Quake Arena Arcade
It was on the PC that the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre was truly born. Gamers in the ’90s were blown away when Doom was first unleashed. Sprinting around 3D labyrinths laying waste to hellspawn burnt id Software’s place into the flesh of gaming history. In 1999, id gave birth to what many regarded as the height of competitive FPS: Quake III Arena. You were invited to the Arena, combating warriors from all over the world. The praise was so high that Q3A went on to be used in professional tournaments and even became considered an electronic sport. Time to bring this honoured game to a new audience.
Sprinting full speed down ancient corridors, leaping over huge lava pits, adrenaline pumping through your veins , using bounce pads to propel upwards towards platforms high above, and – oh, you’re dead. Shot through the head by a perfect Railgun shot as you leapt through the air. It was a great shot. Fair play. Now time for revenge. Respawning into the Arena, you grab a nearby weapon as you dash into the fray.
The classic Q3A formula (twitch gameplay x breakneck speed + accurately balanced weapons) has been given a faithful update for Xbox Live Arcade. Minimalist design, satanic images, player configuration (model, aim, controller setup, Railgun colour), and rocket-jumping all return. It plays almost as well as you remember it did. The original cast of weapons all make a welcome return – including the Nailgun, Lightning gun and the time-honoured Rocket Launcher. The fear inducing sound effect and blue glow of Quad Damage still causes players to run like hell. Everything is here with updated visuals and widescreen support. What also matters is how well it plays on a console controller.
FPS veterans will always swear blind by the freedom a combination of keyboard and mouse provides. 3D movement and technological advances allowed designers to limit the auto-aim used previously to compensate up/down viewing limitations. Controllers don’t allow the same high level of accuracy in comparison. The developer (Pi Studio) has made some changes to suit the console controller. The overall speed of the game has been slowed, helping to adjust the accuracy of the analog stick controller. And yes, there is still no auto-aim. Hitting with the Railgun now requires even greater pin-point precision and nerves of steel. You’ll miss a lot at first. To secure your place as a warrior of the Arena, two single player modes have been created to test and train your skills.
A fully customisable practice mode acts as offline multiplayer against bots. You can pick the number of contestants, level, game mode and difficulty. There is great satisfaction in being able to configure offline/online games this way. Not to mention the huge amount of replay value it can add. Developers, can we have more configuration options in console FPS games please? Thanks. This is not a perfect victory though: there is no split-screen option available. Sorry, this will not fill the hole in your heart that Timesplitters left. A new Campaign mode has you enter the Arena to complete specific objectives to prove your worth (win a Deathmatch round; win a team Harvester game etc). Upon demonstrating your skill and becoming victorious the next round is unlocked. The single player campaign is surprisingly large. All of the game modes are covered and additional challenges are available. Your quest to become the ultimate contestant sees your path end with a one-on-one against the current champion. Trouble is, the bots AI has rocket-jumped out of the Arena.
The AI in Unreal Tournament is superior to that on display here. AI should not be worse now than that demonstrated in 1999. It’s here that the lack of testing starts to become apparent, and doubts grow. In team CTF matches for example, bots will run circles in their base, or leap off ledges to their death. You could put your pad down for a tea break with no fear of losing a team objective based game.
The AI may be poor, but this was only ever about multiplayer gaming. Up to sixteen contestants battle it out to be crowned king of the Arena over six game types; including Deathmatch, CTF and Harvester modes. Over thirty classic maps return in this update, along with 12 new Arenas for XBLA. The weapons are balanced, the Arenas perfectly carved out for frantic gameplay. This is Q3A as we know and love it. And it’s here that the game falls into a lava pit, Fragging itself to the bottom of the leaderboard.
The multiplayer is broken. Attempting to access the online mode forces a connection test. A vast majority of the time this will fail. If you do get past this screen (if you’re lucky), it’s possible you may only be able to host a game for a maximum of two people. There is a work around. Host the game you want as a LAN game, go back to the online mode and you can now host that level with up to 16 players. There is no work around for the broken connection test though. Access to the online leaderboards always works; surely proving there is a working connection. Again, it doesn’t seem to have been tested well enough. When it does work, you’ll encounter occasional lag issues and the game will end if the host leaves. Adding to that an achievement for five online victories that unlocks whether you’ve won or not, and the most vital element has been left in a crippled heap. The online leaderboards currently show around 8000 entries on the campaign mode, with only just over 3000 online. This is a great concern if it represents how many users cannot play online.
Pi Studios has effectively gibbed itself in its failure to provide a solid multiplayer experience. Poor AI in the campaign stops from you returning to the single player experience, and the multiplayer is broken. Get the trial, and if the online modes work you may be in for a treat (if anyone else is playing it).
It shouldn’t be a gamble for online multiplayer to work though. In the end, Quake Arena Arcade rings its own death knell and doesn’t give Quake III Arena the justice it deserves.