Quake

Overview

Okay, now, here's the story: Some massive government science project teleport/gateway research has gone wacko and monsters are coming through the gateway. In order to stop the invasion, you end up on the wrong side of that gateway. Your mission is to kick bootie on the evil instigator, and to do so, you have a shotgun and a rocket launcher. Sounds like a job for a Space Marine!

Yes, this is the highly original (hey, it worked for all the Doom sequels!) storyline behind Quake, the highly hyped super-game from the wizards at id. But does it work? Well, first of all, as soon as I got this game, I must admit that I waited until my smoldering carcass had been put to rest quite a few times before I even checked for a storyline. Does that say something for priorities? In other words, most of the people that play this game don't worry about words, as long as there is a warm shotgun and enough shells to introduce yourself to the zombies around the corner.

What's the big deal?

What makes Quake so cool? Lots of stuff. First of all, it is the first game I have seen that can boast to be "truly 3D." In other words, you can now look, swim, and jump in any direction that you can imagine. Levels are much bigger, with several levels of rooms above one another, and bridges are now truly bridges that you can go both under and over, something that you could not have in Doom or any of its sequels.

In addition, monsters are now no longer sprites, or flat images. In Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, or any of the other pretenders, all items and creatures were represented by simple pictures that were pre-rendered, kind of like that cut-out picture of President Reagan that you posed with on your middle school field trip. Typically, sprites limit the range of action that characters and monsters can perform, because an image has to be created for each frame of animation from a variety of angles.

The weaknesses of a sprite system can often be seen when a game allows true-3D movement. In Duke, if you look at a manhole cover from the side, it looks just like it does when you are standing on top of it. In other words, it looks like it is standing on its side. In Quake, every monster and almost every item is represented by a framework of polygons covered with textures, rather like a blocky doll that has been painted to look pretty. This means that when you get hit by the rocket launcher, the guy that popped you sees your arms flailing as you fly across the room. This refinement allows for some incredible (and often funny) scenes of guys staggering back against the wall when hit, or bouncing around like rag dolls when propelled by a rocket.

In addition Quake contains another revolutionary factor -- 16 player TCP/IP multiplayer gaming. This means that you can play Quake across the Internet! Although performance varies by server, I have had some incredible net games with 12 or more players, and you can join or quit at any time in the game, unlike Doom. In addition, local games are easy to set up, and players just join the server by picking its name from the list of available games.

The wizards at id Software know what they are doing, and the things that they did well, they did very well. They made this game to be the king of deathmatch, and it has enough merit to deserve that title. In fact, ever since I got Quake, I've hardly played my old games. Sorry, Duke.

What's next?

For those of you that have the registered Quake and want to see what can be done with it, check out Stomped and Quake Command. The two of them show some of the amazing things that can be done with QuakeC, the programming language that controls Quake. id released QuakeC, along with most of the QuakeC code for monsters and items in the game, which means that we can make and use new monsters, weapons, and just about anything else imaginable. For instance, various brave souls have already made jeeps, airplanes, flamethrowers, BFGs, mines, pipe bombs a la Duke, jetpacks, new deathmatch rules (capture the flag, tag, and many others) and lots of new levels for Quake. All you have to do is download the new options and run Quake with the files in the command line. You don't even have to alter your game. And if Joe Schmoe can do these kinds of things for free, what can we expect from id? A LOT.

Gameplay/Interface

Although you can get away with just the keyboard, I would strongly recommend using a combination of the keyboard and the mouse. Without the mouse for precision aiming, you will probably find yourself on the receiving end of more rockets than you can imagine in deathmatch, especially in the (low-gravity!) secret level provided in the shareware.

In Quake, you can define the standard keys through the menu, as well as mouse and joystick buttons. However, you also have the option of "binding" or redefining keys through the command prompt. Through this, you can not only define the 'A' key to respond as the 'Z' key (or whatever you want), you can also cause any one of many Quake scripts to be executed with a simple key press. These can be special features such as a sniper zoom or x-ray vision (single player only, guys), or a combination of keys, such as the 'rocket jump' or 'quick turnaround.' Many new ones are available on the net every day, and within these configuration scripts you can also set a default configuration of sound, keyboard, and graphical options.

Graphics

While the default settings for this game are at low resolution, after downloading and installing SciTech's Display Doctor 5.3, I was able to play comfortably at 800x600 resolution on a P133 with 16 MB of RAM. For those that have real muscle under the hood, you can get well above that, but I had a hard time doing so without bringing the game to a jerky halt.

As far as character graphics go, I must say that the nicest thing about the graphics was the little things. The way the hallway is illuminated by a rocket as it streaks on its merry way. The flash of a grenade or rocket going off. The eerie glow of another player when he has picked up Quad Damage or Invincibility powerups, followed by my collapsing to the floor from massive (high velocity) lead poisoning. These are a few of my favorite things.

Quite simply, Quake has some elements that are subtle but amazing. There are no wet footprints or such as in Duke Nukem 3D, but Quake adds the type of effects that add atmosphere without being obtrusive. For instance, when you are underwater, your vision gets somewhat wavy and discolored. In addition, it has the best dynamic lighting I have ever seen in a game. When it comes down to potential, this game has plenty.

Unfortunately, however, there are a few parts of the game that seem exactly that -- potentially good, but not stellar. Monsters and wall textures, while nice from a distance, are pixelated at close range, particularly in the knights. In addition, although each of the 4 episodes maintains its own individual graphical theme and setting, I found that by the end of an episode, I was hoping for more colors and variation in the levels, something that even Doom and definitely Dark Forces did somewhat better.

