Developer: Splash Damage/id Software
Release Date: Summer 2007 (PC)
The title of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars tells you a lot about the style and mentality of its gameplay experience – provided you have some background on both Quake and Enemy Territory. Though branded with the name of its long-running first-person shooter franchise, id Software's upcoming release is first and foremost an Enemy Territory game, albeit one set within the world of Quake. I was a huge fan of Quake II back in the day but have been largely focused on console gaming for several years now. And like most gamers who rarely see mission packs and downloadable freeware, I had no clue about Enemy Territory.
But in my quest for knowledge, I have been given the information that I sorely lacked – so here it is. The concept originated with Wolf MP, the multiplayer component of 2001's Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Splash Damage then began work on Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, which saw the light of day in 2003. Originally intended as a retail expansion to Wolfenstein, the single-player component was ditched and Enemy Territory became a singular release that could be freely downloaded and played without ownership of the original. As an objective-based online experience with several available player classes, Enemy Territory expanded upon the original Wolf MP concept while developing a name for itself.
After the completion of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Splash Damage started formulating the ideas for their next project, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Set to release sometime this summer, Quake Wars takes a "two great tastes that taste great together" approach to game design. As a successor to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the gameplay pits two sides against each other in an objective-based showdown for up to 24 players. But as an entry in the Quake franchise, Quake Wars brings the flavor of Quake II (and Quake 4) to the world of Enemy Territory, including familiar weapons, architecture, and technology.
Though not a narrative-heavy experience, Quake Wars packs a rich backstory that sets it up as a prequel to Quake II. The warring Strogg have nearly annihilated their own race and can no longer produce, forcing them to weld mechanical pieces into their own bodies to survive. To maintain this bizarre cycle, the Strogg search the galaxy for planets full of potential hosts to claim in a vampiric manner. As the Strogg target Earth in the year 2065, they assume that it will be business as usual, but the humans are more resilient than expected.
"The Strogg have done a good job of kicking everybody else's ass across the universe, and they pretty much think that Earth is going to be an easy take – but it's not," said Kevin Cloud, executive producer of Quake Wars and co-owner of id Software. "Because we're pretty good at fighting," he adds, cracking a smile.
As such, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars details the epic struggle between the Strogg and the humans, who mobilize as the Global Defense Force (GDF). Last week, Activision summoned two dozen journalists to Santa Monica to be at the frontline of the battle and spend a few hours with the latest build of Quake Wars on PC. Running on beastly Dell XPS desktops with widescreen LCD displays, we were treated to the absolute best possible Quake Wars experience, with 24 players packing the LAN server at all times. But most gamers will not be rocking the latest and greatest hardware money can buy, so what about everyone else?
"Our expectation is that we will be at the Quake 4 recommended specs and minimum specs," said Cloud. Though the standard Doom 3 engine may be showing its age, the addition of MegaTexture technology has extended its life into Quake Wars and perhaps beyond. By using a single, massive texture map to skin the environment, MegaTexture allows for greater visual detail and variety among the landscapes and structures. Some had wondered if such a gigantic texture would tax the system memory, but Cloud claims it is just the opposite.
"If we actually had all of it tiled and had to bring all of those textures into the game at one time, it would actually be more of an impact on the graphics card than the way we do it right now," he said, "which is streaming it based on where the player is and what he needs to see."
Even in this pre-beta state, the title has immediate visual appeal, with sweeping landscapes, excellent character and weapon design, and a smooth frame rate – regardless of how many players populate the server. Because the game is just entering the polishing stage, there are still several visual glitches that need to be corrected before it is optimized and shipped. But with a couple months left in development, Cloud believes the game is still ahead of the pack: "Honestly, I think if it shipped today, they would still be the best-looking multiplayer maps that I have seen. Splash Damage has just done an amazing job."
