Review by ben_2100

"Flawed but Worthwhile"

Quake 2 - PC.

Intro

The original Quake was an extremely popular game, and received terrific reviews upon it's release in 1995. However, it was not without it's critics. Many thought the design of the game was somewhat unpolished, with it containing environments, monsters and weapons that failed to focus around a central, convincing story-line. Other criticisms were that it had a dull, colour-less graphical style, and that compared to ID's previous title, Doom 2, the game featured far less action.

One of the reasons for the disappointing aspects of Quake was that there had been a falling out with lead designer John Romero during the project. However, since Romero left ID before work began on the sequel, many were hopeful that Quake 2 would not suffer from the same problems that had blighted the original. Others wondered if ID would be the same without the man who had been their lead designer on the games that had earned them their impressive reputation.

Story

Quake 2 begins with a stylish, entertaining introduction animation, that sets the scene for the game. Basically, it tells the player that in the future, Earth is invaded by a bunch of aliens called Stroggs, and that the central character is one of a group of marines who Earth sends off to the Stroggs' homeworld to fight back. While the story is not particularly original, it is well-realised in the introduction, and by the time the game begins, the player actually cares about the plot. This marks a change from the previous ID software games, in which the only introduction was, at best, a short chunk of text, and at worst, a long chunk of text.

The gameplay itself revolves around completing numerous objectives which all relate to the story of the game, but, unfortunately, the in-game characters do nothing to express the story other than shoot at you (the only exceptions to this are the captured marines, who walk around muttering insane statements such as "The horror!"). Also, besides the introduction and ending scenes, there are no other animated cut-scenes in the game, unless you include the mission briefings, which are simplistic, and are basically all the same. So ultimately, despite some nice introduction and ending sequences, the plot is not particularly well expressed.

Graphics/ Sound

In the year before this game's release, a revolution had taken place in terms of the 3D processing power available to the average home-PC owner. With the advent of the new 3dfx and Power-VR graphics cards, gamers could suddenly afford to play games in higher resolutions, with higher frame-rates, and with new graphics effects such as coloured lighting. Quake 2 was one of the first games to be written to take advantage of most of the features of these graphics cards, and, subsequently, was expected to be revolutionarily impressive in the graphics department.

Technically, Quake 2 does not disappoint. The play environments are much bigger and slightly more detailed than those seen in Quake, demonstrating major improvements in the game engine. Coloured lighting is here in abundance, and it works beautifully (when conveying the amber hue of the light from a setting sun, for example). Similarly technically impressive are the parallax-scrolling 'sky' textures, which now show a highly detailed picture of an entire world outside the levels, instead of just clouds in front of an image of a sky (subsequently, some of the views in the game are truly breath-taking). The monsters, weapons, and items are also slightly more detailed than in the first game, with each one being made up of a greater number of polygons (although the textures covering them can still appear pixellated or blurry up close).

Stylistically, the game is a mixed bag. The architecture of the levels is extremely impressive, to the extent that it is enjoyable to explore them, marvelling at the intricately designed structures on display. Also, the criticism about Quake's dreary visual style has been addressed, so everything is now much more colourful. On the negative side, I thought the monsters were something of a disappointment. While many of them did have the potential to be very cool (especially the Tanks and Gunners), I actually preferred many of the original Quake monsters, who seemed to be better animated, and generally more convincing and charismatic. Their sound effects are also boringly muted, for the most part.

Another problem is the way the gore effects are handled. Admittedly, the blood effects in both Quake games are unconvincing, but something that the original did well (and that has now been changed for the worse), was the over-the-top style of the 'gibbing' effect that was used when enemies' bodies are blown apart. Previously, massive amounts of bloody flesh would be sent bouncing around all over the place, but in Quake 2 this effect has been boringly toned down. The lack of entertaining gore effects is a shame because, since many of the monsters are partly robotic, there was great potential for entertaining damage effects, such as monsters leaking oil, smoking, or exploding into a hail of blood, guts, and scrap metal.

On a similar theme to the gore effects, explosions are now polygonal, rather than sprite-based (as they were in Quake), and have relatively muted sound effects. Both factors make them less entertaining.

