|In the first-person shooter beginning, there was Wolfenstein.
And in Wolfenstein you smote the evil Nazis with mighty weapons, and it was good. And
Wolfenstein begat Doom, in which you smote evil alien demons with mighty weapons, and it
was also good. And Doom begat Doom II which begat Quake which begat Quake II and in each
of them and all you smote the evil aliens with mighty weapons, and it was all good. And in
this time those with fast internet and network access began to deathmatch, and they smote
their fellow players with mighty weapons, and it was really good. And indeed so
good was it that the makers of these amusements looked down from on high and said Begone
ye aliens for we shall abide ye no more; henceforth shall we deathmatch only. And
this was the word, and the word made manifest is Quake III: Arena.
Which is a shame, really. As any avid gamer will notice, the above genealogy consists exclusively of id Software games. Theres no mention of other great first-person shooter games, like Jedi Knight and Duke Nukem, which brought puzzles, personality, and humor into FPS gaming; theres no mention of Half-Life, System Shock 2, or Thief, which brought immersive narratives, stealth, and intelligence to FPS gaming; theres no mention of Rainbow Six or Tribes or Team Fortress, all of which brought clever mission-based team play to FPS gaming. Thats because, as far as Quake III is concerned, these games might as well have never existed. None of their gameplay innovations seem to have influenced Quake III: Arena even the tiniest bit. For some reason, id Software has sequestered itself in a curious evolutionary deathmatch dead end, from which it pumps out ever-improved versions of very much the same game over and over again. Welcome to Quake III Arena: The Prettiest Dinosaur.
Of course, if youre looking for nothing but pure fast-moving deathmatch action--and really pretty deathmatch action, too--then Quake III Arena will more than satisfy you. So spare me the nasty emails and frag on, dewdz. But anyone looking for any thing more than the same old thing will be disappointed.
Quake III: Arena consists of a single-player and multi-player games, and the single player game may well be the most disappointing aspect of QIII. In it, you deathmatch your way through seven tiers of maps, most of them consisting of three maps and a final match against the tiers boss. Your last fight pits you against the mutant cyborg uberboss Xaero. And thats it. Theres no narrative, its all deathmatch, and itll take you all of six hours tops to play through the 26 maps. The bots youll play against are colorful and challenging on the higher difficulty levels, but for all their graphic differences they play pretty much the same. Now I know some have shied away from comparing Quake III: Arena to Unreal Tournament, but thats just gutless. Theyre both tournament-based online first-person shooters, theyve been released within days of each other, and lots of gamers will be forced to choose between one or the other. So heres the scoop: when it comes to the single-player game, Unreal Tournament blows Quake III: Arena clean away.
Multiplayer QIII is much more satisfying, as it should be. Quake III has four different play modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and one on one. The three deathmatch-based modes are extraordinarily good; its clear that id wanted to make an excellent pure deathmatch game above all else, and mostly theyve succeeded. Its easy to find and access Quake III servers, and the online deathmatch action is fast and fun. Though the game only includes 26 deathmatch maps, theyre extremely well-designed--and you know that the Quake community will soon be cranking out scads of new levels.
Weapons are mostly of the tried and
true variety; there arent a lot of surprises here. The much-maligned default pistol
from Quake II is gone, replaced by a pretty useful machine gun and less useful gauntlet,
and the lightning guns back; other than that, most of the weapons are familiar but
just a little tweaked. For instance, the rocket launcher seems to be a little slower and
the rail gun a little less effective, and the BFG is much less lethal, but at first glance
these appear to be prudent game balance decisions. Probably the most controversial thing
about the weapon selection is ids decision to leave out grappling hooks. Ive
got mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it evens the playing field a bit and keeps
games from looking like peculiarly overactive monkey houses; on the other hand, grappling
hooks were the most imaginative item in Quake II, and if Quake III could use anything, its
There are a few flies in the multiplayer ointment, though; capture the flag mode seems to be thrown onthere are only four maps, and while theyre OK, youll tire of them soon enough. Even worse is the behavior of bots in capture the flag gamestheyre incurably stupid. For instance, we played a LAN CTF game against a team of bots, and they did not once manage to find their way to our flag room. I dont mean we played such tight defense that they couldnt force their way into the flag room; they just seemed to get lost on the way there. Ouch. Theyre no fun to play with, either; theyll dither about while carrying the flag, ignore enemies toting yours away, and refuse to return abandoned flags. Since the behavior of bots in deathmatch games--even team deathmatch games--is usually pretty sharp, this leads me to think that the CTF mode of Quake III is being left to the Quake III community to develop. Commanding bots is awkward as well; you have to leave the game by hitting enter to issue commandsa much less elegant system than UTs. Another problem with Quake III online is that it takes a hella good internet connection to play well; most folks with 56.6 modems will be pinging in the 250+ range at least, and the game can be very laggy even at that speed. In short, youll need a LAN or cable modem connection to play Quake III the way it should be played.
Youll also need some serious hardware to get the most out of Quake III: Arenas gorgeous graphics. And make no mistake; the game is drop-dead beautiful. Gone is Quake IIs earth-tone palette; in its place is a colorful and detailed look thats the dictionary definition of eye candy. Environments and weapons effects are incredible, and its clear that a huge amount of time and effort went into the Quake III engine. Its a marvel. But even here there are some problems. First, youll need a big machine to squeeze out all the engines got to give. I run a PIII 450 with 128 MB of RAM and a TNT 2 card; even with that setup, I got some annoying chop with all the options cranked at 1024 x 760. At 800 x 600, however, the game ran silky smooth. And for all their beauty, the graphics are also a little on the unimaginative side, especially the environments. They come in three basic flavors: Gothic, Techno, and Bouncy Space. Wheres the innovation? In Unreal Tournament, we got spaceships and galleons and beach landings. In Quake III, you get more of the same old stuff, but prettier.
This sort of unimaginative beauty extends to the games charactersyoull be able to choose one of 32 gladiators with which to fight, and theyre a colorful and varied lotat least graphically. There are cyborgs, undead serial murderers, fashion plates, gargoyles, skeletons, and clowns. But other than their looks, theres not a bit of difference in how they play. Why not? Im surprised that nobody at id thought, Hey, maybe this skinny little dude ought to be really fast but sort of fragile, and this big hulking guy should be slow but really resilient. But that would be introducing personality to the game, and Quake III's not about personality. At all. Unfortunately.
Heres the bottom line on Quake III: Arena. If youve got a hankering for pure deathmatch online and have a fast computer and internet connection, youll love it. If youre looking for a scintillating single player experience, or for something different, look somewhere else. Might I suggest Unreal Tournament?