We spent about four hours playing Quake Wars and were exposed to three of the 12 maps set to ship with the game. The first map, Valley, was originally shown at E3 last year and was said to provide the best initial experience for newcomers. As a mostly outdoor level with large structures and smaller buildings throughout, Valley may remind some of a Halo map more than that of a previous Quake game. With the Strogg planning on poisoning the water supply (to render humans helpless against Stroggification), the GDF must go on the offensive to take down the Strogg facility and stop the contamination attempt before it can be executed.
Sewer, the second map of the day, also cast the GDF as the aggressor in a level set in Japan. The Strogg are planning an attack from the sewers, and the GDF forces must move north, while an Engineer constructs an EMP disruptor to deactivate the glowing shield that is blocking access to the sewer system. After the shields are down, the GDF can infiltrate the sewers and attempt to hack the sewer controls to flood out the Strogg defenders. If, in any role, you are unsure as to what your mission is, simply press the M key for a list of current missions. Once you reach the point of your objective, you can press the F key for easy access to whichever tool is necessary at that moment in time.
The Strogg will not always be on the defense, though. In Area 22, the third and final map shown last week, the aggressive aliens get the opportunity to display their offensive prowess in the deserts of Nevada. The GDF have captured slipgate technology from the Strogg, and after several failed attacks from orbit, the Strogg are sending in ground forces to infiltrate the large underground bunker and reclaim their lost goods.
As with the other two maps, Area 22 is a massive stage with several environment types (including indoor and outdoor segments). Because of the large size of the maps, the aggressors must claim respawn points to be able to stay close to their current objective. Otherwise, if you fail to take over respawn points (or if they are reclaimed by the defense), you will have to trek back from the starting point every time, losing precious seconds along the way.
Feel like being a champion of your race? Represent the GDF in Quake Wars and choose from five character classes: Soldier, Medic, Engineer, Field Ops, and Covert Ops. Each class has its own specific tasks, abilities, and weapon set. Soldiers have the best selection of firearms (including the rocket launcher and GPMG machine gun), but are simply there to dole out violence with extreme prejudice. Those looking for a meatier role can opt for one of the four other classes. Engineers must build structures and deploy automatic turrets, while Covert Ops players are tasked with acquiring data (sometimes through hacking) and sniping. Be warned, though – the specialized roles have fewer weapon options, so those who are trigger-happy should consider all variables before deploying.
Hey, Stroggification can't be all bad, right? Help out the ruthless invaders by taking on the role of a Strogg operative. As with the GDF, the Strogg has five classes (Aggressor, Technician, Constructor, Oppressor, Infiltrator), each of which essentially matches up with its human counterpart. Much like the GDF Soldier, the Aggressor has the most weapons to choose from, including the beloved Hyperblaster and NailGun from previous Quake games. Technicians (Medics) create Stroyent (food) from the scattered human corpses, which can then be used to heal Strogg players in the field.
Using the aiming feature as a Strogg player triggers an odd visual effect. As a partially-mechanic being, your zoomed perspective reveals a fair amount of pixelation in the environment, which (amusingly) makes the game look like Duke Nukem 3D. The fan-favorite Railgun returns as a weapon for the Infiltrator class, and no amount of artificial pixelation is likely to keep players away from the extremely powerful slug shooter.
Since the release of the original Halo, I've been a big fan of vehicles in games that are outside of the typical racing/flight genres. Quake Wars absolutely soars in this category, with several unique vehicle types for Strogg and GDF alike. The Strogg have access to the Icarus hover pack, as well as the massive Goliath mech walker, which towers high above the on-foot fighters. The Hog, an armored truck of sorts, has a charge attack that is activated by holding down the Shift key.
Though more traditional in nature, the vehicles available to the GDF are just as much fun to use, if not more so. The Husky Quad bike acts like a dry-land snowmobile of sorts, allowing human players to blaze across the terrain with little restraint. Though slightly tricky to control, I still had a blast zooming in and out of the battles while the others stuck to the objectives. Humans are not merely bound to the dirt, though; jump into the Anansi Gyrocopter for a stunning overhead view – not to mention a great way to take down Strogg Desecrator hovercrafts. Don't expect to see the Strogg racing Husky bikes, though, since players may only control vehicles from their particular race.
