In the burgeoning genre of team-based online shooters, the grandfather of first person action has finally weighed in. “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars” is a collaboration between id, the creators of seminal shooters “Doom” and “Quake,” and Splash Damage, the British mod makers-turned-pro known for their work with id’s technology. The result is a series of battles that are lighting fast, easy-to-play, and darkly gorgeous.
“Quake Wars,” which is available for the PC and in development for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, is built for a minimum of down time. The typical player will die a lot, but he’ll never be more than a handful of seconds from getting back into the fight, thanks to careful pacing and clever travel tricks. Furthermore, the action is always and only focused on a single objective, which shifts across the map when the attackers prevail. This careful conflict management ensures everyone will be at loggerheads, clustered around the same objective rather than running about willy-nilly like in too many other team-based vidgames.
Unfortunately, the objectives can get repetitive. Every map seems to involve rebuilding a bridge, hacking shield controls, and/or escorting a truck.
Players choose a specific class, such as medic, soldier or engineer, and then each class is given context-specific indicators about the various things it can do. A yellow diamond constantly highlights the main objective, and a mission system makes it easy to perform supporting roles. At its best, “Quake Wars” is a finely honed symphony of destructive teamwork with enough persistence to be addictive; at its worst, it’s a bunch of people having a grand ol’ time just shooting at each other.
Most important, there’s a spirit of openness so that everyone always fits into the action; in the spirit of letting everyone play, “Quake Wars” rarely makes anyone useless.
One of the main reasons to recommend “Quake Wars” is that it’s also a viable single-player game. For people who don’t want to go online, or for people who’d like to practice before fighting with more experienced human opponents, battles can be set up with computer-controlled “bots” at a variety of difficulty levels. And unlike the clueless bots in too many other vidgames who run directly into the line of fire, “Quake Wars’” artificial intelligence knows the game. It plays to win rather than just to shoot. This is a rare feature, and Splash Damage deserves major kudos for going to the trouble of including it.
The maps visit some lovely locations, ranging from the Antarctic to the Pacific Islands to Yosemite. Rich visuals present sweeping vistas, jagged ruined cities, and labyrinthine underground labs, usually on the same map. The combatants and their hardware are a great contrast of familiar space-marine hardware a la “Aliens” with icky cybernetic alien technology. And it all comes alive wonderfully once the bullets, grenades, plasma bolts, orbital lasers and bodies start flying.