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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Id Software/ Activision

Ups: Beautiful, excellent deathmatch game; easy to find games

Downs: Same old thing, will push your internet connection and hardware, lacks imagination and modes of Unreal Tournament

System Reqs:
PII 233, 64 MB RAM, 3D card, 4x CD-ROM

q31.jpg (2955 bytes)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.

q32.jpg (2582 bytes)Which is a shame, really. As any avid gamer will notice, the above genealogy consists exclusively of id Software games. There’s no mention of other great first-person shooter games, like Jedi Knight and Duke Nukem, which brought puzzles, personality, and humor into FPS gaming; there’s no mention of Half-Life, System Shock 2, or Thief, which brought immersive narratives, stealth, and intelligence to FPS gaming; there’s no mention of Rainbow Six or Tribes or Team Fortress, all of which brought clever mission-based team play to FPS gaming. That’s 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 you’re 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.

q33.jpg (3581 bytes)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 tier’s boss. Your last fight pits you against the mutant cyborg uberboss Xaero. And that’s it. There’s no narrative, it’s all deathmatch, and it’ll take you all of six hours tops to play through the 26 maps.  The bots you’ll 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 that’s just gutless. They’re both tournament-based online first-person shooters, they’ve been released within days of each other, and lots of gamers will be forced to choose between one or the other. So here’s the scoop: when it comes to the single-player game, Unreal Tournament blows Quake III: Arena clean away. 

q34.jpg (3777 bytes)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; it’s clear that id wanted to make an excellent pure deathmatch game above all else, and mostly they’ve succeeded. It’s 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, they’re 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 aren’t 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 gun’s 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 id’s decision to leave out grappling hooks. I’ve 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, it’s imagination.

q35.jpg (8899 bytes)There are a few flies in the multiplayer ointment, though; capture the flag mode seems to be thrown on—there are only four maps, and while they’re OK, you’ll tire of them soon enough. Even worse is the behavior of bots in capture the flag games—they’re 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 don’t mean we played such tight defense that they couldn’t force their way into the flag room; they just seemed to get lost on the way there. Ouch. They’re no fun to play with, either; they’ll 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 commands—a much less elegant system than UT’s. 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, you’ll need a LAN or cable modem connection to play Quake III the way it should be played.

q37.jpg (8718 bytes)You’ll also need some serious hardware to get the most out of Quake III: Arena’s gorgeous graphics. And make no mistake; the game is drop-dead beautiful. Gone is Quake II’s earth-tone palette; in its place is a colorful and detailed look that’s the dictionary definition of eye candy. Environments and weapons effects are incredible, and it’s clear that a huge amount of time and effort went into the Quake III engine. It’s a marvel. But even here there are some problems. First, you’ll need a big machine to squeeze out all the engine’s 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. Where’s 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.

q36.jpg (8163 bytes)This sort of unimaginative beauty extends to the game’s characters—you’ll be able to choose one of 32 gladiators with which to fight, and they’re a colorful and varied lot—at least graphically. There are cyborgs, undead serial murderers, fashion plates, gargoyles, skeletons, and clowns. But other than their looks, there’s not a bit of difference in how they play. Why not? I’m 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.

Here’s the bottom line on Quake III: Arena. If you’ve got a hankering for pure deathmatch online and have a fast computer and internet connection, you’ll love it. If you’re looking for a scintillating single player experience, or for something different, look somewhere else. Might I suggest Unreal Tournament?

--Rick Fehrenbacher