The weapons suffer from a similar problem; they are, to put it bluntly, boring. Apart from the railgun, which is impressive, they are all just re-hashes of old ID weapons, albeit more boringly animated and with less meaty sound effects. The blaster, in particular, is exceptionally dull (admittedly, it is supposed to be a weak weapon, but that doesn't mean it needs to be so boring).

The game's music is a mixture of heavy metal instrumentals (performed by famous artists such a Rob Zombie) and one tense, orchestral-type track. It fits the gameplay quite well, especially when you are going around, blasting at everything in sight. Personally, though, I would have preferred more film-style music.

Gameplay

In Quake 2, the gameplay is very similar to that seen in Quake. While there are some simple puzzles to solve, the vast majority of the game involves blowing away monsters (or, in deathmatch mode, other players) with the most powerful weapon you can find. Unfortunately, I actually found this element of the game to be less enjoyable than it had been in Quake. There are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious of which relates to the general style of the game's graphics and audio. As I mentioned previously, the weapons and monsters often look and sound uninspiring, which really affects how fun the game is in general.

The behaviour of the monsters is also flawed. One of them, the supposedly medium-strength 'Gunner', can kill you in a matter of two or three seconds if it sees you before you see it (even if you are wearing armour). This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the vast majority of the supposedly equally-tough or tougher monsters, such as the 'Iron Maiden', 'Mutant', or 'Brains' characters are so ineffectual that fighting them rapidly becomes boring.

Ultimately, these flaws don't destroy the single-player gameplay totally, because it is still entertaining enough, especially with the exploration element. There is also more combat involving large numbers of enemies (addressing the criticism that Quake had dull gameplay compared to Doom 2), which obviously livens things up. But the gameplay is, nonetheless, something of a disappointment, considering how much better it could have been with a few changes.

The gameplay of the multi-player 'deathmatch' mode is less affected by the above problems, for the obvious reason that there are no monsters in it. Also, of course, it is simply human nature to enjoy competing with other people, rather than inanimate computer opponents (all other things being equal). Ironically though, I still consider Quake to have a better deathmatch mode. However, this does feel sufficiently different, due to the new weapons and levels, as well as the better graphics, for it to be worth playing as well.

Replay Value

This game has a longer single player game than the original Quake did. This is partly due to the fact that the levels themselves are much bigger, and also because the gameplay often involves the player moving back and forth between levels to complete various objectives. However, the game itself is actually considerably easier, especially if you play it on the non-secret skill levels (there is an additional Nightmare difficulty level that can be played via a console command), so it will probably actually take less time to complete on the hardest skill level.

The intermission screens that used to be displayed after you completed a level, showing how long it took for you to do it, are now gone. This takes away some replay value, because it is no longer so simple to replay the levels, trying to beat your best times. Perhaps the level times were removed because, until you have completed a unit, individual levels may not be fully completed, but they could have at least included a timer for the units.

As in the original Quake, the multi-player modes greatly enhance the game's life-span. As well as deathmatch and co-operative (in which you and another player can play through the single player game together), there are now also Capture The Flag and team-play modes. These are enjoyable, worthwhile additions to the multi-player game.

Finally, the fact that the game is even easier to modify than the first Quake has led to there being a huge amount of user-created material available on the internet. Doing a search for the game's title will bring up pages that have levels, weapons, monsters, and even new gameplay modes available for free download. So, provided you have an internet connection, this game will keep you going for a very long time.

Conclusion

As you've probably realised by now, I preferred the original Quake to it's sequel. It should be noted, however, that I regard Quake to have some of the most visceral, satisfying gameplay ever seen in a video game. Subsequently, it's fair to say that just because a game is not as good, it doesn't mean that the game is bad. And Quake 2 certainly isn't a bad game. The game is definitely worth playing through, just so you can experience the at times awe-inspiring virtual world that it takes place in.

ID Software deserve a lot of praise for making this game as customisable as it is. Even now, nearly ten years after it's release, amateur game developers are still editing the game, enhancing it to take advantage of the latest graphics technology. In fact, such developers have enhanced the game to such a degree that many of the faults described in this review can actually be fixed by their modifications.

Overall score: 8 out of 10.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/08/05


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