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Quake IV

It's brown and it's back.

To say that a new single-player Quake has been a long time coming is something of an understatement. It's been positively agonising, with nearly eight years skipping past since id's legendary Quake II took PC gaming to new heights.

In the intervening years we've had Arena, of course, but the focus there was very much keeping multiplayer gamers happy and showing off a brand new engine. In terms of keeping the lonesome players satisfied, there was unfinished business to attend to, and the completion of the Doom III engine allowed id, along with Raven, to fill that gaping void.

The results are thrilling. Predictably thrilling, but thrilling all the same. You probably already know what to expect by now, and Todd Hollenshead and Tim Willits' half-hour demonstration delivered a knockout punch to the senses. It's in no way even trying to be original. It's playing to the crowds, it has everything you could want from a gib-filled, all-action Quake game and brings it bang up to date - and frankly we're quite happy about that.

Slightly confusingly in number terms, IV picks up directly from where II ends, and the game wastes no time at all in getting straight into the action. This is no Doom III. There's no brooding tension. It immediately struck us as a brutal fusion of linear Call Of Duty wargame intensity set against the frenzied brown-tinged Quake backdrop that we all know and love.

You play as "one certified badass" Matthew Kane, and after a brief but beautiful intro sequence that depicts a sea of floating debris, body parts and detritus drifting through space, it cuts to an ongoing war with the Strogg on the planet's surface, with seemingly the whole base under heavy aerial attack, with huge, terrifying explosions going off everywhere. Missile launchers fight back desperately, but the onslaught of huge ships swooping overhead lends an oppressive sense of panic to get the hell to somewhere safer as soon as possible. Not that anything left standing won't be blown to smithereens soon anyway...

As you'd expect these days, the first thing to do is get some instructions from the nearest NPC you come across, in this case Sgt Morris. Unlike Doom III there's no messing about building up tension or anything; it's straight into the action, darting into the shattered remains of a dark, dingy, smouldering brown-hued metallic base and shooting any enemy resistance you come across. Which is to say a lot.

The familiar metallic sounds of the weapons takes you immediately back to the late 90s, and a wave of nostalgia crashes over you. Quake is back. Bring it on. But this time it's not just a one man army. Expect intelligent buddy AI finding appropriate cover points and carefully ducking in and out of the rusty industrial setting to pick off the advancing enemies. And what's this? A torch mounted on the end of your gun? Clearly someone out there listened to the barrage of complaints post-Doom III...

It's a game that really wants to make you feel part of a bigger war effort in this early section. Commands issued instruct you to hook up with your squad, and everywhere you run there's a bewildering array of incidental detail to suck up and take in: huge mechanised drones stomping their way through the environment, vast rocket trails in the sky on their way to causing untold destruction and chaos, impossibly detailed spaceships soaring overhead, alien creatures with enormous blades implanted in their arms...

It's science-fiction ripped straight from the pages of the graphic novels of our youth, and set in environments that positively breathe with life. It might not be the most original game you'll ever play, but you can't deny that the spectacle is overwhelming. Kudos to id and it's technology for allowing these kinds of projects to become part of the accepted gaming landscape. The fact that all these visual dreams have been brought to life so vividly gets taken for granted so easily, but for now appreciate it, suck it in and enjoy it.

Without wanting to spoil it too much, the game at this stage hasn't really even got started. You end up being captured, or so it appears. Kane ends up being wheeled on a stretcher through the corridors of a disgusting blood-splattered automated medical lab. All you see are his legs and some ominous hover drones buzzing around. Lasers scan his body in preparation - for what you don't know. Screams emanate in the distance. This doesn't look good at all. A saw spins in the distance...

A scene of wince-inducing gore plays out (which we'll leave you to witness when the time comes), but the upshot is that the enemy seems to have plans for you that involve, ahem, 'enhancements'. But help arrives, somewhat too late to save you from your 'operation', and thus starts the game for real as you play the "Stroggified" version of Kane, as Hollenshead gracefully put it.

What happens from here on is unclear - which we're quite happy about, not wanting it spoiled either - but it's apparent that you're a "critical link in battle". As Hollenshead says: "There are lots of different gameplay scenarios and it brings the feeling you're in a struggle for the human race. You're a single member of an important team and become a critical part of that."

So that's single-player pretty much covered, what about multiplayer? Well, they're staying mum, with the plan to reveal all at the annual QuakeCon, but Willits did admit "a lot of work was done to the Doom III engine concerning network code to make it as enjoyable as previous Quakes. We looked at [the Doom III engine] code and reengineered quite a lot of that code including the physics etc."

"The client so far is 12 to 16 players and has standard modes and other game types, but no there will not be co-op in single-player."

'So what about the weapons?', I hear you cry, but again, not much to go on as yet: "There will be the standard weapons- your Railgun, etcetera - but most feature weapon mods that add variety as you go through. For example, "the rocket launcher's mod lets you guide it," Willits added.

But ultimately the team wants Quake players old and new to get on board. "If you haven't played Quake 2 it doesn't matter," Hollenshead insists. "Players unfamiliar will still be able to understand what's going on. It's the usual Earth struggles against the Strogg yadda. But if you have played the originals you'll recognise the tweaks. It's a totally separate story. Now you actually have a name - Matthew Kane. We wanted to give Kane an independent personality. All members of your squad have a personality as well," he adds. Quake. Fleshed out. Up to date. Brutal.

Now let us at it.