|Battles rage back and forth over gaming
platforms. Are you a hardcore PC speed freak, or do you prefer the drop-and-go ease of a
console system, or, god forbid, do you cling desperately to your Mac? But while arguing
about which gaming platform is the best is a lot like arguing religion or politics, one
indisputable fact remains: a good game is a good game. Gamers realize this, hence the
practice of releasing titles on multiple platforms. With the next generation of console
systems, we're bound to see even more games originally designed for PC released on them.
And, as always, there will be the happy surprises, and the embarrassing failures.
Some games translate nicely from PC to console. Games like Sim City and Civilization have been big hits on Sony and Nintendo systems, in large part because the original versions didn't bank too heavily on pretty graphics, the real hog when it comes to hardware requirements. So we were eager to check out Quake II from Activision when it was released for the N64. Quake II is the big dog of first-person shooters, and the newly released Quake III Arena Test has already got fans of the game accustomed to the next level in 3D graphics. So how does it hold up?
Well, it's actually about what you'd expect. The graphics are stellar, and the gameplay is great, but it all lacks the completion that comes with the PC version. It's unavoidable. Quake II may be the best-looking game available on the N64, but the graphics aren't quite as nice, and the multiplayer isn't quite as nice, and nobody is going to convert from Quake II on the PC to Quake II on the N64. But, for those of us without Quake II on our PCs, the N64 version is well worth the investment.
Quake II looks amazing. Without a doubt, this is the first game to really take advantage of the N64s graphic capabilities. The environments are entirely 3D, and rendered beautifully. Detailed textures add to the visuals, and the walls hardly pixelize at all when you get right next to them (well, when compared with other N64 titles). For the most part, the graphics are perfect, but the limitations of the console become apparent the first time you shoot a gun or see your own blood. In Quake II's predecessor on the N64, Quake64, blood flew out in big, square chunks. Now blood, smoke, sparks, and other particle effects come out as little circles, making everything look a little bubbly. It wouldn't be so bad, except that everything else looks so great.
Quake II implements Turok-style control. The joystick controls your head, the yellow buttons are your movement, the A and B buttons scroll through your weapons, R makes you jump, and the trigger lets one fly. Or a dozen. Depending. I find playing with the N64 controller and configuration much more user-friendly than the standard mouse-keyboard interface for PCs. The N64 controller really excels at first-person shooters.
The one-player game in Quake II is also faithful to the PC version: short, repetitive, and utterly lacking in any kind of immersive story-based environment. You're a space marine fighting Stroggs, and you must kill them all. That's the extent of it. Along the way you do different things to move to new levels to kill more Stroggs, eventually killing a whole buttload of Stroggs. The Stroggs look like overweight zombie Borgs. Well, most of them do.
But the story mode has never been what Quake II was all about. Quake III Arena is, in fact, completely without a one-player mode. Millions and millions of people began playing Quake II multiplayer, and id has been paying attention. Quake Arena play is where it's at. Fortunately, the N64 is built for multiplayer gaming as well. As with most N64 games, Quake II is playable by up to four people. Basic multiplayer modes, Deathmatch, Deathtag, Frag Teams, and Capture the Flag, are available, and are a lot of fun. Each arena has secret exits, so when you're bored or ahead you can jump everybody to a new setting, or you can set frag or time limits. The pause menu is incredibly handy since it lets you access any option you could possibly want to mess with while playing. You can adjust your controls, color, arena, or game by simply pressing the Start button, without exiting the game.
While the Quake II multiplayer is excellent by N64 standards, it's incredibly disappointing when compared with the PC. Your tournaments will never be as big as they are over a network. There are only a handful of different characters to play, and you cannot create custom skins. Likewise, you cannot create custom arenas, and the provided settings get old pretty quick. The arenas range in size from medium to small, and with four people they get a little crowded. There is also the fact that the N64 quarters the screen to accommodate four players, making it difficult to play with a full house unless you have a giant TV. But that's more of a general N64 complaint. Something that is more troublesome is the lack of locational targeting. In Turok or on the PC version of Quake II you can score head shots to quickly disable an enemy, but there's no such thing in the N64 version. You may as well just clobber him in the knees.
Overall, Quake II is absolutely wonderful if you don't have a machine that can run the PC version. For a console-pacifier it's absolutely remarkable. And, while the PSX version is not out yet, preview screenshots suggest it will look better on the N64. It has set a new standard for N64 graphics; one that I hope developers will try to live up to. For N64 multiplayer it is as great as Mario Kart 64, and definitely better than Turok. Aside from a few graphical flaws and a PC predecessor that is unbeatable, Quake II is a benchmark for N64 games to follow.