Just over fourteen years ago, id Software, the company that literally made First Person Shooters what they are today with games like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, unleashed their new beast on the world known as Quake. Three years after that in 1999, they released Quake III: Arena, the multiplayer focused phenomenon that took the world by storm.
Fast forward eleven years and we’ve got Quake Arena Arcade, essentially Quake III: Arena and its expansion pack Quake III: Team Arena repackaged in HD for the Xbox Live Arcade. Not much has changed since the original games so don’t be expecting a whole new entry to the Quake series. This is the same old school, ultra fast-paced fragfest as we remember it.
In case you’re too young or just never got around to playing the original games, let me run it down for you quickly. Before the days of Halo and Call of Duty, Quake was one of the biggest FPS franchises out there. While Quake 1, 2 and 4 were single player oriented with a story-based campaign and a multiplayer mode thrown in for good measure, Quake III: Arena and it’s expansion pack Quake III: Team Arena were almost entirely focused on the multiplayer. If you haven’t played anything from this series or its main competitor at the time, Unreal Tournament, be prepared for a frenetically fast-paced shooter that actually hurt the wrist after hours of playing because of the strain so many years ago.
The game is nostalgically old school with weapon, health and armor spawn points scattered around the maps. There are also usable items such as Invulnerability and power-ups like quad-damage that can be found. Being that it’s an old school game, there are no reloads. Just point and shoot. Simple right? Tell that to the pros who have been playing Quake competitively in tournaments for the last thirteen years.
Because this is almost a direct port of Quake III, almost nothing is new. The same fan favorite weapons are back including the Railgun, Lightning gun, BFG and of course the Rocket Launcher. Because Quake Arena Arcade also incorporates it’s expansion pack Team Arena, the Nailgun, Proxy Launcher and Chaingun are also included.
The same gametypes from Quake III and Team Arena are back, ranging from classic Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and One-Flag CTF. There are also the objective-based gametypes from Team Arena such as Harvester and Overload. Harvester is the grandaddy of Halo’s Head Hunter mode. Everytime a player is killed, a skull spawns near an obelisk in the center of the map and the goal is to grab as many skulls as you can and score them at the enemy base. Walking over a teammate’s skull makes it disappear and prevents the enemy from capturing it. Overload features a skull in each team’s base where the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s skull with gunfire while protecting your own. While these game modes are definitely fun, the lack of variety may turn off some modern FPS players who are used to having a large range of game modes to play.
There are a few new additions though. Most notably, in addition to 30 classic maps that appeared in both Arena and Team Arena, there are also a total of 12 brand new maps that are exclusive to Quake Arena Arcade. There is also an all new single player campaign, though it really is only matches against bots to train you for the multiplayer so don’t be expecting a Quake 4 quality campaign with a narrative.
The multiplayer functionality could be improved a bit, however. There is no matchmaking although there is a quick search option. Instead, we are given a server list, something I haven’t seen in a console multiplayer game in years. It works fairly well though and shows your connection to the host, the number of players in the game, and the map and the gametype being played. It can be a little cumbersome now that we’ve been spoiled by solid matchmaking for all these years but once you get into a game, it’s a nice hectic fragfest. Quake Arena Arcade supports up to 16 players and from what I’ve played is stable and lag-free as long as you pick a game with a good connection. As tempting as the quick search can be, it’s better to do a quick scan of the server list manually because you can’t afford to have any lag in an uber-fast shooter such as this.
And that brings me to my next point. The one major downside to this release is the controls. Anyone who has played the original game on the PC knows that even with a mouse and keyboard, it’s hard to accurately aim at a moving target in this game. This was my single biggest worry about this game and it looks like I was right. The game is simply too fast-paced for accurate aiming with a controller and renders the Railgun almost useless. It by no means makes the game unplayable but it’s definitely worth noting. I highly suggest any and all players to immediately turn the sensitivity down to make it controllable.
In terms of the graphics, they have been polished a little and look alot better in HD. Lighting effects look prettier and reflect off the walls nicely. However, this is no Gears of War or Call of Duty, you can be sure of that. Though the gameplay is as solid as ever, the graphics are definitely showing its age. The character models and animations are faithful to their originals, for better or for worse, and so they look a a little stiff. The developers Pi Studios seem to not want to tamper with the classic too much and I kind of prefer it this way for nostalgic reasons to be honest, though I’m sure some would have appreciated updated character models.
Quake Arena Arcade may seem a bit archaic to contemporary gamers, but this game was at the height of technology back in the day. To put it in perspective, Quake III was one of the first FPS games where the third person models could look around because the head, torso and legs were independently animated. This was when high speed internet was in its infancy and games were for the most part, still being hosted on 56K dial-up modems. Console online gaming is still three years out and even a year or two longer before Xbox Live really took off. With this in mind, you can really see how far gaming has come and yet the classic gameplay still holds up very well, despite it not being very pretty anymore.
Because not much is new since Quake III released eleven years ago, I’m hesitant to whole-heartedly recommend this to everyone. Serious Quake fans like me will enjoy this release and will definitely appreciate the new maps exclusive to this title. However, the high-level competitive players will still probably be sticking to the PC original or even the new free-to-play browser version Quake Live.
For anyone else who is not a huge Quake fan or someone who never experienced this title, I recommend it with an asterisk. 1200MSP ($15) is a little expensive for such an old game with minimal updates. However with that said, Quake III is an important piece of FPS history that holds up much better in this day and age than its older FPS pioneer brothers like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. So I urge anyone who is even remotely interested in old school multiplayer shooters to give it a shot with these points in mind.