Quake Arena Arcade Review
Developer: Pi Studios, id Software / Publisher: Bethesda Studios / ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $15
If you can somehow appraise Quake Live Arena without comparing it to the free Quake Live, it looks damn good. The number of maps and modes is ample, and Quake is still the tightest and fastest shooter around. However, once you realize that you can get all that and more on the PC for free with Quake Live (even the free variant of Quake Live offers more than Quake Arena Arcade), suddenly Quake Arena Arcade is the downgraded Quake you pay for to use a controller. At that point, the most valued part of the game is the sweet Quake gamerpic you unlock for buying it. At $15, that’s one expensive icon.
Quake’s most entertaining modes are the golden oldies: deathmatch and team deathmatch. Here the goal is simple – kill dudes and do so quickly. These modes best highlight the strengths of Quake – frantic pace, surgically sculpted balance, and kinetic game mechanics. The simple but elegant structure of Quake has aged well. Deathmatch is all about motion, reaction, and position. Every gun has an optimal range, and skilled players will pick out routes through maps to snag the best power-ups while cutting off opponents. It could be my rose-tinted junior high school days speaking, but no game rivals the groove you feel while one player after another splatters into a red mist during a deathmatch.
Other modes like Capture the Flag and one-flag CTF add token depth to the game, but these haven’t aged as well. Games like TeamFortress 2 and Call of Duty have found more functional ways to structure team-based conflict, and while the classic format inclusion is nice for a diversion, I find it adds unnecessary complexity to a game that shines best when not obscured by complications like “rules.”
The game comes with an absurd number of maps, which goes a long way towards justifying its cost. Over forty maps offer a diverse series of environments ranging from platforms and jump pads hovering in space, to vertical corridors connected by narrow bridges and elevators. Playing on different maps requires a different set of strategies and skills, so there’s a lot of mileage in the game’s map list. You can choose to traverse that map list in the game’s campaign (which is really just a series of bot matches) or online. Sadly, Quake Arena Arcade’s online options don’t hold a shotgun to Quake Live’s (notice the trend). Match options are scarce, allowing you to pick map, mode, and other basic options, like frag and time limits. Stat tracking is a no-show, leaving a lot to be desired when compared against the high standards set by Quake Live.
For a game that’s come to symbolize the divergence between PC and console shooters, Quake Arena Arcade retains a surprising amount of the original game’s speed and accuracy – even on a controller. Turn speeds are the highest I’ve seen in any console shooter, yet the game is very easy to track and control. The controls also offer a 180 degree turn, allowing you to snap around instantly if someone gets the drop on you.
Quake’s arsenal hasn’t been trimmed, which thankfully doesn’t neuter the game but leads to some control issues. Given that you can easily carry six to eight guns at any time, switching between two specific ones can take time since you have to tap buttons to cycle up and down your inventory. The game does have some quick-swap options that provide specific binds for the railgun (sniper rifle) or gauntlet (melee), but the rest of the guns are divided into “classes” that can be bound to another direction. The problem is that these classes are not immediately predicable or customizable. At times I would have the rocket launcher in my inventory and tapping “up” on the d-pad would select it. Other times the rocket launcher would be in my inventory and “up” didn’t select it. I could never find where this behavior was spelled out or customized. Even though I could change the button binding for the weapon classes, I couldn’t figure out how they worked. Aside from that, every button can be rebound in Quake, which put me right at home after some tweaking.
Quake is like a Ford Taurus that is missing a body panel, has upholstery falling off the roof, and four mismatched hubcaps, but it still runs better than most new cars. Visually there’s no getting around it: this a game that came out just over a decade ago. Map geometry is very basic, covered in repeating textures and the barest of visual flare. A small touch of bloom helps modernize the visuals, but otherwise this is the stuff that blew minds 11 years ago.
That said, the game is still more responsive than modern shooters. Every button press results in audio and visual feedback so solid that you won’t realize you’ve missed it in other, looser games. From running to jumping to shooting, Quake just feels right – and all the bump mapping and post processing in the world can’t fake that.
Quake’s sound effects are more functional than stylistic. Guns sound audibly distinct so you can identify what your opponent is using rather than just marvel at the effects. The level-wide whoosh sound that signals the spawn of a quad damage or a mega health is similarly effective, and sparks the frantic dash to the item spawn. The hit-confirm sound is a simple but effective chirp, decreasing in tone as your opponent nears death. Even still, there is no sound in any game to this day that rivals the gib sound (when a dude explodes into meaty chunks) from Quake. It is the one sound that will always bring a smile to your face.
The music is a time capsule from 1999, which will get you amped up if you’re into Nine Inch Nails. Personally, I love industrial, so the dirty synth and thrumming drums mesh with Quake like grits and syrup. Looking back it’s slightly cheesier than I thought, but it’s still good fun even if it’s no longer “FUCK YOU, DAD” music.
Quake Arena Arcade is a fun game. There’s little to criticize here, save a price on the higher end of the XBLA spectrum, but you really can’t compete with free. It’s impossible to recommend Quake Arena Arcade when a superior version exists on the PC, will run on basically any computer, and is free. Yes, you can potentially pay for Quake Live, but even the free version is more complete than Quake Arena Arcade (which really says more good about Quake Live than bad about Arcade). All due props to the people that made Quake Arena Arcade work so effectively on a console, with a controller, but for the pure deathmatch experience just go play Quake Live instead.
7 / 10