Quake III Arena is the game all the loyal id Software worshippers and multi-player fanatics have been yammering for. From the early Internet test versions until the final retail version, this title has been hyped as the online savior for years. And can we ever forget the uproar caused when lead programmer John Carmack announced that the single-player game would only emulate multi-player experiences? Naturally, the small development house had a lot riding on this game, most importantly their reputation.
But I'll cut to the chase because I realize all you care about is whether or not this game lives up to the hype or falls flat on its face in utter failure. While the latter condition is not applicable, it's not the height of online gaming nor is it an original title. It also feels rushed. Because Epic Games' Unreal Tournament also focuses on Internet play, id Software obviously wanted to get their game on the market.
First, the single-player game is nothing more than a progressive romp through 22 deathmatch maps. Spanning seven difficulty tiers, your opponents come in the form of bots specifically created for the sake of deathmatch play. The objective is to win each map by hitting the frag limit first; some maps are one-on-one rounds while others feature a full field of opponents. Naturally, there's little to no depth found within the single-player game but it is useful in learning map layouts and getting accustomed to the whole deathmatch experience.
Awards are earned by executing skillful shots and performing in a superior manor. Though they have no effect on gameplay, awards come in the form of multiple kills within a brief amount of time, accuracy, consecutive hits, perfect one-on-one matches and humiliations.
In addition to the single-player game, a skirmish mode gives the player access to various modes including Team Deathmatch, Free for All, Tournament and the long time multi-player staple, Capture the Flag (with four additional maps). Free for All is the standard deathmatch whereas Team Deathmatch features two teams in a heated competition for the most frags. The Tournament feature is simply a Rocket Arena II (a popular Quake II modification) inspired one-on-one match-up while Capture the Flag is self-explanatory.
It is important to mention the gameplay as Quake III Arena feels solid and the action is VERY fast. At times, it feels like a souped-up version of the original Quake, something many online gamers have been craving for years. The controls are ultra-responsive with an incredibly cohesive feel -- in a word, amazing.
Graphically, Quake III Arena is beautiful. Never before has the PC market seen such incredible visuals, unparalleled lighting and weapon effects, curved surfaces and silky smooth textures. Additionally, it ships with a wide variety of player models each uniquely detailed in supreme fashion. But those flashy graphics come with a hefty price tag...
If you're looking to flawlessly run this game with all the bells and whistles, you'd better have a top-notch accelerator card with at least a top-of-the-line Pentium II processor and 128 megabytes of RAM. Anything less will result in a choppy, lackluster performance that requires massive graphical and engine tweaking. Fortunately, the Q3 configuration file and in-game menu system gives players a good amount of tweaking options.
Design wise, Quake III Arena is a mixed bag. Out of the 26 deathmatch and Capture the Flag levels, there's only a handful of memorable maps; many seem like half-hearted attempts at best. While the overall look is gorgeous, the four futuristic base-type maps feature high r-speeds (which effect your overall frames per second) with ugly textures and bland design. Additionally, the four void maps feature boring black backdrops with floating platforms -- there's little innovation or inspiration here.
Great maps come in the form in the shape of Quake inspired layouts complete with satanic imagery and upside-down crosses that swing back and forth. There's even a statue of Jesus Christ mounted on the wall. Its almost as if the graphic designers took a field trip into Hell and realistically designed what they had seen. Unfortunately, this inspiration is vacantly distributed with the overall level design being somewhat mediocre, especially when you realize who put this game out.
Additionally, the weapons are average at best. Upon spawning into a map, your character starts with the machine gun and a pummeling razor blade Gauntlet that acts as the humiliation device. Then you've got a shotgun with a laser scope, a Plasma Gun that shoots out bluish purple blasts, the grenade and rocket launchers, a taser-like Lightning Gun, the accurate Rail Gun and the obligatory BFG-10k.
The BFG-10k has been completely overhauled as an incredibly fast rocket launcher with explosive splash damage. This combined with the actual rocket launcher and Plasma Gun serve as the game's only highlights. Sure it's fun to go around pummeling people with the Gauntlet but it's very hard to do. The shotgun doesn't have much of a feel to it and the grenade launcher is mediocre; you can't even use hand-grenades!
With all this out of the way, you've got to keep in mind that Quake III Arena's intention is to be played online with actual opponents. In my experiences so far, I've found the Internet support to be great with a multitude of public servers. Unfortunately, my 56k modem doesn't seem to cut it anymore; I've experienced lots of packet loss, high pings (such is the case with many dial-up users) and terminated connections. It almost seems geared to those who can afford or have access to Cable Modems, ISDN lines, or DSL.
Though Quake III Arena out of the box is mediocre at best, I'm going to look at the big picture and tap into this game's potential and possible future. If you consider Quake and Quake II's performance out of the box, it wasn't exactly up to par. id Software constantly releases patches that improve graphics and significantly enhance the Internet server clients. Carmack wants this game to excel above all others and he'll ensure it reaches that level some day.
Anyone who's spent time with Quake II online knows there are a wealth of modification developers that release their own takes on gameplay. The already mentioned Rocket Arena II was widely regarded as the best "mod" released for that game; Team Reaction, with renowned modification programmer Dave Wallin, has produced a variety of popular, award winning games including Jailbreak, Gloom and Qpong while Weapons Factory Software produced the acclaimed and widely accepted Weapons Factory mod. Mod developers are already planning on releasing exciting new things for Quake III Arena.
So with that in mind, it's easy to look over Quake III Arena's faults. Though the single-player game is far from substantial with some poorly designed maps, a lack of gameplay options and originality, average weapons and inadequate netcode, the good things will come to those who can wait. With a few modifications and patches, this will have a very long hard-drive life...that is until the next big thing comes along.
Graphics: For the most part, the graphics are phenomenal with unparalleled texturing and design. There are some really nice artistic touches like lava pits, swinging crosses, gothic statues and architecture. Additionally, the player models look great with fluid animation and unique design. A few of the maps are boarder-line ugly, however, with shiny textures.
Sound: Sonic Mayhem and Front Line Assembly provide the wonderful industrial/atmospheric soundtrack. While some of the voices are annoying, the announcer is great with excellent explosion and gunshot effects.
Enjoyment: Though the single-player game is over far too quickly and lacks any sort of depth, the real meat and potatoes comes from the online experience. If your connection is good and you're not lagging, it's a very enjoyable game -- real opponents are much harder than bots! Because this game is intended to be a multi-player game only, the netcode should have been tweaked better. Its frustrating at best when your Net-graph (shows your latency) is riddled with yellow and red spikes.
Replay Value: As soon as the user modifications start rolling in and id Software releases a couple patches, Quake III Arena will be on many computers for a very, very long time.
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