Battlefield 1942 changed online gaming forever on its release in 2002, and since EA and DICE have released numerous takes on large scale war set in an enclosed space. There have been contenders to the crown, but nothing has really had the muscle to compete with EA's online juggernaut. If there is one name in online gaming that stands a chance, though, it's Quake. Id Software's long-running franchise has had many PC gamers fragging until the wee hours and now it's trying to move into new territory.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars from Splash Damage (creators of the popular Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory) and id Software pitts members of the Global Defence Force (GDF) against an invading alien Strogg army that is intent on wiping out the resistance. Looked at very simply, Quake Wars is nothing more than a Battlefield clone. You have the two opposing teams, ground and air vehicles, territory to control and objectives to meet. In that sense it's nothing we haven't seen before, but look a little deeper and you'll see a game that does all it can to right the wrongs of other large scale combat titles.
Firstly, Quake Wars is easy to get into. It sounds almost impossible, but yes, Quake Wars is noob friendly. That's not to say that your games will be ruined by wannabe commandos with no idea how a mouse works, as there are plenty of servers set up for more advanced players, but newcomers will find that they can jump in and feel like part of a team. This is all because of the easy to follow objectives system, that gives each player a list of objectives and marks them clearly on the map. You might simply be trying to take out a single anti-aircraft turret, but that scores you points and helps towards the team's overall goal.
Of course, with numerous classes and two races to play as, there's a bottom level to the simplicity that can't be broken through. For some players things will still seem rather complicated. Each race has five classes to choose from. The GDF have Field Ops, Covert Ops, Medic, Soldier and Engineer, while the Strogg have similar classes named Oppressor, Technician, Aggressor, Infiltrator and Constructor. Although each race has access to different tech, the classes match up pretty well so swapping from one race to another isn't a huge problem.
As ever in games of this type, the class you choose to play as is a personal thing and entirely dependent on your own play style. The soldier is the simplest to learn, seeing as his role is to kill the opposition. The Medic is also a simple class to get used to, with the job of the medic being to revive fallen comrades without being a major attacking force on the battlefield. The other three classes can each deploy weapons systems, such as turrets, missile launchers and radars. These weapons become vital in more advanced games so their correct use is essential, making these classes better suited to serious players.
Each map has a series of objectives, with each team needing to either meet these or stop the enemy from doing so. As objectives are met the map opens up, delivering new objectives to the game and in turn moving the combat to a new area. This progression inside each game makes each online match highly entertaining and gives the impression that a real war is taking place, with the battlefront moving as the game progresses. It's a little confusing at first, but the helpful objectives system and on-screen icons make things relatively easy to pick-up.
Vehicles are always good for a laugh in online team-based shooters and Quake Wars is no exception. Played with assists on almost anyone can pilot one of the many ground and air vehicles, be it the GDF helicopter-like Bumblebee, the Strogg Desecrator tank or the walking killing machine that is the Cyclops. Things really get interesting though, when all assists are turned off. Cocky players will no doubt jump straight in to the pilot's seat of a people carrier - probably team-killing someone in order to get to the vehicle first - only to crash seconds after take off, in a way that is both comical and quite sad. As in all games of this type, skilled pilots are essential if you're team is going to succeed.
As with many online shooters, good play will result in rewards. Experience points (XP) are awarded for successfully performing your role and in turn helping out the team. Accumulate enough XP and you'll earn upgrades which can be used in that campaign match. At the end of the three-round campaign match the stats will be reset, but the team who has earned the most upgrades for use in the final round will stand a better chance of winning.
Quake Wars has been in development for quite some time and there have been many technological advancements since the game made its debut. Yet somehow the team at Splash Damage has managed to deliver one of the best looking PC games of the year. It's not as flash as some of the Unreal Engine 3 shooters we have out now and coming soon, but the levels are impressive in size and the screen is filled with carnage once things kick off. You do need a good rig to get the best out of it, but it scales pretty well to older hardware if you're clinging onto a slightly dated set-up.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is unlikely to win over gamers who have spent several years online playing the Battlefield games, but Splash Damage has managed to create a game that has almost the same appeal to noobs as it does hardcore PC FPS players. Over and above its impressive game engine, successful vehicle implementation and inventive map design, the way the game welcomes newcomers is almost unheard of in games of this type.