Early on in the sci-fi shooter Quake 4, one of your fellow space marines barks, "I do my job and shut the hell up, just like you should." This might have been the mantra of the designers, too - Quake 4 is here to kick some ass, not question the nature of its existence. That's a shame, because there's a twist to this first-person shooter that could have led to greater things; instead, the game feels uninspired and uninspiring
The big surprise in Quake 4 isn't really a surprise - halfway through the game, your hero, bad-ass grunt Matthew Kane, gets captured and "Stroggified," which involves being tortured and upgraded into a cyborg. The silicon mind control chip inside your head hasn't been activated, so you still fight for the humans in the war to protect Earth. You'll dispatch baddies with the usual complement of Quake weaponry, including the railgun and the hyperblaster, as your missions of "go there and get this thing" unfold. Occasionally you’ll jump into a vehicle like a tank or an armored walker, but no matter how you attack enemies, you'll grow tired of seeing their AI do little more than jump out of the way of your shots.
The Strogg homeworld, land of unholy unions of flesh and technology, looks gorgeously creepy. But after you're Stroggified, the gameplay doesn't fundamentally change - you'll get small health and armor bonuses, but no ethical dilemmas. How cool would it have been to be forced, against your will, to fight for the Strogg? There's no point to the plot twist; so much for man vs. machine vs. self.
But is that expecting too much? Quake 4 was designed to make things go boom and look pretty doing it. On that level, it succeeds, but no better or worse than any other first-person shooter. The robust multiplayer still lives up to the Quake legacy, but as a single-player experience, Quake 4 could have been a lot more ambitious and, in turn, a lot more satisfying.