Quake III Arena (Dreamcast) review
"Whenever I gained the ability of flight, there was always a watered down version of the Bitterman rule that slowly evolved. “He’s flying again! Get him!”"
There was a time, when the working day was done, I already knew what my plans for the evening would involve; there would be a desperate foot-race to reach either of the two Dreamcasts my little social circle owned, because, after a hard day of working for The Man, there was nothing more relaxing than blowing your closest chums to giblets. Seeing as I live outside America and fully-automatic assault rifles are not sold from vending machines, we made do with Quake III: Arena
No other game in our geeky circle has ever kicked up so much nostalgic discussion. We still sit in pub gardens, making fun of the peculiar one in the group who could only use the oversized third party 'cast pad and played as a huge eyeball that plodded along on cybernetic legs. We talk about snatching plasma rifles from the very hands of enemies while the computer gleefully mocked them with cries of "denied!". We talk about the endless hours we trained for 2-on-2 Capture the Flag games and how the others complained that the two Dreamcast owners would usually band together to form a nigh-unstoppable force. We talk about trying to play online with SEGA's woefully underpowered 56k modem, how grenades and shotgun blasts would hang in the air as lag took hold and how we still loved doing it, regardless. And we talk about Bitterman.
We hate Bitterman. He, like the rest of Quake III's cast is a captive combatant, enslaved by the Borg-like Strogg and forced to fight non-stop in any number of their arenas. You can thank Unreal Tournament for iD's change of direction on their #2 staple series, but gone are winding 3D corridors, level objectives and numerous enemies, and in are closed-off arenas housing sci-fi gladiator-like duels to the death. One of these new-age warriors is Bitterman; a neon-green humanoid with slicked back hair and a shit-eating grin permanently plastered on his face. He's a smug, arrogant little twerp and, despite only being on the middle tier of difficulty, he’s always, always better than us. He’s solely responsible for the 'Bitterman Rule'.
This rule was ironclad and, we agreed early, anyone who broke it would be punished with venomous severity. Upon encountering him on any stage, the unfortunate person who stumbled upon him would cry out "Bitterman!", while trying desperately to keep himself alive. The rest of us, no matter our current situation, would drop our personal duels or weapon grabs, turn tail, and leg it towards our hated adversary's position. We would not pause to shoot at each other, would only grab new weapons if they were on the way and would ignore the attentions of other computer-controlled bots that sniped at our fleeing forms. We would flood the green menace with sheer number of force and eradicate him. Only after he was confirmed dead would we turn our weapons on each other.
Though we set a strict punishment, it was never once needed. Our shared hatred was a bond; our enemy's death all the reward we wanted.
Even when the target of our shared hatred wasn’t present, we had plenty of reason to play anyway. The 2-on-2 capture-the-flag matches ran well into the early hours of the morning, the screen lighting up with constant blasts of chattering lightning cannons; snipers broke the darkness with a screaming slug from their railguns. Even the rapid-fire rocket launchers did more then make a bloody mess out of anything they hit: rocket-jumpers could zig-zag through the air to reach previously unreachable platforms and hidey-holes.
We all have our favourite weapons. I was a sniper. I’d find a quiet, atypical corner, maybe balancing on an open door or a hidden ledge and silently unload slugs into people’s heads with the railgun. It wasn’t an easy weapon to use, was slow to fire, hard to aim and left a huge neon tracer to show the attacked exactly where they had been shot from. Others enjoyed the plasma rifle which employed an efficient “don’t aim; just spray” method, filling entire rooms with bright goblets of death, giving you nowhere to run. The shotgun was universally loved; effectively useless at long range, but, get in close, and it has unrivalled dropping power. But what we really wanted was the BFG-10k. This is not the BFG you’d expect from the earlier Quakes or the Dooms; it’s more of a sadistic hybrid between the original gun and a hyper-powered rocket launcher. One huge green glob of death is replaced by the ability to rapid fire slightly less potent blasts. It’s unavoidable rape.
We all have our favourite stages. Rocket jumpers adore the stage set outside a velvet night sky, one littered with numerous tiers and uncountable jump pads. Rocket jump on the pads and touch the very stars, leaving you to plaster death from above on the ant-like blobs below you. Multiple tiers are a much-abused mechanic within, allowing players clear view of those who explore above or below them. All the better to pelt them with grenades from that launcher! My favourite level is one that culminated in a large domed room with a circular cat-walk snaking around the perimeter. You can reach this raised platform though a jump pad found right in the middle of the room or by sneaking around smaller corridors and finding hidden pads there. Not only did this area make for a perfect snipe point, but it contained a unique power-up that gave you the temporary power of flight. Imagine the fun I had, floating eerily behind my prey, pelting them with plasma and rockets, shooting the floor they stood on to rack up monstrous splash damage. They spin round to face the threat, and I’m hovering some inches above their line of sight. By the time they figured it out, they were a bloody pile of giblets.
Whenever I gained the ability of flight, there was always a watered down version of the Bitterman rule that slowly evolved. “He’s flying again! Get him!”
A short time ago, as we discussed the heated rivalries, the dirty tactics and our never-relenting hatred of the smug green bastard, we decided it was time to put nostalgia to the test. Cautiously, and with a huge expectation of having our rose-tinted glasses crushed on the cruel, jagged rocks of reality, we booted up the aging Dreamcast and prepared to be disappointed. Some hours and several phone calls later, there were more people than I had played with in months all vying for console time. One of the group were demanding I find the huge third party ‘pad that they couldn’t play without and was plodding around arenas with a huge eyeball supported by cybernetic legs.
Only a few minutes into the first full game, someone called out “Bitterman!” Without missing a step, we all turned and ran towards our arch nemesis. He didn’t stand a chance.
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