Written by: Stoo

Date posted: June 27, 2008

These guys are pretty hefty – bring out the big guns.

In 1996 iD released one of their several milestones in the first-person shooter genre, under the name Quake. Looking back as aficionados of 90s gaming, our official stance is kind of lukewarm, at least relative to its highly praised and loved status in the collective gaming consciousness. We wouldn’t deny its importance in the development of the genre, for sure. After all this is the game that took us from the weirdy 2-and-half dimensions of earlier shooters, to a far more realistic world of a full three dimensions. However it was all a bit brown. Also, outside its graphics engine it didn’t really do anything new. So, technical advances aside, we can’t really summon strong feelings about that game.

Quake was certainly popular though. Expectations of stuff like “plot” or “narrative” were lower back then, to be fair. Also, hey, maybe we’d liked it more if we’d been more into multiplayer or modding. Personally I’m a huge Thief and System Shock snob anyway, so don’t take my opinion as the final word. Point being, it’s not like Quake’s success is a complete mystery to us. Neither is the fact that it spawned a sequel.

It’s not a follow-up to what we laughingly call Quake’s story, though. Rather, its setting is a future war against a race of Cyborgs known as the Strogg. Which sounds like a brand of mushroom sauce to me. So while Quake wandered between gothic\medieval and futurish styles, this one is all sci-fi. It kicks off with the kind of pre-rendered intro that looks rather dull and plastic to us nowadays but was all the rage in the mid-late 90s. Something about an attack on a Strogg planet, and your marine gets separated from the rest of the squad whilst being dropped to the surface. And has to gun down half the Strogg single-handedly to complete his mission.

Ugly. Kill it!

This is an iD game, so we should take a look at the technical side – these are the guys whose engines set benchmarks in the progress of the genre. Mot long after Quake was released, PC gamers saw the coming of the first generation of 3D accelerator cards. That is, specialist hardware that could take care of the extensive calculations required to render three-dimensional environments, lighting and characters. Dedicated to this task without other concerns, it could perform this task better than your poor old CPU, and thus allowed for much smarter looking visuals. Quake itself was thus later modified to take advantage of some of the features the early 3D cards offered. However, Quake 2 was released with full support out of the box.

The end result is definitely slicker than Quake, with nice touches like coloured lighting. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly pretty though. The engine is fine, it’s the design that’s dull. It has its moments where the scenery is mildly impressive – bleak fortifications under an orange sky. Mostly though it’s back to drab corridors. If Quake was brown and grey, this is smooth brown and grey with smoggy orange highlights. The maps are a thus a series of generic looking military bases that tend to blur into each other, with just the odd landmark here and there to stand out in my memory. Just to be clear I think it’s perfectly possible for a ten year old game to have aesthetic appeal – but this one doesn’t. There’s the odd moment where it feels atmospheric, but never really truly so and not very often. In fact even the original, with that pseudo-medieval feel, arguably has an edge over scifi concrete.

The enemies meanwhile are a range of nightmarish amalgamations of humanoid and machine. Their scariness has been lessened somewhat by the years, being made of block low-poly arrangements covered with blurry textures. Still they manage to look tortured and twisted, and it sometimes feels like a mercy to put them down. After the obligatory starting weedy guys you get more chunky things with miniguns for arms, and others stomping around on robot legs flinging rockets. Also there’s some kind of horrid four-legged thing that’s guaranteed to have you backpeddling, swearing and firing randomly as it lopes towards you. As they take hits they become bloodied and damaged, which is a respectable bit of attention to detail. Also some in their death throes will writhe around headless firing shots off randomly, just to keep you on your toes.

This kind of design style does get dull after a while.

Overall the action still handles pretty well. Just like with its predecessors, Quake 2 doesn’t disappoint for the simple satisfaction of pumping ugly monsters full of thousands of rounds of ammunition. Then a few grenades for good measure. The speed of the action, the threat posed by monsters and the arsenal available all fit together well enough. You have some old favourites like shotguns, machineguns and grenade launchers supplemented by the nifty railgun. That’s essentially a powerful rifle with a very slow rate of fire, calling for you to place shots accurately. They tend to ‘feel’ right, solid and powerful.

There’s not much of a narrative behind all the blasting, though. What we do get is just the odd objective up on screen about “go to the bunker and blow up a radio” or something generic like that. Which is pretty much just one little step up from the complete lack of interest in such things shown by earlier iD games. To be fair our standards still weren’t a lot higher in 1997, although that would change in the next few years. It doesn’t do else anything different or innovative either though, beyond the technical upgrade. Just the same old run and gun. So our opinion of this one is largely similar to the first time around. Choice between the two really just comes down to whether you want sci-fi or fantasy-ish monsters to shoot at, and how much a graphical upgrade matters.

Get down here!

As far as we’re concerned the champion of that period in shooters, was Half-Life from a year or so later. That one won our hearts through use of real-world settings, scripted events and a sense of being immersed in events that in those days was pretty much un-matched. Apart from that a few other shooters stand out in my mind – Hexen 2 had some interesting features, Unreal at least looked pretty and Shogo had giant robots. In comparison, Quake 2 doesn’t feel like much of an advance over its predecessor. Decent quality action, but the environments get dull and there’s not much in the way of standout features. In fact I feel like I’ve written a very similar review for a very similar game. Still this is not a terrible way to spend $10, and since the more recent Quake 4 continued in the same setting you might enjoy revisiting the first fight against the Strogg.