I really can't count how many sleepless nights the Quake series has caused me. I'd sit in front of my PC for eight to ten hours at a time, using the mouse as an extension of my body, killing as many of my fellow deathmatchers as I could find. Once the Quake II levels got boring, id Software released the Quake II point release, adding much-needed deathmatch-specific levels to the game. And on top of that, people hunched over their level editors were churning out more and more levels of varying quality every day. Add to that numerous homemade mods that brought entirely new gameplay modes (Rocket Arena 2 and JailBreak, just to name two of my favorites) to the Quake II engine, and you're looking at plenty of new, exciting experiences. The Nintendo 64 version of the game plays a competent game of Quake II. And for some - specifically those who don't have a PC powerful enough to play the original version of the game - that will be enough. But being locked into a static set of gameplay modes, maps, and models really limits the appeal of the game. It's safe to say that if you've already been playing Quake II on your computer, you really needn't bother with any more versions of the game.
One nice touch about the N64 version of Quake II is that it uses new levels. There are, however, one or two levels portions that are extremely close to sections in the original. The level design is decent, though it's also a bit on the simple side. For the most part, the designs are flat, and occasionally they're symmetrical designs that don't really heighten the tension at all, since you pretty much know exactly what to expect around every turn. The mission-based nature of the single-player game works well enough, and while it adheres to the "find key or button, use to open next door" design philosophy, it hides it well enough by having you pick up explosive charges, data discs, and other door-opening devices.
The multiplayer levels are also pretty well designed, though a few of them are way too big for two or even three-player deathmatches. The multiplayer action is available in a few different flavors, including plain-vanilla deathmatch and a stripped-down version of Capture the Flag. Gone are the tech power-ups, grappling hook, and, well, most of the fun. It's not that the mode itself is weak. It's just that playing CTF with teams of two just really isn't fun at all. Not to mention the fact that you can reduce the amount of strategy involved to around zero just by glancing at the other portions of the split screen. Two-player deathmatch is the largest offender here, as it's impossible to not notice your character running around on your opponent's screen; this makes sneaking up behind someone a totally unusable tactic.Graphically, Quake II manages to put on a reasonably good show. It looks a little better than the PC version running sans 3D hardware, but the completely terrible character animation (your blaster's firing animation is around three or four frames, and the monsters aren't too much better) really puts a damper on the overall look of the game. Using the Expansion Pak adds a few weapon effects here and there and makes the lighting seem a bit better, but it doesn't do anything for the poor animation. The sound is quite close to the PC version, though in action-heavy sections of multiplayer play, all the gunfire and pain sounds combine to form an entirely useless, mostly annoying chunk of noise. The frame rate, however, remains nice and steady in the multiplayer modes.
Controlling Quake II is a real mixed bag. For starters, ducking has been removed from the game, as has the ability to throw grenades. But this isn't really as big a deal as it sounds, since the levels have been designed with this in mind. The yellow C buttons (or the digital pad, if you'd like to hold the controller the other way) are used to move in all four directions, and it works very well, though like the rest of the control, it's a touch oversensitive. The analog stick is used to look around and aim. After some practice and a lot of patience, you'll be able to get pretty close with your rocket shots and other forgiving weapons. The pinpoint accuracy required by the railgun makes it a pretty useless weapon until you've spent several hours perfecting your analog skills. I'd recommend setting the stick sensitivity as low as it will possibly go until you're ready for slightly faster action. Once you've gotten used to the action on the analog stick, you'll be rocket jumping and circle strafing around like a lunatic.
When all is said and done, Quake II on the N64 is a good conversion of the PC game, and the multiplayer stands up to games like GoldenEye and Turok 2 quite nicely. It would have been nice to see the original levels in there, but the N64-specific levels are nice enough in both single-player and deathmatch to make this a minor gripe. The main problems here are the touchy control, poor animation, and the inherent lack of privacy present in the split-screen modes. If you've never sat down with the PC version, you'll probably be able to easily overlook the game's problems. But if you can run the PC version, then by all means continue to do so.