However, I found that most of these factors only were obvious when I was not involved -- when I was looking at a snapshot, playing at a low difficulty level, or otherwise uninterested. The absorption of the game prevents the player from noticing the flaws as much.

Computer AI

Some of the monsters are spooky, but others are truly frightening. Simple soldiers and rotfish are mere cannon fodder, but when the first fiend leaps out of the shadows towards you, hooked arms tearing at your throat, believe me -- you'll be scared.

In Quake, id Software provides a pretty good range of enemies, the more ferocious of which are very difficult to keep off of your face with any weapon. Each of the bigger monsters has its own fear factor. Ogres throw grenades at a distance and swing a massive chainsaw at close range. Shamblers shoot lightning (really!) until you get close enough, at which point they will bring their massive arms down crushing down on your head. Spawn are amorphous slime creatures that bounce around the walls until they land on you, and when you finally kill them, they explode, usually taking a good part of you with them. When it comes to variety, Quake's got it.

However, one thing Quake has too much of is enemy weaknesses. Once you get over the initial shock, many of the monsters can be defeated through simple evasion tactics. Larger monsters often stop when they cannot get through a door, making themselves good targets as long as you keep moving. Each monster has its own weaknesses, and in some cases, they are just too big. One of the worst is the Vore, which is a mean-looking spider-human creature that shoots homing missiles! Sounds pretty scary, huh? Well it is, until you get used to it. Although its scream and look may be fearsome, with a little practice, they are a very minimal threat. In fact, I think that I have been killed by them less that any other creature, and they are supposed to be one of the most ferocious ones!

What Quake does lack in quality, however, it makes up in quantity. Where several of one monster would not be too bad if taken properly, when several types of enemies attack together, you often find yourself switching weapons like a metronome and firing while running backwards until your back is to the wall. Playing Quake, I recalled the old SNL Deep Thoughts quote about the most dangerous creature in the world: "Some say it's a shark. Some say it's an elephant. I tell them, it's a shark, riding on the back of an elephant, just trampling and eating everything in its way." (paraphrased)

Quite frankly, this concept in design leads to some really tight scrapes. If you want to know what I mean, check out the final elevator on the last level of the second episode in nightmare mode. Just when you think no more creatures could come raining down from the ceiling to cooperate in your destruction, you hear the ominous ringing of a nailgun trap, which, because the elevator has no walls, sprays a flurry of nails in to add to the cacophony. Finally, when the elevator stops and you run out for mercy, you practically bump into two of the fearsome vore, which you have never seen until then. The whole sequence of terror was so gripping that I repeated it three or four times in a row just for the adrenaline rush, something this game does pack.

One final word on the computer AI -- this game was made for deathmatch. Although I found the single-player game entertaining, I felt that the real value of the game is in its multiplayer aspects. Not only is there a wonderful amount of customization that can be done, but the levels and weapons are well configured for DM. In the heat of battle, you start to forget AI, graphics, and interfaces, and you revert to your basic survival instincts -- kill or be killed. This game has (by far) the best deathmatching that I have ever seen in a game of its type, so any flaws in the AI were soon forgotten.

Documentation

Not bad; about the same as Doom, Hexen, or any other id game. The only gripe I had about this was the fact that I could not enter some characters. For instance, if I decided to install into the "C:\My Documents\Quake" directory (which would be abbreviated to "c:\mydocu~1\quake" in Win 95 DOS), it would not allow me because of the tilde character. Although this is a picky gripe, I hope that we are given a little more freedom in the future.

Customization

You name it, you've got it. Quake provides two ways to customize your gaming experience, the menu and the command line. While most superficial changes can be performed from the game menu, the drop-down command prompt allows the user to do just about anything. You can enter cheat codes, redefine keys or sequences thereof, run scripts, and a variety of other actions. Although the hands-on customization that is usually done at the command prompt may be undesirable to some, I felt that it gave me a very good hands-on interface to all game settings and I hope that this kind of 'option' is provided in future games.

System Requirements

According to the specifications, a Pentium is required, and I would recommend one with a speed in the three-digit range. In addition, the use of SciTech's shareware Display Doctor, which will give you more resolution levels and faster video, is highly recommended.

Bottom Line

Quake is fun. Quake is cool. Quake is the best game of its type I have ever seen. Quake won't let me sleep at night. However, Quake could be better. As I played it, I couldn't help but think, 'Wow, imagine what this place will look like when they are done!' With all its gee-whiz features and kick-butt style, Quake is still, in my opinion, a work in progress. Quake is more than the Doom III that some people have labeled it to be. However, it is also not the leap ahead that Doom was to Castle Wolfenstein. It just promises that there will be such a leap.

Quake provides a wide array of features and capabilities, and if id decides to give its next game (tentatively called Quake II) the kind of polish that can be seen in Dark Forces, it will be that quantum leap ahead of Doom. However, I cannot rate it as "truly revolutionary," simply "very cool." And if there are any Quake junkies out there wanting to make me take that last comment back, you're gonna have to reinforce it with some hot lead. I give Quake a 91, because while it deserves a permanent place on my shelf, it is just not quite the breathtaking powerhouse that we were promised. While the many features (Internet multiplay, good configuration, true 3D, etc.) make it an instant classic, I see better stuff coming down the pipeline. Just you wait and see.

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