Gaming

Revisiting: Quake (1996)

Join ScreenCritics Groot as he takes a look back at id Software’s 1996 masterpiece ‘Quake’. With such a troubled development, does it still hold up?

Following the immense success Doom and Wolfenstein was always going to be a tall order. id Software hadn’t just defined what a first person shooter needed to be – they practically wrote chapter and verse on the genre. Yet as they wrapped up work on DOOM 2, many wondered what id Software had up their sleeves next. Their next project was a game that would shake the company to its core. The arguments would lead to John Romero leaving under a cloud, while development stopped and started constantly. Frustration was growing and with the world watching – id Software had to deliver. In the end, we got Quake

The tale of how Quake came to be a hugely important one, if only because it shows in the games final form. The team at id Software had wanted to work on a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for years, even before they committed to Doom. This friction in direction spilled over into the technical side and left the game in limbo for the longest time.  John Romero, lead designer, wanted to use Doom’s engine and maximise its potential. Meanwhile John Carmack had a different idea. He wanted to move from 2D sprites to real 3D polygons. In the end Carmack won out. id Software pulled together and began working towards their next new IP, without one of the most high-profile developers in the industry. Quake was born, but it was a troubled birth.

Even the project’s name was borrowed from earlier ideas. Quake was foreshadowed in Commander Keen. Quake was to be a hammer wielding warrior, inspired by Thor, who would venture through dark realms in order to destroy magical and dark beasts. Thanks to Sandy Petersen who was a huge fan off Lovecraft, the story would tackle horrific lovecraftien monstrosities and blend it with Doom’s demonic and satanic imagery in a perfect harmony. In the end the story was changed, but Lovecraft’s influence still manifested throughout the game.

Quake itself is a very unique game and opens in an incredibly different way. As you enter the game you’re given a simple choice, how hard do you want the game to punish you? Just like its previous games, you are immediately thrown in the game and told to shoot, why, not important, who are you, even less important. You take on a role of a soldier, more specifically called Ranger, traversing multiple realms in an effort to destroy a powerful and unknown entity. You don’t have a different motive, no backup, no voice, but do you really need it since the weapons do the talking for you.

Fans of Doom will instantly feel at home. id Software’s philosophy of  ‘run and gun’ gameplay was very much present, free from the constraints of story or other such needless additions. The shotgun stars as the main companion and the starter weapon alongside the double barrel. Other more interesting weapons such as the nail gun that replace the machine gun and the rocket launcher are the most powerful, while the axe, which was intended to be both a hammer and a much more powerful melee weapon, are really useless.

Thankfully the game has a heap of enemies for you to unload your lead into. You start off killing small creatures, Grunts, no big threat to your fire power and are fine for target practice. As you venture deeper, more vile creatures creep out and try to kill you. The Knight and the Scrag are the weakest, while the Death Knight and the Ogre pose more threat and are not to be taken lightly. As for the stronger foes, there are the Fiend and the Shambler, whose sharp deadly claws could tear you apart in seconds and are a top priority to kill. The main antagonist of the game however is not so posing, tho surrounded by his minions, Shub-Niggurath is a rather easy final boss, one of the negative aspects of the rushed development in order to reach the schedule.

While its singleplayer is interesting, it’s the multiplayer where the game shines. Massive PvP arenas, for lovers of Deathmatches and Capture the Flag mods. It’s also worth mentioning that Carmack gave a small present to the modding community by making Quake’s engine accessible to all hacker and innovators, thus it was noticed even by Valve as they were making Half-Life. Soon all kinds of new multiplayer and singleplayer maps and mods were added to the mix, with more innovations, enemies and plots, that enriched the game. As for the Quake Engine, the platform that was used to build the game, it was used for some future games from other developers, and the roots from today’s massive FPS shooters could be traced back to this specific game. A small piece of brilliance, but my oh my, what a piece of brilliance.

The game was accepted by the critics and by the public, but it wasn’t as well adored as its predecessors. The lack of variety in visuals and the more sombre mood made the game feel almost too gothic in its approach. Quake it still held up as one of the forbearer of modern game designs love-affair with bland, brown levels. and it’s really hard to defend this aspect.

Perhaps though Quake’s biggest contribution to gaming came in the form of its multiplayer scene. The online component of the game would spawn endless custom game modes, in particular a certain Team Fortress. Thanks to the versatility of Carmack’s engine, modders were able to craft a daunting array of modes and custom assets that turned the game into something more. This would later be picked back up when the franchise went full multiplayer with Quake 3, but the influences clearly began here.

It’s a shame that Quake was the last of id Software’s ‘holy trinity of first person shooters’. John Romero and Tom Hall left to form Ion Storm – with their first release of Daikatana being a major flop. Sandy Petersen went to work on Age of Empires while American McGee on American McGee’s Alice. Carmack was the only one left with this legacy, this holy trinity of Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein. Three games that changed everything in shooters and paved the way for all that followed. Perhaps its fitting that in recent years, both Wolfenstein and DOOM have found new relevance with modern audiences. With Quake Champions set to land sometime this year – there’s hope yet for a Quake revival.

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