Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: May 27, 2008
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is a unique pleasure on PlayStation 3. It's the kind of fully realized multiplayer game featuring diverse and useful classes … that, well, transcend their class; the game is designed against attracting an excess of twitchy soldiers and snipers because all your medics can do is drop health packs, and all your engineers can do is build and fix things. Solid surround audio effects and appealing graphics are at a level that suits a game intended almost solely for online multiplay. All of these things combined should make it a title with a long life cycle, one that you'll play often for six months, regularly for another six months or so, and then pull of the shelf even later, when you're looking for a steady, capable online team game. And yet, these same things combine to require a learning curve and understanding of game objectives that will likely cause Quake Wars to languish in the console market, likely to a disappoint impatient console shooter fans.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is a PC game. In fact, it actually is a PC game, seeing its original release some months back on personal computer platforms, now ported to current-generation consoles able to handle its processing needs, and serendipitously the same platforms best-suited to its style of gameplay. Perhaps therein lies the primary issue: The title was designed with PC gamers in mind, and PC gamers, while they can and will go for the down-and-dirtiest, rock-'em, sock-'em shooter action out there, also possess a greater tolerance for strong tactics and strategy in their gunplay. So, they can bear that learning curve.
Think about it: The PC, graphics powerhouse it may be, is not easiest going of gaming environments. Controls are adapted from a keyboard and mouse, interface devices designed to handle everything from a memo on last quarter's sales figures to track-by-track production of a film score. There are drivers for this drivers for that — sometimes incompatible drivers for this and that. And PC games — unless you jump backward through flaming hoops with video card and cabling — are played on a smaller display, often with a poorer audio system, sitting at a desk, in a desk chair, ensconced in an environment that comes as close as possible in entertainment to actual work. If you're playing PC games, you're tolerating adapted, imperfect recreation ergonomics in the first place; you're putting up with things you'd shouldn't just to play these games.
By contrast, the world of console shooters — just over the last couple of years having gained acceptability amongst many bona fide shooter fans as even passable — be they free-for-all or large-scale team multiplayer, are required to have at least some place for the soloist, run-'n'-gun type of player who will drop in for a few minutes and quit when he's losing — or even quit when he's winning! (Games like Call of Duty 4, as robust as the online multiplayer component is on both console and PC, don't really count because they're designed from square one with the intention of a day-and-date release on PC and consoles.) These are the shooter as coffee break.
I give you as a hallmark of the genre, Gears of War, which has three modes (now updated to four), eight players max, no character classes, a handful of maps, no goals other than killing by different means, no secondary objectives, no progressive objectives, and no ranked leaderboards based on anything other than score — really just a euphemism for mortally wounding or actually killing opponents. Face it; have you ever seen Gears of War and Duck Hunt in the same place at the same time? In Gears, you get a graphically beautiful title with stunning audio (throw in all kinds of multipliers for creative weapons, wild gore and insane action) — basically an updated version of Duck Hunt. That's no slight. Gears remains one of my favorite games, and I suspect it will rank high on my list for another couple years, if not forever. It's an ingenious work: pretty, entertaining, loud, thrilling multiplayer action. Just last week, more than 18 months after launch, Gears just began to consistently slip below full price. It's impossible to know exactly how many Xbox 360s and Xbox Live subscriptions that it sold for the sole purpose of playing that title online, yet I can say with some confidence that it's a big number. It's the penultimate console shooter. Though it sold well enough in its later, expanded release for PC, it was nothing near the phenomenon that it became on a console.
Take Quake Wars, which is well-designed and entertaining for its sub-genre, and you have an excellent title that few may gravitate toward, while critics can't get much of a handle on how to review it. Because it's a seventh-generation console title, we can get hung up on the graphics or consumed with things like the canned phrases used for team communications — a familiar PC-esque type of thing (Quake Wars supports PS3 voice chat, but the menu of requests and commands familiar to PC gamers is ultimately the core of the game's player interactions). The bottom line is that Quake Wars is derived from and remains true to a PC-style online multiplayer shooter with all that it entails: Graphics isn't the highlight feature; you have to learn how to play; you may have to practice the online game offline, with bots, to get any good at it … I can go on, but most of you know about large-scale online multiplayer PC shooters, even if you don't much favor them.
