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Quake III Arena

Id Software is one of the most successful and esteemed developers in interactive entertainment, but they also have a larger share of detractors than most. Their titles have sold in the millions but also been denounced as simplistic and criticized for appealing to the lowest common denominators, namely glitzy visuals and mindless point-and-shoot mechanics. Their revenge has always been living well creating games in which people die spectacularly, something their latest gunslinging opus does better than any previous id title. With each generation of releases, the Titans of Texas have owned the 3D action genre with better graphics and gorier effects, but also with more attention on their preferred method of gameplay: Slaughter everything that moves. With Quake III Arena, id continues to slice off excess flesh with a razor-sharp focus on deathmatch. Gone are the impotent storylines and boring switch-tossing; in their place are nerve-jingling fragfests in claustrophobic maps and frenzied Capture the Flag competition. Just how well id did with this brave new covenant is the question of the moment.

Id pioneered the concept of deathmatch in 1993 with the release of Doom, and has since spent considerable development resources nurturing a fellowship of warriors dedicated to the Arena concept. Due in no small part to the spirited participation of the user community, deathmatch has evolved over the years from a covert executable in a DOS directory to a full-blown competitive sport where computer-borne athletes with as much relative talent in their wrists as a Tiger Woods or Sammy Sosa engage forces for huge cash prizes. Q3A is the game id has been wanting to develop for years, but until now the developers has been forced to create and sell traditional single-player adventures in which people sit alone at their computer, running hell-bent through bloodstained corridors, shooting various demon spawn and searching for the exit. There are no such distractions this time, just purity of focus on creating the best deathmatch possible. Q3A still features a single-player mode, but not in the classic sense. Grabbing the spotlight from the Cacodemons and Barons of Hell is a squad of computer-controlled bots, enemies that simulate a human opponent in deathmatch. The player and these algorithmic warriors are tossed into a tournament called the Arena Eternal, a series of increasingly difficult deathmatches meant to determine the ultimate warrior.

The battle proper begins with a simple training level in which a booming male voice instructs the player in the finer points of deathmatch--essentially, “Grab that gun in front of you, jump up here and snag the armor, now go shoot the other guy”--and urges him or her on Mortal Kombat-style with praise for well-executed bloodletting. The first time I gibbed a group of enemies with a well-placed volley of grenades and heard the diabolic commentator intone “Excellent!” a rather evil and self-satisfied smile slithered across my face. That was soon wiped clean, or rather blown clean off, during the difficult ensuing matches. The single-player portion of Q3A is organized in six main tiers containing four maps each and a seventh tier featuring a single battle against Xaero, the Lord of the Final Arena, who is a sort of code composite of Thresh and immortal, two incredible flesh and blood deathmatchers.

Although the tiers must be played in succession, the four maps within each tier can be played in any order. There are five difficulty levels that control the abilities of the bots and range from “What the hell is this gun in my hand for?” to “Welcome to your worst nightmare, mortal.” Since id understands our egos sometimes transcend our abilities, the difficulty can be set prior to each match, not just at the start. The war plan includes both one-on-one battles as well as all-out free-for-alls against two or more opponents, covering the range of basic deathmatch competition. In an effort to encourage novices to improve their abilities and attempt maps at a higher level of obstruction, Q3A maintains a record of the difficulty at which each level has been defeated and rewards six different medals to deserving warriors. These proud emblems include such adulation as “Accuracy,” for when your percentage of hits-to-shots is greater than 50 percent, and “Impressive,” for when you manage to consecutively frag two enemies with the Rail Gun, for example. These boldface the fact that Q3A is less about strategy and more about developing the tight mechanics needed to reign victorious in the fast and furious realm of id deathmatch.

Experimental users can uncover other game modes, though these are less accessible than Arena Eternal. Buried within the depths of Q3A are Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, both of which can be played on a single computer by launching a multiplayer server and adding computer controlled bots. While a fun training ground for competing online since id has hammered a surprising degree of intelligence into the bots, these competitions are not tied into the main ladder. Capture the Flag--which charges two teams with invading the opposing team’s base, capturing their flag and bringing it home, all while defending their own flag--and Team Deathmatch are more intended to provide the online community with a satisfying alternative to the free-for-alls. Both are more complicated and challenging than the pure run-and-gun due to the inclusion of teammate commands such as “Follow me” and “Defend the Base,” as well as the mild strategic elements introduced through teamplay dynamics. No other are game types included, which is disappointing after experiencing the well-developed match ladder and professionally polished mods available in Unreal Tournament. The good news is there are several important areas in which id does excel, including the visual presentation and their ever-reliable set of weapons.

One of the strongest hearts beating inside the chest of this game is its arsenal. More so than any previous id title, the weapons are an unabashed celebration of simplicity and power. Id wants nothing to cloud the air between a challenger and his or her next frag, which is why the layers of complexity added to other titles’ weapons, such as secondary and even tertiary fire modes, are avoided completely in favor of one effective assault. I have always felt a good weapon provides its conveyor with a feeling of omnipotence, as though any well-placed shot could slap down the most lethal challenge, and that is precisely what the unoriginal but comfortably familiar weapons in Q3A offer. In a sort of greatest hits parade of firearms, the designers use the best implements from previous titles, including the machine gun, the shotgun, the Plasma Gun, the grenade launcher, the RPG, the Lightning Gun, the Rail Gun and--surprise!--the BFG-10K. Despite our long-standing acquaintance with these weapons, this is the best-balanced set of id weapons since Doom 2.


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