Quake (PC) review
"Quake still absolutely stands up today. Its visuals might be pixellated, the environments often rather monochrome, as became the running gag. Yet the design of the world is tremendous, the levels balanced, structured and elegantly paced. The variety on display, despite the vast swathes of brown, dwarfs that of most modern games as well."
My dad is an absolutely terrible person.
Seriously. Heís a menace. Inexcusable as a human being. I was only eight, for goodnessí sake. Eight. Young and impressionable, eager to get a first taste of the forbidden world of adulthood. He took advantage. Iím happy to talk about this now. He took advantage across several weeks during that famously hot British summer of 1996. He corrupted me; soiled my mind forever. When she found out, my mother wasnít happy at all.
Eight-year-olds shouldnít be doing such unspeakable things. Especially when it means staying up after bed time. But stay up I did, long into the night, playing what my dad called our ďspecial game.Ē
How could he, a grown man in his late 30s at the time, expose a child to such inappropriateness as id Softwareís extraordinary 3D shooter, Quake?
There was a deal. As long as I went to school every morning without complaining or throwing a temper tantrum, I was allowed a couple of hours on Quake every evening. We played through the game together over those weeks, taking on a level each at a time. If I recall correctly, we played it on easy mode, which the manual suggested was ďfor little kids and grandmasĒ. Even id Software were advocating that children play their game! Based on their recommendation, I had an excuse for playing on easy. I suspect his excuse was that he was rubbish.
So yeah, plenty of great memories of father-son bonding. Iím sure my mum wouldíve preferred us to go for a kick-about at the park, but whatever. We had a fantastic time. The game was stunning, rendered for the first time in full 3D, even the enemies. It was tightly designed, fierce and brutal. But I admit that, when I played through again recently, the game surprised me. Because I was eight years old at the time, and my adult self didnít really believe it was quite so good.
For starters, a lot changes in the best part of 15 years. Game design has certainly evolved a spectacular amount since then, and what was once acceptable is no longer so. And secondly, well, I was eight. At eight, someone might as well have shoved Daikatana in front of me, and Iíd have thought it was the most amazing thing ever crafted by humanity.
But no: Quake still absolutely stands up today. Its visuals might be pixellated, the environments often rather monochrome, as became the running gag. Yet the design of the world is tremendous, the levels balanced, structured and elegantly paced. The variety on display, despite the vast swathes of brown, dwarfs that of most modern games as well. Quake wrote into its story a great way of swinging between science fiction and grim Medieval fantasy: set the game in the future, and have it be about a dude travelling through flashy, high-tech slipgate complexes into an alternate dimension where everythingís grand but grimy, and apparently six centuries old.
Itís also bloody scary. I have vague recollections of unrepeatable language pouring from my dadís mouth, much to my motherís wide-eyed horror, but I donít remember being quite so startled myself. Yet here I am, a grown man, on the edge of my seat as I wait for the next big jump. Thereís a moment in Episode 1, Mission 5, in which you enter an empty room containing the very important gold key. You step forward to pick it up, the walls drop all around you, and thereís a Shambler - a great, white, hulking bundle of goodness knows what - standing there, furious, firing bolts of lightning at you, and oh my goodness. Iím happy to spoil this sequence, because there are 20 more where that came from.
The weapons pack a punch, though, which is a good thing. While Quakeís 3D engine meant it could never pack quite as many baddies on-screen as its spiritual predecessor, Doom, those who are present are a tough collective. The Vores, for example - enormous arachnoid beasts firing heat-seeking spike balls from their bellies - take an absolute age to bring down, not to mention a rucksack full of rockets. And the sheer breathtaking speed of the Fiends, all claws and jaws and nightmare, means that hitting them before they scratch your eyes out is a genuinely finger-destroying task.
But the weapons! A whole sea of them, each one weighty and tactile. idís trademark shotgun makes for your starting weapon, alongside an axe which youíll never use unless youíve got the Quad Damage power-up, in which case itís hilarious. Next comes one with two barrels, before a nailgun, a super nailgun, grenade and rocket launchers, and even a gun which shoots pure electricity join your roster. The nailgun ammo has the Nine Inch Nails logo plastered all over it, in one of the loveliest pieces of in-game advertising Iíve seen. Trent Reznor created the blistering soundtrack, which still raises hairs today.
Quake also features an endgame boss thatís memorable for the most bizarre reason: itís an extraordinary anticlimax. Sheís called Shub-Niggurath, and for the majority of the game, youíre not really aware of her existence, or of the existence of a final boss at all. The game is spilt into four episodes, each accessible from what is essentially an explorable 3D menu screen. Itís not until youíve completed all four that the floor begins to descend, a set of stairs appears, and you can wander down into her lair.
Itís filled with wave upon wave of bad guys, probably the most challenging sequence of battles in the game. Yet old Shubbie just sits there, in the middle of a pool of lava, a big tentacled beast posing no threat whatsoever. Sheís behind this whole infestation of nastiness, apparently, but she appears completely placid, all on her own, passive-aggressively dumping a whole load of minions in your path. She might as well be looking the other way and whistling.
You empty a bucketload of bullets into her torso, but nothing happens. And then you realise that the floating spike ball hovering around the room is the location in which that big teleporter ahead dumps you when you jump into it. And the spike ball occasionally passes through the monster in the pit of lava. And oh...
In a seconds-long cutscene, itís all over. You hack your way out of her belly, destroying her in an inexplicable shower of guts, and thatís Quake done with. Youíve won. Youíre the hero. Itís bizarre.
But you know what? Despite the anticlimax, I did feel like a hero - both as an eight-year-old, and just recently. Iíd defeated a full, lengthy first-person shooter, bringing down the evil empire of Shub-Niggurath, and I damn well deserved to feel a bit of pride. So that eight-year-old went on to play more games, more challenging ones, games of different colours and flavours. Quake wasnít just a fantastic game: it was the single experience that made me realise how awesome the medium could be.
I guess I know who I have to thank for that. My dad is an absolutely awesome person.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (December 30, 2011)
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