Being raised in the age of cover-based, high-adrenaline, set-piece oriented first-person shooters has the effect of cutting one off from the equally intense yet lower budget classics of yesteryear. That’s a shame, because the late ’90s were a breeding ground for well-known multiplayer-oriented gamer obsessions, such as Quake and Unreal. Quake III: Arena, therefore, is the culmination of all of the innovation and advancement of online play and arena-based shooters into one then-outstanding product – a product that still has relevance and value today, thanks to its additions to the genre.
Some may criticize me for reviewing such an aged game (13 years and counting) with such a modern score system. However, so long as one person such as myself explores the recesses of the Internet in search for cheap, long-lasting entertainment media, someone has to inform the public of whether or not it is still worth purchasing and playing time and again. This, to be clear, has nothing to do with the fact that my netbook is relatively low-end and can’t run much more than that.
Alas, into the review I go. Quake III: Arena defies expectations out of the gate by not focusing on story. Save for some profiles and exposition in the manual (which can be found online) and the short and undetailed cinematics that play between tiers, the premise is simple: you play as a gladiator in the Arena Eternal, a tournament consisting of characters that hail from various parts of the Quake and Doom universes. The goal: kill everyone else to make your way through each of the seven tiers and win the tournament.
That being said, the way it plays out is much more complicated and more fulfilling than that. Your character, a nameless intergalactic gladiator, runs and jumps around large, highly-interactive arenas. The level design is varied and incredibly tactical, as it allows players to craft their own dynamic styles for each of the 26 individual maps. Some have repulsor pads that send you across entire rooms or to higher levels, while others have atmospheric dangers, such as poison gas or lava pools.
If ever there was a game that exemplified the old-fashioned first-person shooters best, this would be a strong competitor for that title. You can collect a wide range of weapons, some appropriately high-tech and reeking of science-fiction (like the railgun and the freaking BFG 10K), others rather generic (like the shotgun and the instantly available machine gun), all of which are balanced across each map in terms of ease of access and quantity of weapons available. Generally, given the technology available, there is a fair amount of recoil and impact to each shot, though this will vary with automatic weapons.
Also, instead of aiming down the sights, you target enemies from the hip, which gives you more peripheral vision but may be damning to those seeking precision aiming, particularly if you don’t have use of a proper mouse (i.e. those with netbooks or laptops). The game can also be graphic in a tongue-in-cheek manner, as killing foes efficiently will result in their bodies “cartoonishly” exploding into blood and gibs that stain the walls and floors, so keep that in mind if you’re a younger gamer or if you are sensitive to that sort of thing.
This game won’t go easy on the player, which may also be a flaw in the eyes of some. As one progresses through each tier, each environment gets tricker to navigate and each opponent will get craftier and more vicious. This game expects players to understand the fundamentals of old-school first-person shooters when they venture into this experience, but if you stick to your guns (ha-ha!), remain focused and give it your best, you’ll overcome the sometimes stressful environmental hazards and brutal A.I.
Luckily, with risk comes reward, and Quake III does make an effort to draw in players for repeated playthroughs of the “campaign”. First, during each match, you can earn medals for performing distinctive actions, such as the Flawless award (winning a match without getting “fragged) or the Impressive award (getting two consecutive kills with the railgun). Second, there are five difficulty levels for each map, so hardcore players will definitely get their filling of intense offline action.
When selecting levels, the player can set-up offline skirmishes that feature four familiar but classic modes: Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Tournament (which plays out as segmented one-on-one matches). These modes are at the centre of the multiplayer experience, which likely work well if any servers are still online (save for some occasional split-second lag, if the campaign is to be believed).
If the gameplay is relatively relevant, then the presentation is definitely the weaker link. The graphical quality is archaic by today’s standards, though the textures are acceptable and the character models, though simplistic, are appropriately nostalgic and provide their respective characters with hints of personality. The greatest part of the visual experience is the art design of the maps, which is immensely varied and draw inspiration from dark fantasy and science-fiction settings to create an interesting hybrid.
Similarly, the audio aspects of Quake III have various levels of quality. The characters do not have spoken dialogue, save for personalized shouts of glory or death cries, and the only distinctive voice acting takes the form of the Announcer, who balances cool professionalism and thinly-veiled pretentiousness. The weapons and sound effects are fitting, and there are occasional orchestral tunes that play during matches which add to the atmosphere and tension effectively.
As it stands, Quake III certainly sets itself apart by focusing on simple gameplay that emphasizes difficulty and expects dedication, but there is a place in the world for games like this. Its tight and well-designed combat, coupled with its unique production values, makes this instalment in Id Software’s landmark series a worthwhile purchase, though its somewhat subjective flaws could be considered a sign that it is time to move on.
-Kurt Hvorup, Founder and Admin