Enemy Territory: Quake Wars 360 Review
While they've never said it, id Software, Activision, and developer Splash Damage have likely had a frustrating year in dealing with the Quake franchise. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was the next big thing in online shooters when it was released on the PC in early October last year, but the game and its steep learning curve never really took off with gamers. The release of Valve Software's Team Fortress 2 in the Orange Box package cemented Quake Wars' somewhat mediocre sales. Now, the guys behind the game have released an Xbox 360 version of the game hoping to capture console players' attention.
One might expect that a shooter that's complex compared even in the realm of PC games would probably be simplified to the point of being almost a different game when it's moved to a console, but that's not the case here. Quake Wars has just about all the depth of the PC version, with lots of special abilities for the game's five classes and plenty of different gadgets and perks that are different between the Human and Strogg sides. Sure, a few things are changed and simplified from a control perspective, but the game's signature attributes are all here. The player limit is a slightly oppressive 16 for both single player and online modes, but because of the way action is funneled into a front line that moves as the attacking team completes objectives, the maps won't feel empty or barren.
The story goes like this: Earth is being invaded by the aggressive, alien Strogg race, who can turn humans into Strogg with a gruesome process. It's the first stage of the war - chronologically, the game is a prequel to the classic PC shooter Quake 2. Across the game's twelve maps, one side or the other will be on offense, trying to further the goals of either defending Earth as the GDF (Global Defense Force) or, as the alien Strogg race, subverting it and conquering it. On one map, the GDF will be trying to destroy a Strogg water contamination facility or steal alien technology, while on another the Strogg will be actively trying to take down a major new GDF weapon that could end the war. It's these objective-based maps, each with their own little story, that add flavor to the game. It's a nice contrast to most other games' scoring system that resembles a sporting event more than all-out war.
Playing Quake Wars from one side or another is almost like playing a totally different game, with the completely unique set of weapons, perks, vehicles, gadgets, and objectives on each map. But don't expect to jump right into this one too quickly, though; Quake Wars includes a tutorial, but most gamers won't get too much out of it and the spoken tutorial help that is peppered throughout the PC version as things happen across maps is just gone here. It seems strange, too, considering that PC gamers are usually the ones that are happy to dig into a deep online game, so it's going to take a little bit of work for a console gamer to get used to Quake Wars' added complexity over the online FPS competition that's out there. There is one area that did get oversimplified, which was the perks you get from completing goals and such inside a campaign. These have been replaced with a system that boosts your character's stats and they're the same for each class, and then when you combine it with the PC version's dumping of that progress every time you get into a new game or start a new campaign, it adds up to almost zero progression in your character. Building up a character in an online game is something console gamers have started to get accustomed to, and it's a shame that it was taken out here.
For console gamers, many of the good things about Quake Wars also apply to Frontlines: Fuel of War, an underrated online shooter that made it onto consoles earlier this year. What you get is a moving, unified front with lots of action in the way of aircraft, vehicles, and ground troops that counter each other in a big rock-paper-scissors cycle. The game naturally funnels people into the same area on the map, making sure that even though the maps are large and the player count isn't massive, you still get a lot of intense fighting. Quake Wars is a little rough around the edges and the presentation isn't as slick compared to popular recent online shooters on the 360. Jumping into games isn't quite as fast or easy either, but the depth of the action once you do get in is what sets this game apart.
All that being said, this is a no-frills port of a title that many PC gamers themselves just couldn't really get into. It's not a total mystery as to why Quake Wars didn't capture its intended PC audience, and I'm pretty sure that when it comes to the 360, they probably still won't find it. Most gamers want a nice simple learning curve, even if the game isn't very deep once you get into it. And while it's hard to fault this solid console port in any one area - the graphics are good if not great, the frame rate is solid, the online play works fine, and the action is intense - it's just not quite as good overall as many other games out there. This was true on the PC when it was pitted against The Orange Box, and it will be on consoles when put up against titles like Call of Duty 4 or the ridiculously popular online play in Grand Theft Auto IV. Maybe it's the lack of persistent perks that come from extended online play, maybe it's just that the competition on the 360 recently has been really fierce, but Quake Wars just doesn't feel right for this console-based audience. The learning curve is steep and while there are bots to play against, there is no dedicated single player campaign to play through. And those bots do stupid things often enough that you'll find any kind of single player enjoyment tarnished or even ruined.
If you're looking for a sci-fi action game with plenty of depth and great online play, you could do a lot worse than Quake Wars. If you're looking for a strong narrative and interesting characters, go out and pick up Mass Effect or BioShock instead, as this game is almost entirely built around multiplayer. Oh, sure, you can play the campaign with bots, but it's not going to wind up being very compelling. Get this one for its online action, which moves quickly and rewards those who have the skill and knowledge to play to the strengths of the many weapons and vehicles.