This text first appeared in PC Gamer journal subject 391 in December 2023, as a part of our Reinstall sequence. Each month we load up a beloved traditional—and discover out whether or not it holds as much as our fashionable gaming sensibilities.
Quake 2 has an interesting legacy. Launched solely 18 months after Quake in December 1997, it was shortly celebrated as the very best sport ever made. And I imply the very best. PC Gamer awarded it a rating of 96, solely the second sport within the journal’s historical past to obtain such a dizzying quantity. A technological marvel, it supplied a much more centered journey than the unique’s dimension-hopping escapades, with a particular setting and constant enemy design. It even had one thing id co-founder John Carmack had beforehand dismissed as superfluous to a superb shooter: a plot.
Over time, nevertheless, Quake 2’s fame has diminished. The next 12 months, its narrative ambitions had been outdated by Half-Life, which instructed a greater story in a extra fascinating style. Extra lately, critics have identified that its capturing expertise is flatter and extra sluggish than the 1996 unique, whereas its setting and degree design lack the identical weirdness and creativeness. David Szymanski, creator of the retro-shooter DUSK, has described Quake 2 as “the worst id sport”.
Within the wake of Nightdive Studios’ latest remaster, which overhauls Quake 2 for contemporary machines, the controversy over the importance of id’s sequel has arisen as soon as extra. However the remaster additionally gives an opportunity to reappraise Quake 2. What’s fascinating just isn’t which of those two viewpoints is appropriate, however how each are equally supported by the sport.
No matter Quake 2’s personal ambiguities, there is not any questioning the brilliance of Nightdive’s work remastering it. Not solely has Nightdive up to date the sport to make the very best of recent PCs, supporting 4K resolutions, widescreens, enhanced multiplayer help and extra, it additionally helps your perfect model of Quake 2. The remaster helps an entire host of visible modernisations like bloom lighting, dynamic shadows, antialiasing, and enhanced character fashions. Alternatively, you may flip all this off, change on CRT simulation and play prefer it’s Christmas Day 1997.
It is a great, versatile makeover, and its enhancements do assist talk a few of what made Quake 2 such a phenomenon on the time. At the beginning are The Strogg, Quake 2’s twisted cyborg adversaries. Quake 2’s overarching operate of area marines preventing a race of alien cyborgs could really feel somewhat drained after 20 years of equally plotted video games, however the Strogg’s dilapidated, ad-hoc cybernetics that resemble the results of catapulting a physique right into a scrapheap, assist the sport preserve some flavour of its personal.
Certainly, one of many hardest challenges in FPS design is creating enemies which are each imaginative in presentation, but additionally satisfying to battle. With the Strogg, id struck an ideal steadiness, giving gamers recognisably humanoid enemies, however with numerous variations that each one behave in several methods. Taking over a melee-focussed Berserker presents a considerably completely different problem from dodging the shoulder-rockets of a closely armoured Tank. Some enemies I might utterly forgotten about, just like the Mutant, one of many few opponents that is not a cyborg, and the Brains, a very unnerving cyborg that solutions the query “What if WALL-E bought contaminated by John Carpenter’s The Factor?”
However the Strogg’s most notable attribute is how reactive they’re to wreck. Blast a guard onto the bottom together with your shotgun, and so they may take one final potshot at you as they expire. Shoot the pinnacle off one of many cumbersome enforcers, and so they spray the realm wildly with their chaingun arm earlier than collapsing. These detailed animations represented an enormous step ahead in 1997, and the characteristic that struck me as probably the most noticeable step ahead after I first performed it round its unique launch. Even immediately, few shooters afford their cannon fodder such bespoke, imaginative deaths.
These grisly ends do not exist in isolation, both. One of many extra hanging issues about returning to Quake 2 is simply how horrible the Strogg world is. That is clear sufficient in its desolated, brown environments and the Strogg’s brutal method to creating new cyborgs, mercilessly chopping up people with sawblades and lasers. You’ll be able to think about the overwhelming odor of iron oxide as your press via rusting services smeared with the blood of your fellow marines. Nevertheless it is not the sights or scents of Stroggos that lingers in your thoughts, it is the sound. The compressed screams of Berserkers as they die, the shuddering moans of your imprisoned comrades turned mad via torture, the buzzing fl ies that encompass a Strogg corpse after it is laid for some time within the alien solar. Quake 2 is not a scary sport, however its monstrously disagreeable world may be totally unsettling.
