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Best multiplayer game around
Quake III Arena (Classic Game)
Quake III Arena (Classic Game)
Date: 29/01/02, updated on 21/06/02 (36 review reads)
Advantages: Exquisite graphics, Great gameplay, Perfect multiplayer
Disadvantages: Takes a fast PC to run
QIII takes the frantic, gory action millions crave and cranks it up several notches in terms of graphics and level design. On the right system, your jaw will drop at how fantastic things look and how fast and smoothly the action flows. But when all is said and done, QIII offers little more than Quake or Quake II did when it comes down to the nuts-and-bolts of gameplay - actually less, since its single-player game is little more than a practice mode for online competition. Compared to the rich depth of Tribes, the innovative multiplayer modes in Unreal Tournament, and the phenomenal single-player drama of Half-Life, QIII feels - I can't believe I'm saying this - a bit like a throwback.
Hot multiplayer action is undoubtedly what has given Quake and Quake II their incredible longevity, and apparently Carmack and company felt that so few people bothered with those games' single-player modes that they totally revamped that aspect of the game for QIII. Gone are the days of advancing through level after level, blasting your way into rooms crammed full of monsters and zombified soldiers whose only purpose was to halt your progress; in QIII your single-player opponents are Bots who have the same goal as you: kill everything in sight (or everything that's wearing a different color suit than they are, in the case of Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag games).
This change means there really isn't a need for a storyline, but one was cooked up (or half-baked) anyway. You play as a gladiator in the futuristic Arena Eternal. You can fight your way though each of the game's maps in Tourney mode, facing one opponent (occasionally two) on each level until you face Xaero, Lord of the Final Arena (read: the Boss to end all Bosses). More engaging is the game's Skirmish mode, which lets you play against Bots in both Tourney mode and the other three game types: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. The advantage to Skirmish mode
is that not only can you battle against a bunch o' Bots, but you also get to check out all the levels you'll be seeing online without having to follow the linear path of the Tourney game.
So how do the Bots stack up? Very nicely, thank you. I wouldn't go so far as some have and roundly proclaim that it feels like you're fighting against human opponents, but then again I don't really care so long as they don't do anything blatantly stupid - and in Deathmatch games they rarely do (unless you play on the "I Can Win!" setting, where the Bots basically stand around and wait for you to deliver the death blow). Five difficulty levels let you tailor the competition almost precisely to your skill level, making for an excellent practice mode. Play on, say, the third highest difficulty setting for a while, and you'll gradually see your skills improve enough that you can confidently move on to the next setting. There's one exception to this - the Nightmare setting, where the Bots not only respond to situations in the blink of an eye but can nail moving targets with the railgun at insane distances.
Yup, these Bots are pretty smart - but they can also be insolent at times during Team games. Over and over again during Capture the Flag matches, I would launch the game and immediately issue the "I am the Leader" command (more on commands later), only to see one of my Bot team members reply with, "I am the Leader." This happened constantly until I realized I had to back up my talk with actions: if you immediately issue a command after claiming that Leader role, the Bots will obey you. Ultimately, the single-player game is only a nice way to hone your fragging skills and memorize the command tree without looking like a fool online, and on that level it's a complete success.
Anyone familiar with the first two Quake games knows that user-created skins are wildly popular, and for good reason:
everyone got tired of seeing rooms full of the same bulked-up Space Marine running around, and finally some users did something about it. QIII addresses the issue by giving you a veritable rogue's gallery of models to choose from when picking your player character. Male and female, alien and human, undead and living - there's a little bit of something for everyone here, and what's more impressive is just how finely rendered these models are. Not only can you see the weapon a foe is wielding, but also fine facial details. But while the visual variety is excellent, don't expect to gain a huge advantage by picking a rail-thin character like the skeletal warrior Bones or the squat extraterrestrial Orbb - in many hours of play I've never seen enemies outdistance me unless they'd picked up the Haste power-up, and the bounding boxes that determine shot damage are the same for one and all.
Even so, the inclusion of so many cool characters is a greatly appreciated piece of eye candy - and it's indicative of how much importance id placed on making QIII a visual masterpiece. Things look awfully good on 16-bit video cards like Voodoo IIs running in SLI mode, and the imagery is unbelievable with a good 32-bit video card like a TNT2 Ultra or GeForce.
