As one of the few people I know not thoroughly disappointed by Quake 4, and with a deep abiding love for the Battlefield series, one would think that I would have been keen on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars from the get-go. Oddly enough, that wasnít the case. I didnít play Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory much, though I did enjoy what little time I spent with it Ė it just couldnít best Day of Defeat for my WWII online fun time. After having spent some time with Quake Wars, though, I now know what the hubbub about Splash Damage is all about.
One of the first things that struck me about Quake Wars was how it was at the same time incredibly slick and yet very opaque. As the human Global Defense Force (GDF), it isnít hard to hit the ground running. After all, a tank is a tank and a machine gun is a machine gun, but attempting to run with the Strogg from the outset results in a heap of confusion. Whatís a lacerator? An obliterator? Wait, there are air units and mechs? How does this jetpack work? The Strogg have jetpacks? The manual is almost no help whatsoever and familiarity with the Quake universe wonít do any good, so by and large the howís, whatís, and whyís are left up to the player to figure out. This can be fairly intimidating. Despite the GDF fielding familiar equipment, the roles of each class arenít so clear. The classes of each race mirror each other, with the soldier, medic, engineer, field op, and covert ops of the GDF being known as the aggressor, technician, constructor, oppressor, and infiltrator for the Strogg. Each is similar, but there are slight differences that make each varied enough to be surprisingly different experiences, but just learning how to use them properly takes quite a bit of time.
The only way to really learn how to play is simply by picking a class, its role, then going for it. Assuming whatís what helps a good bit, but sometimes a solid guess isnít the right call. For instance, a class known as a field op would seem to be the person that deploys machines in the field, but they only deploy some, while a covert op unit would seem to be pure stealth yet it happens to have the ability to deploy a radar on the battlefield. Considering that deployed units are delivered through airdrops, it isnít too much of a stretch to think that that sort of delivery is something a covert trooper would try to avoid. Every role is different though, with it being the specific function of the classí traits. The soldier (aggressor) shares many of its weapons with the other classes, but it benefits from having a greater amount of health, ammo, plus the ability to blow destructible structures and access to anti vehicle weaponry. The differences between the races can be subtle as well, with the GDFís covert ops having a deployable third eye camera that mounts onto a structure and offers a controlled view of an area and a self-destruct ability while the Stroggís infiltrator has a controllable flyer drone that floats around to spy around corners and inside structures. Some text descriptions do pop up during play to explain the basics, but for a game as involved as this a bit more really is needed. Itís best to start as the GDF and move on from there, stumbling along the way Ö preferably playing solo.
After a few hours with bots that are challenging as competitors and mediocre as teammates, itís time to go online and go toe to toe with others. One thing I had to do shortly after playing online was filter out the servers that use bots, otherwise I would inevitably end up on a server where there were only one or two other people playing, if that. Itís best to start off with a handful of players before jumping into the big battles, though I find myself sticking to the smaller engagements because of a stronger sense of teamwork. Unlike the latest Battlefield titles, there is no player to coordinate efforts in Quake Wars. Further fracturing team cohesion is the lack of a robust squad feature as well, with the game relying on the players themselves to meld together by displaying which other players are attempting to accomplish the same objectives as the player. Each map has a variety of missions that each class can participate in, with success resulting in experience that goes toward unlocking rewards Ė faster sprinter, quicker lock-on, etc. Ė for that session. As a soldier, the player will be tasked to blow up a shield generator, when that mission is chosen the amount of experience, the icon indicating the action, and the other players out to accomplish the same task are displayed. By matching up the listed icon with the icon on the main viewer, players can easily find their mission objectives and battle their way to advancement. By not having a more solid means of forming up, though, this often leaves teams splintered with every man for himself, largely ignoring the overall mission goals. Smaller battles counter this to an extent with a natural sense of order taking control as each player stakes claim to what needs to be done. The larger battles can still be good, with the proper teammates, of course.
The main campaign isnít so much a campaign as it is a reason to link the barebones story Ė the Strogg are invading Ė to having maps set on the various continents. The levels are uniformly good, though none stand out as particularly great. Each mission will have an advantage for each side, taking and defending points. The objectives given are a mix of battle requirements Ė taking down powerful units Ė and map-specific requirements Ė blowing a grate Ė and itís nice having some set per level requirements for a little consistency. The environments range from desert outposts to bombed-out cities, but all are fairly small in size, keeping the action going nonstop. A really nice set throughout.