Whereas the Strogg stays a compelling foe, Quake 2’s arsenal has aged much less nicely. Just a few of the weapons nonetheless maintain up. The tremendous shotgun rightly earns its title, packing a double-barrelled blast that may put a severe dent in most Strogg armour. Quake 2 additionally introduces the sequence’ defining weapon, the railgun. Quake 3’s railgun could also be extra well-known for enabling multiplayer frags, however the corkscrew trajectory of Quake 2’s slugs offers the older sport’s iteration a extra distinctive look. Gibbing a number of guards with a single slug additionally by no means ceases to thrill.
A lot of the different weapons, nevertheless, are both barely or severely underpowered. The chaingun and hyperblaster are each efficient at shredding enemies into strogghetti, however they’d equally profit from additional kick. The machine gun remains to be limper than a three-legged possum, whereas the shotgun is so ephemeral that you just’re by no means inclined to make use of it when you purchase its sibling.
Quake 2’s biggest weak spot, nevertheless, is its degree design. With the sequel, id Software program wished to create a extra plausible world than earlier id video games, with object oriented ranges that designed as recognisable, practical locations. In contrast to earlier id video games, many of those ranges are related collectively to kind Items, with you usually travelling to and from a central hub degree to a number of side-maps the place secondary aims are accomplished. The Jail unit, for instance, features a Detention Centre the place prisoners are held, a Guard Home that serves because the Strogg barracks, and the Torture Chamber is self-explanatory.
It is fascinating simply how exactly Quake 2 straddles the road between the traditional mazes of Quake and the extra ‘reasonable’ method of Half-Life. You’ll be able to nearly see the transition occurring as you prowl the sport’s many gun-metal corridors. Sadly, id’s try and hammer the abstractions of traditional FPS design into one thing extra grounded ends in lots of ranges wanting fairly samey. They’re nonetheless enjoyable areas to navigate, and there are a couple of areas that stick within the thoughts, however for each there are ten brown warehouses full of brown crates.
The restrictions of Quake 2’s maps turns into extra obvious once you boot up the remaster’s new episode, Name of the Machine. Developed by Wolfenstein: The New Order creators MachineGames, Name of the Machine takes Quake 2’s fundamentals and makes use of them to construct extra elaborate ranges full of difficult set items. As an alternative of encountering one or two enemies in each hall, MachineGames construct roomier, extra arena-like environments the place you will battle dozens of foes, all rigorously chosen to press you in new and fascinating methods.
Admittedly, MachineGames has a major benefit in immediately’s extra permissive know-how. A number of the ranges in Name of the Machine would have introduced the common PC to its knees again in 1997. However Name of the Machine additionally significantly better understands construct encounters round particular weapons or enemy varieties. Particularly, Name of the Machine is a railgunner’s delight, often funnelling you thru tight corridors full of weaker enemies simply determined to be gibbed, or putting Gunners on distant, elevated platforms that require a exactly planted slug to take down.
Name of the Machine is intense and frenetic in a means Quake 2’s marketing campaign hardly ever is. But whereas not totally profitable, Quake 2’s Items are nonetheless an necessary landmark in FPS design. Half-Life is commonly characterised as a revolutionary second within the historical past of the shooter, a very unanticipated occasion that shook the entire trade. However Quake 2 reveals the concepts Half-Life executed so brilliantly had been very a lot within the water on the time. Quake 2 won’t thread collectively its ranges in a contiguous means. Nevertheless it nonetheless succeeds in making Stroggos really feel like a particular and coherent place, one which has grimly logical reasoning behind its kind and performance.
And whereas the sport’s premise is trite by immediately’s requirements, the execution nonetheless holds up in plenty of methods. The satellite-view briefing cutscenes that fill the hole between missions, presumably influenced by Westwood’s work on Command & Conquer, are a good way of contextualising your development with out getting in the best way of the motion. Equally, the framing of your journey round particular aims, moderately than merely discovering your technique to the top of the maze, successfully communicates your function in undermining the Strogg battle effort. Though you solely ever glimpse the broader battle round you, you nonetheless really feel like a part of one thing better than your self.
Relatively than being a singular occasion, Valve’s shooter was simply one other step down a path that video games like Quake 2 and Duke Nukem had been already traversing. In that context, it is a lot simpler to see the place Quake 2’s exuberant reception got here from. Its reactive enemies, its extra narrative pushed marketing campaign, its interconnected ranges designed to resemble a spot, all of those had been vital developments in FPS design.
Quake 2 felt tangible, plausible in a means no shooter ever had earlier than. No one was to know that one thing much more reasonable lurked beneath the deserts of New Mexico, able to be unleashed a 12 months later. Right this moment, Quake 2 may symbolize an intriguing evolutionary hyperlink between Quake and Half-Life. However for a couple of months within the quickly altering improvement scene of the Nineteen Nineties, it was probably the most superior shooter anybody had ever made.