Quaking In Your Boots

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
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Believe it or not, Quake was the reason I stopped playing multiplayer computer games online, at least professionally. You see, at one time I was actually one of the top ranked Half-life players. I even won several tournaments both with teams and alone. Then I went to a LAN party and the folks there were playing the latest Quake, which I think might have been II.

Anyway, I was doing my thing, shooting, taking cover. And there was this kid there who was running around jumping and acting all crazy. I aimed the Vulcan machine gun at him and pulled the trigger, and he simply jumped around over all the bullets. That kid smoked everyone time and time again. Throw in the fact that the entire game looked like a music video and it just turned me off from the whole multiplayer shooter genre. When kids can jump over bullets, it’s just not realistic enough for me anymore. I stuck with the hyper-realistic Tom Clancy titles for a while, but then kind of gave it up all together.

Then one E3, Activision was giving a demo of Quake Wars and I thought it might be worthwhile to give it a try. It started out well enough, with a very detailed intro about what points to defend on the map, where to fall back to if the enemy got past you, and basically what command expected you to do.

It was all very impressive and when the game started, I felt like I was really part of a team. Even though I was working with eight people (six of whom I had never met) against eight guys on the other side, I really felt like I was in a war. Surprisingly, everyone worked well together and that demo was really the highlight of the show for me.

Fast forward to present day and Quake Wars: Enemy Territory finally lands on my desk. I popped it in and set it up to play the single player campaign version of the game. The first thing I noticed was that the really cool intro from E3 was not around anymore. Apparently that was only done for the press demos at E3. It’s too bad because it was so well done that it really let you understand the map before you even looked at it and would have really made the gameplay better had there been one for each map. Given that we are only talking about two teams and twelve maps, this would not have been too much to ask.

Disappointment at the lack of a true briefing aside, the game featured all the white hot action I was expecting. It strikes a great balance between being fast enough to keep most people’s interest and also realistic enough that nobody is going to be hopping over a stream of bullets as they rush forward to knife you to death.

In a nutshell, Quake Wars does one thing, but it does it so well that it carries the entire game forward in an interesting and exciting way. Basically it sets up a miniature war game between the humans (the Global Defense Force or GDF) and the interplanetary invaders, the Strogg.

Each of the four campaigns you can play are basically just a set of three maps that are more or less linked by geography if not storyline. You play as either the Strogg or the GDF. If you are on offense then you have some set objectives like blowing up a barrier, driving your command center to a certain location, blowing up a generator or stealing a suitcase full of data. If you are defending, then your objectives are simply to prevent the enemy from accomplishing their objectives and will win when the time runs out and objectives are left unfinished.

Sounds simple? Well, in concept it is pretty easy to grasp, even without the cool introduction. But there are five character classes on each side, and even slight variations between them. Perhaps you might be a soldier with a missile launcher to take out enemy vehicles and strong points, or a commander who can call in artillery, or a covert ops agent who can snipe the bad guys and hack their computers. My favorite class is the engineer, who can lay mines, build defensive turrets and also work the standard rifles for both sides. In fact, this is a good class for vehicle drivers because if your ride gets beat up, you can hop out and fix it.

Objectives on the map can sometimes only be accomplished by members of certain classes. Only soldiers can complete destruction objectives for example. So you have to make sure your team employs the correct class to get you to the next objective.

In terms of game balance, I have to mention two things. First, the game favors the defender in each map. This is not surprising given that is how it is in real life. But secondly, I think the Strogg are a bit more powerful than the GDF. The Strogg have much better personal weapons and slightly better vehicles. So when you have the Strogg on defense, its going to be a very hard game to win for the people playing the GDF. In a single player game you can compensate a bit by adding an extra GDF player, but in multiplayer doing so might not be looked at as fair. But if the Strogg are able to get an anti-vehicle and an anti-personnel turret in place near a choke point, you probably won’t be able to get through with your lumbering command center, which is a key to most GDF missions. The GDF’s reliance on a huge vehicle that has to be driven into place along set routes makes this worse because it’s a huge target and easily disabled. I found this to be true in the single player game and also online if playing teams of roughly equal skill.

So the GDF have their work cut out for them, not that it’s not fun to try. I found myself playing the GDF in almost every mission and online when the server’s lord gave me the option to pick. If you can beat the Strogg on the defensive, you will certainly have bragging rights.

As you make more kills, your level goes up and you are awarded not only a better rank, but also better equipment. For example, my beloved engineer gets access to self-arming mines which are ready to explode a few seconds after they hit the ground. Before his promotion, he had to drop the mines and then use a tool to arm them, a process that makes him a big target. Some characters also get access to better weapons, or simply more efficient versions of the ones they have. It’s not exactly an RPG, but does add some nice RPG elements.

Graphically the game looks awesome with plenty of explosions, good looking character models and good vehicles. This is matched by the sound which really makes you feel like you are in a battle. In online multiplayer you will hear a lot of chatter between characters sending automatic voice commands, which is a pretty cool touch.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is a great game where you can simply jump in and play a single map over lunch or a long campaign all afternoon. It may not be enough to woo me back into the world of professional tournament play, but it certainly is a lot of fun to test my skills against other live people again, especially as part of a smart, dedicated team. For almost any fan of shooters and especially those that enjoy multiplayer, Quake Wars is more than worth the money.

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