Quake 4 is mainly remembered for two things—the scene in which your character gets turned into a Strogg, and being the worst Quake game. Developed by Raven Software and released in 2005, Quake 4 wasn’t a pure arena shooter like Quakes 1 and 3. Instead, it was a direct, story-driven sequel to Quake 2, and in telling that story borrowed many post-Millennium FPS trends. Cinematic cutscenes, squad-based gunplay, scripted in-game events, vehicle sections, Quake 4 has them all, where the previous games didn’t.

This has led to it being accused of not only being a bad Quake game, but not being a Quake game at all. In his excellent article about the history of Quake modding, writer and game developer Robert Yang states “everyone agreed that Quake 4 didn’t have it.” Yang then cites a quote from John Romero himself, who said that “Quake 4 is where the brand went off the rails” in a 2016 interview.

But here’s a question. What exactly is the Quake “brand”? Romero departed id after finishing the first game, and the sequels that followed it all differ wildly. The first is the poster child for classic, fast-paced FPS action set in gothic halls with rocket-jumps and gibs that bounce like basketballs. The second is an industrial sci-fi shooter with a slower pace and a greater emphasis on storytelling. The third game ditches singleplayer entirely, focusing exclusively on multiplayer. Beyond the fact they’re all first-person shooters, there’s little connective tissue.

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that, if Quake has a brand at all, it’s ‘not knowing what Quake is’. With the original, half of id Software thought it was making a fantasy RPG for the first year of its development, which is why that game is such a bizarre infusion of different themes. Meanwhile, Quake 2 wasn’t intended to be a Quake game at all, going through various original titles before id decided to slap on the Quake branding. Quake 3 undoubtedly has the purest vision within the series, but only because it cuts away half of its identity to attain it.

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