Quake III Arena
Did someone say "killer app"? - Review By BenT
I've been playing first person shooters (FPSs) for the better part of ten years, and if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that PCs are the way to go if you want to see the best the genre has to offer. Yeah, I'm first and foremost a console fan, but I just don't think FPSs have ever worked well outside of PCs. There are three primary reasons for this: control, expandability, and online play. Control is obvious enough; when it comes to turning and target tracking, the mouse is clearly superior to a standard console controller. Expandability allows players to modify their games, be it in the form of extra levels, custom graphics, or even completely new ways to play. This effectively increases the lifespan of a good FPS title by a great deal, since there are always new experiences just around the corner. In this way, the very best first person shooters can survive for years -- Doom was released in 1993, and its mod community is still alive, kicking, and churning out cool stuff. The same is true for Quake, Quake 2, Half-Life, Unreal, and so on. These days, if a FPS is released without modification options, it had better be darn special -- players have come to expect the constant stream of upgrades afforded by user-created modifications.
The third area, online play, is somewhat simpler. PCs have had networking capabilities for years, so it's only natural that PC games would take advantage of this feature much sooner. Online Internet gaming allows you to frag your friends, neighbors, and even people across the world, all in real time. Odds are, once you've experienced the bliss of online play, the bland world of artificial, computer-controlled opponents just won't seem the same. Unfortunately, large-scale networked gaming is relatively unheard of in the realm of consoles. If they want multiplayer action, console gamers have to resort to rounding up a bunch of friends and play on tiny, segmented screens, an experience which cannot compare to the full-screen, high speed gameplay offered by PCs. There is no comparison.
However, Sega (and co-developers Raster Productions) beg to differ. Quake III Arena for the Dreamcast is easily the most ambitious first person shooter port to ever surface on a console. Almost everything that made the PC version what it was has been replicated here, from the maps to the models to the top-tier graphics: it's all here. Online play? Yep. Mouse support? Yep. Fun names? Yes, even fun names. Indeed, this is the most ambitious port we've ever seen. But does it live up to its potential, or get stuck in a quagmire of technical problems and nagging oversights? Let's take a look.
Quake III is primarily a competitive game: as such, its focus is rather narrow compared to most other first person shooters. There is no single player of the sort that you're accustomed to; rather, its solo modes mimic the core of the game, which is online player vs. player competition. This narrow focus allowed id Software to devote all its resources toward one goal: making the best damn deathmatch the world has ever seen. Thankfully, they've succeeded to a large degree.
Home sweet home.
The gameplay is your typical FPS blend of fast action and moderate tactics: fast, in your face, with as much or as little strategy as you want to utilize. The violence is very visceral and over the top, with opponents bursting apart in ridiculous showers of gore that would make even the most hardened serial killer green with envy. However, it also sports a number of subtle features that give an appreciation of just how much experience id has within this genre. For example, you'll hear a soft, horn-like sound whenever you hit an opponent with a weapon. This may not sound too important, but it's a wonderful bit of audio feedback that can sometimes mean the difference between deciding to retreat from a fight or rushing in with guns blazing. In fact, I like this feature so much that it's now a bit hard to go without it in other deathmatch games. Another deft touch is the power-up timer, which tells you exactly how long items like the Quad Damage and Invisibility will last. There are other niceties like arrows over the heads of teammates, performance rewards, and the ever-helpful announcer, but you get the idea. This attention to detail does not go unnoticed, and serves to enhance the experience that much more.
The game offers three main modes: single player, offline multiplayer, and online play. The single player game is largely unchanged from the unremarkable one in the PC version: you move up a number of "tiers" which consist of four maps each. Complete all four arenas (by getting the highest frag count on each) and you move up to the next, more difficult tier. Offline multi is just what it sounds like: think Goldeneye or Perfect Dark, and you've got it. Finally, online play is where the game's real longetivity is at.
Throughout the construction of SegaNet, I've been somewhat dubious that great online gameplay could be delivered through the Dreamcast's puny 56k modem. I mean, Chu Chu Rocket's online gameplay was alright, but the connection definitely felt way too laggy to support a high action game like Quake, especially for someone like me who is used to the DSL and T1 lines of the PC world. However, now that I've seen SegaNet in action through NFL2K1 and Quake III Arena, I have to admit that my doubts were groundless. In Q3A, the online play is excellent! It truly is.
Before I get your hopes too inflated, no, it's not the same as having a T3 to your dorm. It is, however, perfectly and completely playable, and noticeably better than most analog modem connections I've played on with PCs over the years. Lag is most certainly there, but with a decent connection (denoted by a "lag bar") it's relatively easy to adjust your aim and compensate accordingly. (And if that still doesn't cut it for you, the game also supports the forthcoming LAN Adapter, meaning you lucky DSL and Cable users will be experiencing low-ping bliss in the near future.) Sega should be applauded for the high level of gameplay quality they've achieved with SegaNet. It definitely lives up to the hype, and has really surpassed my expectations. What's more, in the near future a patch will be released for the PC version of Quake III which will enable network compatibility between the PC and DC versions. Do I even have to say how cool that is? Lastly, the server browser is surprisingly fast and robust, which means a lot coming from someone who works at GameSpy. You can sort by ping, map, game type, and so on. It's simple and easy to use, and worlds beyond the chintzy online interface seen in Chu Chu Rocket. It's sorely lacking a way to find your friends, but that's about the only major quirk.
The server browser is surprisingly capable.
The highly-regarded graphics of the PC version have translated remarkably well to Sega's little white box. I was particularly impressed by the excellent texture detail, which looks nearly as good on my TV as the PC version looks on a monitor. In fact, the skies look better than I've ever seen them look on my decently-specced PC, which says a lot for the quality of this port. Character models are similarly slick, looking just as good as they did in the PC game. Overall, we couldn't have asked for better graphics; in terms of visual quality, this is about as close to the PC as it gets, folks. Despite the good looks, there is one major flaw that brings this area down, but we'll save that for later.
The maps are largely recognizable from the PC version. I've never been a big fan of them, but they're more than capable of meeting your fragging needs. Luckily, there are a bunch of new arenas as well, and I actually found these to be better overall than the tired, original set. It was nice to frag in some new official maps, and I'm particularly looking forward to the patch that will add these to the PC version. In short, new official maps = good.
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