During my first couple hours with Quake 4, I kept thinking, “Hey, this is pretty good!”—until I realized that what I actually meant was, “Hey, this is pretty good… compared to Doom 3!” Then again, the video of my colonoscopy was more entertaining than Doom 3. And better lit, too.
Quake 4 is a decent enough shooter, but this late in the franchise we have a right to expect a little more. Raven met the basic expectations: taking the rock-solid technology of Doom 3 and turning it into something fairly straightforward. The problem revealed by Quake 4 is exactly how little Raven needed to do to make us happy.
Taking the Doom 3 experience and eliminating the shoddy fun-house tricks, monster closets, obvious event triggers, tedious levels, and absurd darkness goes a long way to improving the experience. Raven takes us outside, gives us a few vehicles, and provides some good environments, and for a while we forget all about Doom 3.
Then the developers go and blow it. They stick us in dark corridors, start using monster pop-ups, and force us to use the most dreaded weapon in our arsenal: the flashlight. Thus, we’re reminded that we’re playing a sorta-Doom 3 with a spackle-and-paint job, almost as though was hardwired into the code with no option.
Oh, they recover soon enough, and get back to the levels that have lights, but by that point I had stopped caring, and started noticing things like the way the monster AI seems to be based on two paradigms: “fire a crapload of ammo and charge” or “do the Electric Slide.” It’s hard enough to take the ridiculous-looking (and -sounding) Strogg seriously, and doubly so when they start doing fey little hops to the side to avoid fire.
Then there are the levels which, all too often, are just the same old twisty tunnels with triggered barricades. At least the levels avoid the rat-in-a-maze feel of F.E.A.R. and none of the creatures look like polyps, which is a small wonder considering the source.