There's a conundrum in how to rank such a game in a review. A game with the primary design elements of one platform poorly ported, hobbled and a grind to play, to another platform, that deserves little respect. But a good port of a good game is nothing at which to turn up your nose. By that reasonable standard, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is a good game and welcome addition the PlayStation 3 library of online multiplayer titles, despite the fact the grist in this mill may not be the typical passion of console gamers.
Quake War's basic premise is a massive, multi-battle war between human and marauding alien Strogg. It's class-based combat with soldiers, medics, engineers, field ops and covert ops — Strogg classes are the exact opposite numbers of human classes. All of the classes should be self-explanatory enough, save perhaps field ops and covert ops. The former handles artillery and missile batteries, targets enemy positions, and calls down air and orbiting weapons systems strikes; the latter is, essentially, a marksman with extras — hacking, identity theft (the good ol' double agent), radar deployment abilities, and the skill to use distance/remote viewing equipment.
As I mentioned, the classes are all robust and multifaceted. For example, engineers with no immediate construction objectives can, of course, perform vehicle and equipment repairs, but also provide suitable soldiering support, do demolitions work, lay mines and install some fixed weapons systems. Class-based multiplayer games are deep and rich, but some roles require a lot of thumb-twiddling although their presence is still required to complete your objectives — an experience dryly called "hurry up and wait" in the a real military outfit — thus pushing players to other, more constant-action classes. "Hurry up and wait" is indeed a real-life soldiering grind, but in video games, the real part we want is 100 percent the adrenaline-pumped action and none of the sitting around on our helmets while smoking cigarettes, waiting for orders that are then belayed, then issued all over again but are entirely contrary to the original orders. Quake Wars does a great job of stressing the importance of player classes without stretching that realism to the point of ennui.
Included in the game are 12 maps, with between two and four objectives per map (most have three or four); making obvious sense, the objectives are based around one race, human or Strogg, trying to do one thing while the other race tries to stop them. Match wins are based on accomplishing objectives within a variable time limit — there is a suit of host-determined options for play, or, if preferred, a player voting system for determining some match rules is included.
All of this depth comes at a price. For starters, Strogg themselves and their weapons are powered by an onboard energy source called Stroyent; Strogg players can transfer Stroyent between weapons systems and what amounts to their health. It's surely a valuable skill to learn for a Strogg grunt. Sussing out the map and its symbols is alone a half-hour endeavor. Then there's the business of discovering what each class can do, how to do it, how best to use those skills to further team goals, and then, finally, which class you not only prefer but are actually any good at playing.
As mentioned, graphics in Quake Wars are created for a console game supporting a total of 16 players per match, with multiple vehicle types per side (most vehicles with at least two player-controlled positions), five unique player classes per team, fairly large maps and a lot going on all at once. For this context, the title's graphics and smooth online play are spot-on. Will your eyes pop out of your head? No? But I've never had my eyes pop out of my head looking at graphics, at least not more than once per new game. After that one "Wowser!", so long as the visuals are commensurate with platform technology, it's definitely the game that keep me around, not the graphics.
Scoring Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is a balancing act. It's tempting to knock it down into niche fodder, but overall, the title is too well designed, and with too much potential to appeal to a broad range of shooter fans who bother to really dig into it, for such cavalier dismissal. PC gamers who have, for the sake of convenience or economy (or both!), migrated to a console but miss the depth accessible in some online multiplayer PC shooters, will certainly appreciate this title. Frankly, you can make your whole long, hot summer of gaming out of Quake Wars if you wish, as long as you cultivate a pack of like-minded PlayStation Network friends or can train the ones you already have to appreciate games of this type. The title itself is very good, but the success and enjoyability of it will ultimately depend on PS3 shooter fans' willingness to take a handful of hours (about a couple days of play) to learn the attractive hooks and unique idiosyncrasies of games like this. Perhaps Quake Wars' strongest merit is that it refuses to "dumb down" its sub-genre for the sake of sometimes fickle gamers on consoles that are now technologically capable of handling the whole experience.
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