Friday, July 8, 2011

Fantastic Friday: For the Love of Quake!

I am not much of a gamer. The games that I do like and play are mostly older games for classic platforms such as the SNES and the Sega Genesis. As such, my knowledge of recent games is somewhat lacking, because I find most current computer games to be rather lacking in originality or fun. This is because many PC games are little more than an exercise to show off the graphical capabilities of the game rather than the gameplay itself. This is particularly problematic with the first-person shooter genre of games as they all seem to be imitators of each other, complete with boring enemies and rife with cliches.

I despise the Halo series as I find the main character to be little more than your average mindless military grunt like you see in almost every first-person shooter. Bioshock had some interesting ideas, but far too many of them got cut out in the final two games of the series, as a quick glance at the concept art books will show you. The Half-Life series is a refreshing change from the usual first-person shooter pablum as its protagonist, Gordan Freeman, is a theoretical physics researcher rather than the usual big and stupid marine. However, one of my favorite older games of all time remains the first Quake game.

It was originally for the PC but it has come out on numerous platforms. Unlike its later sequels, the enemies of the first Quake game were a strange mixture of horror-inspired monsters and formerly human soldiers that had apparently been captured and augmented by the enemy to make them mindlessly obedient in carrying out orders to kill you on sight. The antagonists of Quake all had very distinct characteristics in terms of how they attacked you and what their strengths and weaknesses were. All of the enemies were very well thought out and implemented and the environments that you fought them in were extremely varied. The game had a rather sparse plot, as you were supposedly a lone soldier left behind in a base after everybody else had been killed, as an enemy that was codenamed "Quake" had come through a sort of interdimensional device that your base was working on before the attack.

The game had four "episodes" of levels that were somehow related to each other. You could choose which episode you wanted to play in after selecting which entrance of difficulty you wanted to enter at the beginning of the game. You did not have to play the episodes in a specific order, but the episodes increased in difficulty so it is usually advisable to start with the first episode as it was the easiest one.

The first level of each episode was unique as it featured some sort of futuristic military base. However, the "base" levels had the same dismal and oppressive feeling that characterized the rest of the Quake levels. The walls were dingy and scratched, and were often covered in blood stains. Pools of grimy water and poisonous sludge were not uncommon and while the "base" levels lacked the horrifying textures of some of the later levels, they did imply that the current inhabitants were nearly mindless and that they were not the original builders as the current denizens seemed to lack the intelligence or autonomy to repair or maintain these crumbling structures.



The enemies that you fought in the "base" levels consisted of shambling human soldiers called "grunts", along with rabid rottweiler dogs, and the slightly more dangerous "enforcers" which were like grunts that have been upgraded. Grunts were humans that had cybernetic implants put into their brains by Quake that gave them feelings of bliss whenever they killed somebody. Grunts are not much of a challenge to defeat as two shots with the shotgun weapon that you start the game with was more than enough to put them down permanently and their reactions and movements were slow. Grunts were only challenging in large groups as they were quite accurate with their guns and could overwhelm you if taking on too many at once. When defeated, you could pick up a grunt's backpack which contained a few shells of shotgun ammunition. Rottweilers were even less of a threat than a grunt because all they could do is run towards you and attack you with a lunging bite. They had even less defense than a grunt and two blasts would quickly make them drop. The enforcers, which were the resident "tough guys" of the base levels were tougher than grunts as they wore full combat armor and were faster and had more defense than a grunt as it took four shotgun blasts to defeat them. In addition, they had some sort of energy weapon that fired blobs of light that cause quite a bit of damage to your character if he was hit. Unlike the grunts which could only snarl or growl, the enforcer apparently retained some degree of intelligence as it could utter simple phrases like "HALT!", "STOP!" or "FREEZE!" when it spotted you. When killed, an enforcer dropped a backpack containing "cells" which was ammunition for the "thunderbolt" weapon which you got later in the game.

After completing the "base" level at the beginning of each episode, you entered the world of your antagonist, which was some sort of dimension filled with rotting castles or malign dungeons. While the grunts, rottweilers and enforcers were absent in these levels, you had scrags, knights, death knights, fiends, zombies, rotfishes, ogres, spawn, vores, and shamblers.

Scrags are floating enemies that look like a cross between an armless man and a snake. They spit some sort of poisonous blob of fluid at you with a high degree of accuracy and damage if it hit you. Knights were twisted humanoid creatures wearing rusty armor and wielding battered and blood-covered swords that they used to great effect if they ever managed to get close enough to attack you with them if you did not fill them full of buckshot or nails first. Ogres were brutish humanoids that carried small grenade launchers and held chainsaws in the other arm. They were one of the most common enemies in the game and their grenades could be a real hassle at times. Continuing on with the rather easy enemies, the rotfish were undead piranha-like creatures that would chomp on you in the water and could easily be defeated by a single shotgun blast. Zombies were undead corpses that attached you by throwing pieces of their own flesh at you, and while they could be easily knocked down by any weapon, they would quickly rise up again and start attacking you unless you blew them to pieces using your explosive weapons.

Later on, you would encounter the more dangerous, mid-level enemies such as the death knight, spawn, fiend, and vore. Death knights are larger, tougher, and faster versions of the regular knight and could quickly kill you with a few swipes of their massive swords or their magical ranged projectiles. Spawn are bouncing blobs of slime that would harm you on contact and had a nasty habit of inflicting even more damage when killed as they tended to explode in your face when defeated. The fiend was a highly aggressive, eyeless, and clever beast that reacted by quickly charging at you and lunging across great distances to tear you open with its hook-like forelegs and would quickly rip you apart with them at close range as they did a lot of damage. Vores are bizarre, tripedal creatures that send explosive projectiles that homed in on your presence when they spotted you and a vore could take a lot of hits before killing it.



The undisputed "king" of the Quake monsters is the shambler. Shamblers are hulking, foul-tempered beasts that could send a powerful burst of lightning to reduce you to a pile of ashes, or rend your body to bloody chunks with their massive claws at close-range. Their heads lack visible eyes; and large, jagged, and frightening teeth jutted out of their mouths. They could soak up a lot of damage before falling, and they were especially resistant to your grenade launcher and rocket launcher which were normally very powerful weapons in the game. A shambler stops at nothing to defeat its enemies, even if it means crushing any allied monsters in its way. The shambler is never something that you want to see or take lightly.



Although Quake is a "mess" from a concept standpoint, there has never been anything like it before or since. The mish-mash of varied monsters and environments just seems to somehow work within the atmosphere of the game and Quake revels in its morbid, chaotic, and violent glory. While violence in video games often comes off as being over-the-top to the point of being cartoonish or laughable, the muted palette of Quake along with the otherworldly level architecture make the grisly world of Quake a truly chilling experience.

While the following sequels of the Quake franchise featured a race called the Strogg, they were little more than boring rip-offs of the Borg from Star Trek. Quake deserves a true sequel, but making one that captures the essence of the original game would be very difficult as Quake has an intensity that is not easily replicated by many modern games. This is an example of a game that transcends genres.

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