Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Review
Remember the days when it used to be Quake vs. Unreal on the PC? Yeah, that was when the FPS was still coming into its own and gaining a massive following, and now, more than a decade later, the two franchises are still going strong. However, if we had to give the edge to one of them in this new generation, it would definitely have to go to Epic's Unreal Tournament as last year's UT3 was one of the year's best shooters. This year, Underground Development and Splash Damage kicks in with their Quake effort, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Obviously, both series have always lived and died with the success of their online multiplayer, and that's more than obvious with Enemy Territory, primarily because even the single-player campaign feels exactly like an online match. Unfortunately, both modes don't really deliver, although the entertainment factor is still relatively high for online FPS aficionados.
Sadly, the graphics are mediocre and not something we'd expect from a high-line franchise like Quake. Perhaps it looked better on the PC last year, but this PS3 version is riddled with problems and remains mostly bland regardless of the map you choose. Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of sweet visuals from afar but whenever we get up close and personal, the graphics break down into a sloppy, muddy mess. Furthermore, for whatever reason, many of those nice combat effects we saw in early previews are mysteriously non-existent, as very little is happening on screen that sucks us into the battle. The atmosphere and environment is always paramount in any FPS, which is why such titles often lead the way in terms of visual achievement; the detail, design, and color can be fantastic in certain shooters. But Enemy Territory doesn't excel in any of those aforementioned categories, and given the extreme level of competition in this genre, that's a major downfall. They make good use of sharp, ragged edges and lots of dark greens, browns, tans, and grays, but that's about it. We're not sure what happened, here, but we certainly don't want to see it happen again...these graphics simply don't fit in this generation.
The sound is a little better thanks to crystal clear albeit insanely repetitive voices during the single-player campaigns, and the overall level of combat effects quality. But too many of the weapons don't pack the punch we would've expected, and explosions aren't anywhere near jarring enough. On top of which, due to a complete lack of a soundtrack in the game, each match always felt strangely quiet and only served to take us out of the action. The developers strive to bring forth some of the smaller aspects of the sound, like the character breathing harder when running or the various engine sounds we hear in each of the many available vehicles. However, while they don't necessarily do a bad job, there just isn't enough here to get us excited. Sound and music has come so far in games these days, and we've already had some excellent examples of top-notch sound this generation, so Enemy Territory falls flat in comparison. Much like the graphics, we can only think of one word that accurately describes the sound: bland. And bland is not what anybody wants for an intense FPS.
Before we start to analyze, let's make one thing very clear right off the bat- despite the fact that you can select Single Player at the start, there really isn't a campaign, per se. It basically plays out just like an online match would; you drop into a particular scenario, play with anywhere from 4 to 16 players on the map, and work against the opposition to attain the objective. There's no storyline at all, but you will work your way through 12 different maps that are split into 4 groups each across 4 different continents. Depending on where you are, you will have to satisfy the given objective in the time allotted, but in general, there's no enveloping plot that ties the missions together. They're all just separate scenarios. Furthermore, you have to rely entirely on the AI, and although you can have the option of selecting enemy ability when it comes to skill and weapon use, you can't do anything about your teammates. And unfortunately, while they do operate on their own and can be effective, they often fail you at the worst times.
Our biggest problems came when waiting for a medic. Sure, we could go for a full 15 or 20 minutes of play, get shot down, and watch as the nearest medic revived us almost immediately. But something seems to happen if the medic is in a vehicle. For example, we're laying there, asking for medical assistance, and we see a medic driving a jeep around. Apparently, he's going in circles, and while he passes a few feet from our head, he never helps. Furthermore, asking for backup in tight spots is hit or miss, especially if you're playing with less players. Most times, you have to get things done on your own, even though there were many instances where our allies actually did something useful. Obviously, the AI doesn't come into play during the multiplayer modes, but in terms of single-player, it can put a serious crimp in your progress. And with the lack of a story and a bunch of random objectives that dont mean a damn thing, moving through the single-player campaign is, sadly, a waste of time.
Really, if they were going to do this, they shouldn't have even bothered with a single-player option and just taken a cue from Incognito and made the game like Warhawk. Maybe then they could've worked on ironing out some of the small issues that plague the online multiplayer. It's a lot more fun than the single-player mode, of course, but we still have the technical shortcomings. The graphics and sound certainly aren't any better - duh - but at least we have the benefit of humans to make the experience that much more intriguing. But here's where we have to mention the fluidity of the game as a whole, which affects both the single and multiplayer gameplay: the controls are solid and crisp, but the character almost moves too quickly, and you may want to change the default controller setup. Pressing Circle to crouch, the R1 button to switch between firearms and the L1 button to switch between handheld devices/projectiles, and the R2 button to fire...I mean, it's unique, but have you ever played a shooter with controls like these?
But there isn't really anything inherently wrong with the controls, and there's good balance between the weapons and the two sides; the GDF (human defenders of earth) and the Strogg (invaders). There are differences between the two, and they range from small to significant. For example, the default Strogg weapon never has to be reloaded - although the ammo isn't limitless - and the Strogg can also turn a dead body into a spawn point. At the same time, we preferred the available weaponry when playing as the GDF, and it seems the vehicles may have had a slight edge, too. Speaking of which, you can actually take to the skies in this game, and although the flight controls are a little wonky, the diversity is much appreciated. We get other cool vehicles, too, like ATVs, APCs, jetpacks (oh, sweet!), tanks, and more. To add to the depth, the PS3 version features something the Xbox 360 version doesn't: the character advancement system that lets players increase four different battle categories. You are rewarded for upping each category, too; as dumping enough experience in BattleSense to reach Level 4 will grant you health regeneration, for instance.
This is exactly the kind of gameplay augmentation that makes the entire experience that much more satisfying, because you always feel as if you're striving for something besides temporary victory in one mission. It's by far the most appealing part of this game, but that's not going to save it from FPS mediocrity. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars can be a lot of fun at times, especially if you head online with some friends, but the technical problems, general blandness, and a complete lack of direction and cohesiveness in the single-player modes drag this one down. The more we think about it, the more we really believe that taking a Warhawk type approach online multiplayer only would've been the right move, because the single-player options really aren't doing anyone any good. And we really wish the combat itself felt more urgent and intense; the relatively boring graphics and average sound make us very aware that we're playing a video game. In other words, our sense of immersion was low.
And lastly, if we have to take almost ten minutes to install the game, shouldn't we expect faster loading times? What was that all about? Quake Wars isn't a bad game; it just feels outdated and completely unremarkable in this day and age.
6/7/2008 Ben Dutka