360 “Core” – No HDD

Xbox 360 pricing is now a known quantity, at least in the US and Europe, and it looks like this:

$299 (converts to around $AUD430 after adding GST) buys the “Core System” – a console without a hard drive. Or a memory unit. (With a wired controller).

And it looks like this version’s a little contentious (check out the comments).

The main issues from the upset gamers (assuming 85% aren’t just PS2 fanbois trolling) break down like this:

  • We are scared that you will fragment the market and that the games won’t be as good. PS2 Hard Drive was teh suxx0r. Do not make that mistake, we beg you.
  • $399 Is Too Expensive But I Want A Hard Drive Etc
  • $299 Is OK But I Want A Wireless Controller
  • $299 Would Be OK But You Can Do Nothing With It
  • OMG No HD Cable In Cheap Version? You Said It Was The HD Era
  • Broken Promises

And that, kids, is quite literally all that’s in the cheap “Core System” box. I’m hoping for the sake of the buyer that the Xbox has *some* way of storing a savegame without a memory unit, otherwise we’re back to the Bad Old Days of consoles providing passwords in place of saved games, just in case users don’t have a memory card. That’s Not Cool.

$399 ($AUD650, I reckon) buys the deluxe version with 20GB hard drive, remotes, wireless controller, Xbox Live Silver subscription, etc, etc.

Next Generation interviewed a bunch of developers and got mixed reactions.

The idea from Microsoft’s end seems to be to allow people to buy “just the box”, and then upgrade it over time. There’s now a FAQ available, which indicates a memory card isn’t really optional if you want to do – well, anything really interesting with the box – I just hope there’s some storage for saved games on the un-memory-carded system.

I honestly can’t see a point to the lower priced system, which is guaranteed to cost more to upgrade in the long run. So why bother selling it? (Just to increase the proposed value proposition of its full-featured sibling? Just to claim “we have a $300 game system available”?).

I’ve always planned on this generation costing about $700 again (like the PS2 did here when it launched, and the Xbox after that), so I’m OK with the pricing personally, I just ignore the low-end model. As long as it doesn’t affect the games I play, I’m OK with that.

F.E.A.R. Demo Review


Creepy. The name alone was enough to have me scared. Scared in the same way that the name “Contract J.A.C.K.” scared me. And “First Encounter Assault Recon”? Please! “Fun Educational Activities and Recreation” would have been a less forced acronym, and quite possibly scarier, in that inimitable way that only edutainment can be.

As you might guess from the title, the game is an action/horror FPS, and it does make a squirmworthy effort to be scary. And from the short demo, I was genuinely spooked whenever one of the genuinely spooky moments happened, so I’d have to concede that on the “scary” front, it mostly looks like succeeding.

Mostly: the one “totally freak-you-out ha ha ha you will be sooooo totally scared and drip sweat spook area” in the demo looks like it might have been drawn in 1994 as a B-level from Wolfenstein 3D, and this does detract somewhat from the overall quality of the sequence, but – here’s the cool thing – the sound still gets you shivering. That or the fact that it’s freaking twelve degrees in this room. Brrr.

On the plus side: size! The demo weighs in at a rather chunky 600MB, and play time spans about… oh, say fifteen minutes if you really take your time meandering through it, meaning that there’s a very real chance you’ll take longer to download it than play through it.

As someone writing about games, I have another problem with it: it’s really hard to get a good screenshot from the demo, because it’s so bloody dark all the time. It adds to the atmosphere, but don’t expect to be blown away by a Far Cry-like holiday brochure shot. This one’s very definitely from the Doom 3 school of “keep ’em in the dark, and if they’re not crying enough – turn out all the lights. If they’re still not a complete wreck, play a loud sound effect behind them while they’re in the dark, and make them take damage from something unspecified, that’ll really freak ’em”.

Let’s play a quick game of spot the difference: One of these games is a scary thriller. The other isn’t yet released.

Far Cry (the holiday brochure game) FEAR's Little Girl

The graphics are pretty good – up there with Far Cry, Half-Life 2 and perhaps even Riddick. Riddick is included in the list as FEAR is one of the new breed of games where you actually have a shadow-casting body – look down, and you’ll see legs flailing away underneath you (flailing is the word – they’re not as believably animated as Riddick’s). The teeny thumbnail here and most of the shots I’ve seen don’t do it justice – the motion of the enemy characters is fluid, and for the most part believable. There are some nice special effects thrown in to boot, and the particle weapon packs a really satisfying punch and after-effect, especially when fired in slow-mo mode. There are nice, large sprays of blood on occasion too, though they’re typically short-lived (no pun intended).

The sound is really good. I mean, really good. Scary good.

The gameplay mechanics are something of a hodge-podge: Medikits can be stacked in your inventory, and are applied instantly with Z. In trouble in a fight? Z Z Z! Unfortunately, death comes very quickly, so you’re more likely to be creeping around with Quicksaves and Quickloads than remembering to use the medikits when under fire and trying to change your default grenade. Another notable feature is the “quick reaction mode” which you or I would probably call “bullet time” – in an “everything slows down for everyone” sort of way a la Max Payne 1, but it tends to run out quickly and in practice is of limited use, especially when the time taken to reload or fire a weapon is also increased. On the plus side, it makes it more “special”. But it doesn’t help with the weapon accuracy much.

If there’s a problem with the game, it’s with the weapons and damage model – I like headshots to kill. I like headshots to be achievable. I do not like the scatter-fire of automatic weapons, particularly when the enemy seem perfectly well-able to fire precision bursts with theirs. While I’m at it, the game actually seemed easier on Hard, but Medium knocked me around a bit.

Is the Single Player demo worth playing? Tough call. Did I mention it was really short? Yeah, it’s probably worth playing, if the download costs nothing.

I’ll give the demo 7 out of 10, it’d possibly have been an 8 if it was longer.

Aussies: Grab the demo locally from the Marina.

Gaming Death Epidemic In Korea

Please, someone tell the South Koreans that it’s not a competition?

Another South Korean dropped dead after a gaming binge.

At first I thought Gonza had made a mistake and linked to an old story. Then, I thought the news sources were just re-hashing that old story, but as it turns out, it’s becoming quite the trend – it’s actually two different Koreans.

I’m not entirely convinced that drugs weren’t involved (and perhaps – controversially – even more to blame for the death than the undoubtedly vile and sinful games being played) – I can’t remember the last time I managed to stay up for 50 hours on diet coke alone.