Quake Wars doesnít initially click. At least it didnít for me. There was a fare bit of dissonance between what I know about Quake and what I was seeing on my monitor. The weaponry is more like Quake 3 than the rest, especially when considering how much 4ís weapons had a hammer-like effect on enemies. The jackhammer-style machine gun and rapid-fire nail gun has given way to a more subdued and sleek assault rifle and one-shot scatter nail rifle. The game retains the glossy grit found in Doom 3 and Quake 4, only with a bit less detail and a hint more shine. That isnít to say that the graphics are bad, because they certainly arenít, though my performance hit a brick wall for no apparent reason when going above modest settings, but they certainly donít have that Lovecraft or alien sci fi look to them Ė itís the sci fi chic look of Quake 3. Although persistent warfare and lack of narration doesnít call for too elaborate a backstory or set pieces, I do wish the Strogg invasion wasnít so sanitized. The voice-over work is light but good, and there is just something endearing about a Strogg yammering on about the Makron that puts off a great B-movie vibe.
When the game does click, it really clicks. Playing a good round of Quake Wars is exhilarating. Each race has something for everyone because of the robust class system. Sneaking around in disguise and stabbing people in the back or painting targets for artillery fire, there is a whole array of things to do on the battlefield. The amount of carnage the field op and oppressor units can call down is impressive, with carpet bombings and massive bombardments wiping out advancing units and anti armor defense turrets cutting through tanks and mechs. The support of heavy machine gun fire, the life-saving defibrillators of the medic or the flying drone of the infiltrator, there are so many neat things to see and do that it will take a while to get to it all. This certainly isnít the first game to have classes, or even the weapons the classes use, but the way the roles intertwine with each other makes for some fantastic interplay. The lack of a more visceral approach to combat isnít as off-putting as it might seem either, with the realization that the weaker GDF weapons means that there are going to be some serious slugging it out with the less refined Strogg Ė itís the design rather than the approach. The impact of the weapons is better here than in other multiplayer titles though, with good hit detection and nice feedback from the weapons. Itís not quite a one hundred percent first-person shooter tossed into a design that focuses on teamwork and perpetual war, but itís close.
Many of the elements here will be familiar to Wolfenstein players. A main carryover, and something Splash Damage has been a big proponent of, is waves. That is, players spawn in waves rather than one at a time. This approach encourages teamwork and also works towards keeping a proper gameplay balance. After dying, the player can either wait to be revived by a medic, head back to the limbo screen to change class, or tap out and wait to parachute down with the next wave. Despite having to wait, waiting is never a problem because itís rarely for more than ten seconds at a time. Considering there is no voice chat and the rudimentary squad model, anything that can enforce teamwork is welcome; and it doesnít hurt that this approach actually works really well.
For those who want to rack up some serious accolades, there is also a persistent element to Quake Wars. Unlike the rewards unlocked during combat, these are permanent and do not enhance performance in any way. The medals earned are more for bragging rights, because it takes a good deal of time and skill to get the kind of kill and assists scores some of them require. I consider this more a novelty than anything else, but I can also see some serious players finding it rewarding to be noted for their performance and dedication. Other stats are tracked as well, including suicides, experience per class, deaths per weapon, and so on. A friend and clan tag will also keep track of players so that games can be easily set up within the in-game browser. The only real omission from browser is the ability to host a server without exiting the game and loading an independent program.
Since this is the Limited Collectorís Edition, I feel I should make note of what is and isnít included. Aside from a small manual, a mini keyboard layout, and some ads, there are also some collectible cards that show off artwork and give stats about the unit pictured. There is also a bonus disc that has trailers, a few interviews, promo box art, IM icons, wallpapers, a fan site kit, and ring tones. What isnít included? Value. What is cool is the slipcase box. This is definitely a Halo situation, where the box alone will cause many to fork over the extra cash. The images and videos arenít anything new, and considering one of the videos is from E3 and the fan site kit is given out to promote the game, I wouldnít doubt that the goods would be too hard to find online. Then again, the original cover is hideous.
Overall: 8/10Enemy Territory: Quake Wars isnít quite Quake shoehorned inside the Battlefield mold, but it is a sound attempt to fit the Quake universe into a team-based game. The questionable approach to squad communication does leave it feeling a bit behind the times, but the inclusion of updated mission objectives; weapon balance, accuracy, and response; and a huge amount of balanced play options makes this one of the better team-based titles to date.