“Quake Wars" features gorgeously detailed, expansive outdoor levels. The game was developed jointly by id Software and Splash Damage and published by Activision.
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msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/29/2007 4:13:07 PM ET 2007-10-29T20:13:07
Review

“Enemy Territory: Quake Wars” is up against some fearsome competition in the online PC multi-player shooter genre. “Battlefield 2142” continues to draw legions of devoted conscripts and many gamers are saving their gaming bucks for “Crysis,” “Unreal Tournament 3,” or “Call of Duty 4,” which are all due out before Christmas.

Although the online servers for “Quake Wars” have been only intermittently well populated, it’s definitely not due to the game. I chalk it up to bad timing on my part, because “Quake Wars,” published by Activision, is a gorgeous-looking, well-balanced shooter.

“Quake Wars” is strictly a multiplayer affair with no traditional storyline, but here’s the basic jist: The human Global Defense Force is battling it out with the Strogg, a repulsive race of alien warmongers. The Strogg has set its sights on Earth and dispatched wave after wave of warriors to conquer our fair planet.

The core of the game is the Campaign Mode, a series of three timed battles set in Africa, Asia and North America. At the outset, you can sign up for the GDF or Strogg, where you’ll remain for the duration of the campaign.

“Quake Wars” campaigns are accessible for online multiplayer newbies — and challenging enough for vets. Active objectives are clearly displayed with a visual icon in the level and primary objectives must be completed to win the round. I’ve spent plenty of time running around blindly in game worlds looking for some elusive checkpoint — but the environments in “Quake Wars” are refreshingly straightforward to navigate.

Both Strogg and GDF forces have five distinct classes, including soldier or aggressor (in Strogg-speak), engineer/constructor, and covert/infiltrator. If you’re new to online gaming you can pick a support role – usually a soldier or medic — before the round. The pre-campaign menu helpfully highlights the class that’s essential to completing the round’s objective. Experienced players should gravitate to the objective-critical spots.

Each round of the campaign alternates, with one side scrambling to complete objectives while the other side endeavors to stop them. You’re either on the offensive or the defensive so both team players and the trigger-happy are catered to. Your team wins by either completing the objective or stopping the other side from doing the same. I particularly liked the scoring system where I could rack up points for completing or assisting with goals, not just making kills.

I loved the variety — Strogg aggressor defending a mining laser one round, then busting out my explosive plasma charge to destroy a GDF vehicle in the next. If I was losing touch with my humanity I could find a GDF class that fit my play style.

An assortment of air and ground vehicles, including the delightfully named Strogg Desecrator and Tormentor, handle well and operate much like similar transports in “Battlefield 2142." The graphics are uniformly first-rate. Built on the “Doom 3” game engine, “Quake Wars” features gorgeously detailed, expansive levels featuring a mix of indoor and outdoor settings. Details like surface textures and weather effects, crucial to a believable game world, are expertly rendered.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find a lively online match. I was surprised to discover that you don’t necessarily need living, breathing opponents to fully enjoy “Quake Wars.” Offline modes in most multiplayer games are usually pretty bland — that’s because you’re facing off against artificial-intelligence-powered characters known as ‘bots. Not so in “Quake Wars,” where the A.I. is remarkably keen.

I usually take a few runs through a game’s levels with the ‘bots first to get the lay of the land and a feel for the game. Considering that A.I. characters are usually either bumping into each other or blocking my path, I was shocked to see my ‘bot buddies completing complex tasks and reviving unconscious soldiers (including me). It’s the first time I’ve taken pointers — and learned gameplay — from following the examples of a ‘bot. Whenever the online servers were barren, I could fall back on my ‘bot buddies, usually forgetting I was playing the computer.

Of course, nothing beats going head to head with some remotely connected humans. The satisfaction runs high when you finally track down that exotically named player who has been making your life hell — and reducing him or her to a twitching, prone avatar.

The fact that I was doing less twitching and lying down than usual is testament to the well-balanced character classes and easy-to-follow objectives.

Having spent countless hours bumbling my way through chaotic fire-fights in other online shooters (dead on my back more often than not), I felt relatively relaxed and confident within the more structured, clearly defined action of “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars”.

As any gamer will tell you: there’s a thin line between thrills and frustration.

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