With one team on offense and the other defending a handful of structures, victory in a battle depends on whether or not the aggressor can complete all objectives. If 20 minutes pass without all objectives being fulfilled, the defending team will win the battle. Unlike respawn points, which can be reclaimed, completed objectives cannot be overturned by the defensive team. This was done to give the game some finality, as the constant back-and-forth would likely spread teams all over the map and overcomplicate the gameplay.
Quake Wars will feature three online multiplayer modes, including Objective, Stop Watch, and Campaign. Objective is the standard single-match game type described previously, while Stop Watch puts a challenging twist on things. The initial match proceeds as usual, with the aggressor attempting to complete all objectives on the map, but the twist comes with the second round. In Stop Watch mode, the teams switch sides for the second match, forcing the second team to complete all objectives in the same amount of time that it took the first team. If the GDF dominates the Valley in nine minutes flat, the other team will then have nine minutes to do the same (while the original team defends, now as the Strogg).
Campaign is not an ongoing game mode, but rather one that strings together three maps in a single session and allows players to unlock special abilities for use in that session. Though unlockables are not cumulative between sessions, you will receive recognition for cumulative stats and for quality play. Limiting unlockable content to a single session means that new users will be able to jump in at any time without being punished or feeling overwhelmed by the competition.
While there is no dedicated "story mode" in Quake Wars, there will be single-player gameplay for those unable (or merely uninterested) in playing with the masses. Splash Damage has been hard at work polishing the bots so that they are largely indistinguishable from human players. "Bots will taunt you, bots will (in warm-up) go after you and kill you," Cloud said. "The goal of the bots is for players not to be able to tell the difference between a bot and a player. So, if I am playing 'single-player' – starting up a game and playing only against bots – we want that experience to be the same as if [I am] playing online."
Though only the PC version of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was on display, I had a chance to ask Cloud about the recently announced Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. "For the most part, the announcements covered quite a bit," he said, laughing. "The console versions have been in development for a while now, and they're tracking pretty close to the PC, although they have completely separate release times." While Cloud could not pin down a specific release date for the console versions, it seems reasonable to expect them later this year.
As previously reported, the console versions of Quake Wars will indeed support just 16 players, as opposed to 24 on the PC. When asked why downsizing was necessary, Cloud explained that hardware and bandwidth differences prevent the consoles from presenting the exact same experience at this time. Because console gamers rely on locally hosted matches (as opposed to dedicated servers on the PC end), the bandwidth performance requirements for a 24-player match would likely be beyond what a modern console can handle.
"Enemy Territory really pushes the level in terms of graphics, in terms of gameplay depth and interactions – a lot of stuff the player can do," said Cloud. "It's not a dumbed-down or simplified game at all, and so it puts a lot of expectations on the network. The 16-player count gives people that great, smooth gameplay performance, and I don't think it has any kind of negative impact on it, in terms of people's play experience."
Though the PC version has been in closed beta for some time, Splash Damage and id Software are currently polishing the code in preparation for a larger beta, which Cloud anticipates will support 50,000 or more players. No specific release date has been nailed down for the PC version, as additional time may be needed to hammer things out before the game can go gold. Cloud confirmed that a PC demo would be available prior to release, but he was unable to say at this point if similar demos could be expected for the consoles in the future.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars seems destined for success on the PC. Even in this pre-beta state, the gameplay is fast-paced and truly thrilling, and the mix of strategic gameplay and Quake atmosphere should command a large audience. At this point, the big question has to do with the impending console releases. With Halo 3 leading the pack of console shooters this fall, will Quake Wars have enough to offer to those looking for an expansive single-player campaign with their online play?
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