"Consolation Prize. Excited?"
There is this bizarre phenomenon in the PC gaming media regarding id Software. To put it simply: Ignoring rhyme, reason, and standards, media arbiters of quality tend to always gloss over the latest id release with claims such as "Best Game Ever" "Ingenious Design" "Stunning Gameplay" "Totally Revolutionary" and several other such lapses in judgment. Probably, it's just pandering to the masses. Millions of people know about Doom and Quake, mostly because of the fact that they are so easy to pick up and play that they are regarded as staples of gaming. Not to mention the great amount of media coverage that those games receive. Not wanting to go against the grain, the magazines and e-zines embellish id games with their top honors, ignoring the sorts of problems for which they savagely criticize other games. Game Revolution, however, doesn't sell out so easily. [For $10,000 I'll turn this into a positive, glowing review. ~Ed] With that great moral stand in mind, here is the first REAL review of id Software's latest child, Quake III Arena.
The reality is that every id game from Doom 2 onward, has been less interesting than its predecessor. After Doom, id exhausted it's supply of creativity and decided to put together a series of mundane technology demos that had good graphics, but incredibly poor single player elements and reasonably straightforward, if plain, multiplayer capabilities.
Let's look at them in order: Doom was atmospheric, new, and invigorating. Doom 2 was a stale retread that lacked the sci-fi atmosphere of Doom that helped make that game great. Quake was an unfocused mess of a game that held together simply by the thin adhesive of its impressive technology and fast netplay. Quake 2 was Quake with colored lighting and a single player game that was just enough to fool a few people into thinking that it was anything other than a patch up job to Quake. Quake III Arena, is the logical conclusion of this trend.
All these games were, and are, dependent upon fan created modifications for their survival, which is a cheap tactic for a gaming company to take.
However, ranting aside, we can ignore the past and take and honest look at Quake 3. It's a game simply comprised of multiplayer and simulated multiplayer gameplay, and very little of it at that. Quake 3 gives you four ways to play multiplayer. Free For All (Deathmatch), Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Tournament.
Free For All is no-frills Deathmatch. You pick up a gun, a powerup, and then you shoot other players. There is nothing more to it than that. Team Deathmatch is the same thing except that now there are a few people whom you do not shoot. Capture the Flag is a Team Deathmatch representation of the classic kids game in which you have to infiltrate the enemy base, grab the flag, and bring it back to your base to score points. Tournament has two people fighting while other players watch, the victor fights the next opponent in line.
In that bunch there is not one original concept, which makes Quake 3 essentially a game you've already played. Beyond that, there are virtually no gameplay tweaks available to add variety to the modes. Every match is very similar. Eventually it all becomes very mundane.
The weapons don't really help. Again, you've seen each one before, and although the balance is very adept so that no one of them will rule the Arena, none of them are terribly impressive or subtle. Quake 3 is not a game of intellect, merely of twitch skills.
For single player, you can play on any of the levels in any mode with player selected computer controlled opponents called bots ('botmatches') and a campaign that organizes predefined botmatches into tiers. The AI aiming ability only seems to have two settings: the complete lack thereof or extreme-CPU-cheating-godlike-ability. The relatively small number of levels, along with the poorly programmed bots, make for a poor single-player experience. It also doesn't help that the commands for giving orders to the bots are not documented in the manual and must be assigned to keys through the cryptic command prompt.
To id's credit, the lackluster gameplay is held afloat by the prettiest First Person Shooter graphics engine in the history of gaming. Every effect in the book from volumetric lighting to curved surfaces combine to allow the map designers great freedom to create environments that go from hard edged industrial to squishy organic, all with more geometry detail than any other game on the market.
The character designs are stunning as well, ranging from the Doom guy to a giant eye that walks on its hands and holds a gun above the ball. Even the texturing in Quake III, though mostly still drawn from the old blood-and-mud-in-hell theme, is adeptly done. The map designs, which are all more effective at setting up high intensity action than creating an immersive environment, are nonetheless graphical marvels. In fact, in some places, the environmental detail is so good that you wish that upcoming single player games based on the Quake III engine, such as Star Trek Voyager Elite Force and Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 would hurry up and arrive.
It is the graphics, combined with some great sounds that make Quake 3, mundane as it is, a good deal of fun. Your eyes are enjoying themselves so much that you forget all about the lapses in originality, provided that you don't play for too long. In that respect, Quake 3 is the Windows solitaire of 3D shooters, a game you play for 20 minutes when you need a break but nothing you can get into for much longer.
There are a few other problems. Quake 3 has a mess of a internet game finder that makes Gamespy still your best bet for finding a good multiplayer game server. And naturally, the graphics require a machine like a tiny god (bless you, Penny Arcade) to run at a decent framerate with full detail. Lesser machines necessitate lower detail levels so the eye-candy factor decreases and Quake 3 become less fun.
Quake III Arena has the best technology, but just as with Quake 2, the best technology does not mean the best game. Other developers have turned to making their gameplay distinct and varied, knowing that pretty graphics could only carry a few titles, and that gamers, at heart, wanted something more. They've taken those exact same gaming engines and created such stellar titles as Half-Life and System Shock 2.
Quake 3 is a great way to demo your new, ultra-powered gaming rig, and a decent diversion if taken in small doses. However, overall it fails to impress, invigorate, or even entertain. It does what it sets out to do extremely well, creating a beautiful, high intensity deathmatch game, but it never tries to do very much. Quake 3, for all the praise being lauded on it by the sellouts in the gaming media, is a lightweight contender. It's decent enough, but for everyone who sets his or her sights a little higher than the ground floor, it's not worth the price of admission. Save the cash and pick up a copy of Unreal Tournament instead, you'll be much happier.