Game Review: Quake II --Attention to detail gives sequel new thrills
By Mark Huang
Attention to detail really makes me happy. If I'm tooling a problem set, and I answer every part of a question from 1.a.i.(1) to 5.k.iii.(7), I feel rather proud of myself. If I'm looking through my bursar's bill, on the other hand, and I see lumped unmarked charges of -$3,141.59, I feel extremely unhappy.
While I wouldn't liken the original Quake to a bursar's bill, I would venture to say that the comparative attention paid to detail in Quake II is worthy of the finest praise, the same praise a 5/5 final problem set grade deserves. In Quake II, your guns have kickback and recoil. You can selectively target enemy body parts. Concussion blasts slap you like the IRS, and explosions blind you if you get too close. Some enemies thrash around in death throes before dying and being consumed by flies. Others just splatter on the walls and dirty up the place. I must admit, it was exciting to witness a chunk of bloody meat hit the wall - and then slide down!
Before playing it myself, I had read about Q2's level of detail in other magazines. I wasn't overly impressed; when you get down to it, detail like exploding toilets and dancing prostitutes is just so much more interesting than agonizing death scenes and realistic guns. Nevertheless, id's been in the shooter business for longer than anyone, and it's the culture they've created that's making the wait for the final Q2 unbearable. The new detail is a nice addition (and it makes me happy), but it's not going to be the sole contributor to Q2's inevitable success. What's going to make Q2 fun despite the fact that other games have it beat in the individual events - Flesh Feast for Pure Disgusting Antics, Shadow Warrior for Offensively Funny Detail, and Postal for Disturbing Random Violence - is that playing it is going to bond gamers, once again, to a huge community founded and encouraged by id.
The community gives even the most rejectable hacker a shot at becoming the master of an art. The art of Quake isn't just in the playing - otherwise, those twelve-year-old brats with reflexes like cats would be ruling the Clans - it's also in the hacking of the code to produce bigger and better things like QuakeWorld or Capture the Flag. The id community gives CS majors all over the world the chance to reclaim their superiority over the personal computer. To be a master of an art like Quake (and now Quake II), not only do you have to have a computer - which isn't so hard anymore - you have to know how to use it, too.
As for the game itself, it's a pretty straightforward sequel. The plot of Quake II is identical to its predecessor: whip out can, unload, whup-ass (something about aliens and Space Marines, too, but I forget). The playability, however, is different enough to warrant mentioning. A lot of new variables, such as non-idealities in your weapons (sub-light-speed bullets, kickback) and annoying realism (concussion, blood in the eyes), make playing sneakier and more conservatively a good idea.
I recommend buying a 3Dfx card for maximum single-player enjoyment, with one reservation: the graphics are breathtaking, but a bit distracting. At 320x200, you pay attention to your surroundings just enough to go in, kill, and come out. At accelerated 640x480, clouds move through the sky, bullet holes appear in your enemies' chests, lights and shadows flicker around you, and the gameplay is just a little too smooth. I can't explain it beyond a firm claim that it distracts you from your work.
I wouldn't call Quake II the final nail in the coffin of 3D shooters, but it will definitely be the last one I'll buy in the near future out of peer pressure. My reflexes, and paycheck, just aren't what they used to be.
Next week: Tomb Raider 2
Visit the MIT Gamers web site at http://the-tech.mit.edu/~markman/ for demos, links, and more.