Another reason the environments feel so alive and immediate is because there are so many ways in which you can interact with them. Bounce pads send you soaring skyward; acceleration pads shoot you forward with a burst of super speed; platforms move up and down to provide access to new areas; heavy fog enshrouds arenas, forcing you to keep your eyes peeled for movement - all these give you that "being there" sensation so vital to the success of any first-person shooter. Provided you've got time to admire the scenery, you'll also love the fact that each weapon leaves distinct marks.
The levels have been wickedly crafted, with all the shortcuts, camping spots a
nd "killing fields" that make Deathmatch fun; many are loaded down with the much-ballyhooed "curved spaces" made possible by the Quake III engine, and while in my naivete I'm still pondering just how this makes things drastically better in terms of gameplay, I've got to admit that it does lend an air of realism that's a notch above anything created by the Quake II engine.
One area that id didn't muck about with too much was the weapons department: the pistol has been replaced with a Gauntlet (if you're close enough to use this gloved weapon, you're probably too close!) but old favorites like the shotgun, plasma gun, machine gun, railgun, grenade launcher, and rocket launcher are all intact. That's fine and dandy, but there are gonna be some definite moans and groans from countless Quake-heads when they see what's been done to the mighty BFG: it's basically a pumped-up plasma gun with a different colored projectile. It's no biggie to me - it's still fairly potent - but could be a letdown for those expecting more of the same.
Unfortunately, more of the same is precisely what QIII dishes up with its multiplayer modes. It's been more than two years since Quake II, and what do we get for our patience? Let's see, there's Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and a Tourney mode, where you queue up and watch two gladiators go at it until you finally get a crack at whoever is the reigning champion. I don't care how much you love the Quake franchise: these are some pretty thin pickings for the year 2000, especially compared to QIII's direct competitor Unreal Tournament's imaginative modes like Assault and Domination, not to mention the richly complex yet highly rewarding team-based play of Tribes. Toss in the fact that only four maps are available for CTF play in the retail version, and you get the uneasy feeling that id was so exhausted making things look grea
t and play faster than hell (yes, this might be the fastest Deathmatch action in the world to this point) that no energy or imagination was left to implement some fresh gameplay modes.
Even more disturbing than the lack of multiplayer modes, though, is the game's matchmaking interface for 'net play. Simply put, it's one of the most clumsy, inefficient, and frustrating designs I've had to work with in several years of online play. Want to create a filter so that pinging the master server will only return the results you want in terms of ping time or a specific map? Tough. After hours of scouring the manual and documentation I could find no such feature. I'll bet you'd like to know whether a game is password-protected before you join, wouldn't you? Too bad, because all that's displayed after checking the master server is server name, map, number of players, and the ping time.
Hey, I think it'd be neat - no, I think it should be mandatory - to be able to refresh a single server from the server list, but apparently that's not an option here, unless there's some console command I'm unaware of to handle that chore. (On a side note, I'm still wondering why the only console commands listed in the documentation involve Bots - if you want all the other useful stuff, you'll have to check a Quake III site. And I love the way these guys let users take care of documentation for them; I couldn't even find a list of console commands at the "official" Quake3World Web site that's put into your Startup menu when you install the game!) Can you check player scores, stats, and pings before connecting to a game? No. After enjoying these features in Tribes and Unreal Tournament, I simply assumed that any top multiplayer title would include this stuff as a matter of course - but you know what they say happens when you ASSuMe, right?
Once you get past these oversights, you'll be in for
some fragging of the first order, with blood spraying and heads rolling as screams fill the air (each character has a unique cry of pain - very cool). But even here are annoyances that somehow made their way into the final product. Only the top scorers are displayed on the Results menu, so there's not a simple way to see whether teams are unbalanced (maybe there's a console command - oh, forget it). Even the larger maps have some pretty cramped areas, and with Team Damage on, it's pretty easy to frag a friend - but the dialogue at the top of the screen only shows who killed you, not if the person was on your team. If they're near the bottom of the score list, it could take a while to figure not only if they are on your team, but also whether the frag was intentional or out-and-out team killing.
I've got to admit that I've been playing QIII like a madman in spite of all these differences, and in a few months there are sure to be a score of user mods that'll broaden the narrow horizons of the game's multiplayer modes. As it stands now, though, Quake III Arena only breaks new ground in terms of technology - and that's just not enough to keep it at the head of the pack when other developers have shown us just how much more can be done with online play
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