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Quake II (PC) artwork

Quake II (PC) review

"Enemies dart and dodge, firing sprays of bullets in the final seconds of their lives, trying everything they can to bring you down, even if it means losing their own lives in the process. The range of enemies on display is perhaps the only area in which Quake II rivals the variety of its predecessor, too."

I just realised I forgot the most important bit in my retro review of Quake a little while ago. The most essential, crucial, wonderful aspect of the entire game, and I forgot about it. I'm useless. I'm going to shoehorn it into this review of Quake II, and hope you're all okay with the astonishingly tenuous method by which I link it all together.

You ready?

Okay, let's go.

It's Wind Tunnels. Wind Tunnels was a mission towards the end of Quake. Several different sections of the level were joined not by corridors or tunnels or any of the usual ways of joining one room to another. That would have been too ordinary. Too standard. The devilish minds at id Software had another idea: they would place huge, enormous suction pipes all over the place, and have them launch you at super-speed to the place you needed to be.


The reason I'm lumping this in a review of Qu-- wait, hang on.

Spectacularly, it turns out I forgot the two most important, crucial, wonderful and amazing things about Quake. This almost certainly makes me a terrible person. The second thing was its delightful secret level, which was accessible via a secret area in Episode 1, Mission 4. Unless you had a strategy guide to hand, you'd almost certainly never find the thing. The secret area puzzle involved a button-pressing sequence that opened a hidden door under the murky water in a completely different area of the map. But your reward for finding this place was a thing of bedazzlement: a level in which the gravity was completely fubarred. You could float around like a swanky spaceman, lobbing grenades that floated on high until the day after tomorrow. A glorious treat for finding something so tremendously well hidden.

So, finally, here's where I try to bumble this all together into a review of Quake II. The reason, I think, that I never quite gelled with id's shooter sequel as much as I did with the first game, is that the two aforementioned levels weren't in it.

Hear me out.

The things I remember most about Quake are its variety and its creativity of design. Yes, it was very brown. But it was also beautiful, imaginative and often quite hilarious. Quake II, released a couple of years later, took the series in a completely different direction. It threw away the vague narrative of the first and replaced it with a more tangible story, involving a war between Earth and Stroggos. In other words, it went zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. And in doing so, it created a game that was more cohesive, more ambitious, more brutal, technically probably quite a bit better, yet still about as standard as Sammy Standard of Standardsville.

It would be unfair to ignore the great many improvements Quake II made over its predecessor. For starters, while the story is bland, it is at least existent, unlike the majority of Quake's. Your fighter ship crash lands on Stroggos, and quickly you find yourself in a solo battle against its native race, a horrific hybrid of flesh and metal. Since you're there, you might as well continue to follow your commands: bring down the Strogg infrastructure, and take it to da man, a.k.a. Strogg leader, the Makron.

Like I say: zzzzzzzzzz. But at the same time, it's the late 90s. It's very much worth bearing that in mind, regardless of what Unreal may have been doing at the same time, and Half-Life just a year or so later.

Also, the combat is majestically better than in the original game. Enemies dart and dodge, firing sprays of bullets in the final seconds of their lives, trying everything they can to bring you down, even if it means losing their own lives in the process. The range of enemies on display is perhaps the only area in which Quake II rivals the variety of its predecessor, too. From standard grunts to flying war robots and beyond (I cannot recall the names of any of Quake II's enemies, which is interesting, as I can remember all of Quake's), the Strogg force is always a delight to fight, especially with a weapon arsenal that sees the return of Doom's notorious BFG.

Better still, enemies fight each other. Different forms of Strogg monstrosity are, it would seem, locked in a bit of a civil war of their own. Stray bullets fly, and these fusions of metal and meat don't take kindly to being involved in a good old friendly fire incident. It adds so much character to proceedings, and it's a move that so few games even bother with today.

Quake II turned up at around the same time as Epic's Unreal. I talked about Unreal before here on HonestGamers - about how forward-thinking it was, and how so many elements were so ahead of their time. The general consensus upon the games' release was that Quake II was stronger because of the tight, punchy nature of its combat, and the way it interlinked levels, replacing the typical level-by-level setup with a hub-based system that saw you returning to earlier areas in order to progress further into the game.

And that certainly does work for Quake II. What it lacks, though, is the sense of scale that Unreal Ė and others Ė managed to convey. Graphics aren't everything, especially when you're talking about games that are more than a decade old, but there's no doubt in my mind that Unreal's extraordinary vistas put Quake II's lifeless, grey corridors into harsh perspective.

At the same time, though, there's a cartoon-like quality to the visuals that masks some of the dreariness. The corridors are grey, but the lights are yellow, and red, and orange. The enemies are semi-mechanical hybrids, but the design of them is often extraordinary, imposing, and genuinely frightening.

It all adds up to a game that's strong, and still fun to play. Its combat is much more impactful than that of its predecessor, and it did a commendable job of attempting to tell a story Ė albeit one that seems bland by today's standards.

But it didn't have Wind Tunnels, and it didn't have Ziggurat Vertigo. That's why the first game still warms my heart more.


Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (December 30, 2011)

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herpderp posted November 28, 2013:

Thanks for this terrible review, in which you spend most of the time talking about (i) level design gimmicks in an different game, and (ii) the simultaneously forgettable and irrelevant plot. I especially like the bit where the strongest criticism you can provide is that it lacks a secret low-gravity level, even though there is in fact a secret low-gravity level but you weren't able to find it. Good job, champ!

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