Enemy Territory: Quake Wars Console First Look
In case you forgot, mankind won't fight back against the Strogg on the PC alone. We checked out an exclusive demo of Quake Wars on the Xbox 360 for the first time.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars has topped PC gamers' most-wanted lists for over two years now, and it's not hard to see why. This follow-up to developer Splash Damage's previous Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory combines the large-scale, vehicle-oriented, team-based combat of the Battlefield series with the mythos, signature weapons, and intense run-'n-gun action of traditional Quake games. But PC gamers won't be the only ones waging the battle for (or against) Earth. After id Software announced console versions of Quake Wars earlier this year, we spied neither hide nor hair of the game running on either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. That is, not until we took a trip to Dallas-based Nerve Software--longtime id collaborator and the developer currently hard at work bringing Quake Wars to the Xbox--to get a look at the console version firsthand.
For those console-only gamers among you who haven't been keeping up with our extensive previous coverage of the PC version of Quake Wars, a brief primer. This new game is based on the setting first established by 1997's Quake II (and then recently extended by Quake IV), which involves humanity's near-future fight against a race of malevolent techno-space zombies called the Strogg. Previous games saw mankind invading its enemies' home world of Stroggos, but in Quake Wars, the Strogg will take the fight directly to Earth, so you'll play as either the human defenders or the Strogg aggressors across a series of maps set in locations all over the planet. Each side will have five character classes and a raft of vehicles and deployable gear with which to wage war and conquer your mission objectives, which are arranged logically and sequentially toward a specific ultimate goal on each map.
While primary development on Quake Wars has been ongoing at UK-based Splash Damage for quite some time, Nerve Software and Activision's Foster City, California-based development office have come online more recently as the teams devoted to getting the game up and running respectively on the 360 and PS3. However, these guys aren't just working on simple ports; this is a collaborative effort from a number of different development teams spread between California, Texas, and the UK. For example, Nerve itself designed a handful of the maps in the game. Even id Software is in on the act, with sound engineer Christian Antkow assisting with the audio design, and id programmer John Dean working full-time on the bot artificial intelligence.
It's a good thing the developers are paying due attention to the bots. By now, PC gamers are used to buying online-only multiplayer games, but console users have greater expectations for a solid single-player experience. Thus the 360 and PS3 versions of Quake Wars will contain a solo mode that divides the 12 maps up by geographical region into four distinct campaigns that take place in locales like North Africa and the Pacific Rim. These campaigns will purportedly last around 90 minutes each--or however long it takes you to gain victory across the three included maps--and you'll rack up gameplay-relevant rewards and upgrades through exemplary performance over the course of your single campaign session.
Dean is working to make the bots behave as much like human players as possible. You'll be able to set the bot skill level before a match, but no bot will be omniscient; they'll be constrained by the same gameplay limitations as human players. For example, when the AI team widens its radar range, your computer-controlled enemies will be able to better track your own soldiers' movements. When the covert ops player class takes on the appearance of a fallen enemy soldier, his breathing will sound like his native race when he sprints, and the bots will be able to recognize this dead giveaway just as well as human players will.
Your own teammates will also be quite capable--we saw a demo played from the attacking side on the Sewer map (the same map now available for play in the ET: QW public beta), where the player was left in the dust as his AI comrades methodically knocked out one objective after another. Luckily, the game will contain what id and Nerve referred to colloquially as a "hero" mode, which will cause your bot teammates to drop into a support role and prevent them from completing map-specific objectives, such as arming a massive mining laser or deploying a shield disruptor. That's basically so you can hog all the glory and do the fun stuff yourself.
As mentioned, throughout a single campaign session, you'll build up and retain rewards and upgrades for each of the game's classes as you pull off specific feats. Don't think you'll get beefed up just by killing lots of enemies, though; the rewards require you to play your class skillfully, so you might have to score a certain number of kills with deployable mines or turrets, or disable a certain amount of enemy gear to receive one. These rewards will improve your abilities in a multitude of ways: Various classes may see such upgrades as shortened lock-on times, increased repair or hacking speeds, greater ammo capacities, faster reloads, mine detection, new weapons, and improved vehicle armor. You'll also gain new general ranks for each player class, and all of these rewards will tie into the achievements in the Xbox 360 version (along with a number of generalized combat- and vehicle-related achievements).
Although Nerve has been working on the Xbox 360 version of Quake Wars for only a little over a year, Splash Damage actually had the PC game up and running on a 360 controller more than two years ago. So a lot of thought has already gone into fitting the game's myriad control functions onto the controller's limited button set, and further refinement is expected before release. The designers have included a limited degree of auto-aim in the console versions, but that auto-aim won't kick in until you actually score your first hit on someone. So you'll need at least a modicum of skill to have a chance in most firefights, aiming assistance or not.
Much of the control will depend on button combos and quick-access menus. For instance, you can pop up a context-sensitive radial menu that will offer you a number of canned phrases you can communicate to your teammates. To switch weapons, you can pop up a list with a face button and quickly cycle through with the shoulder buttons. Likewise, you can easily pull up a list of currently available objectives, select one to find out which of your teammates is working on that objective, and then have them appear as floating icons directly in your view. Quake Wars is as tactical as other games in this genre, but as mentioned, it emphasizes intense Quake-style shooter action as well. So the designers seem to be taking care that the tactical controls don't get in the way of your more immediate need to plant a railgun slug between the eyes of your opponent.
We saw the Xbox version of Quake Wars running a handful of different maps, including the previously mentioned Sewer. There was also Island, which will task human forces with pulling off a largely amphibious assault on a Strogg-occupied observatory; Area 22, in which the Strogg will attempt to shut down a human research facility in the Nevada desert; and Salvage, set in a wintry environment that will present few vehicles and few interiors, which will force the defenders to make good use of deployable equipment to drive the defenders back. Between all the vehicles, deployable equipment, character classes (each with their own selectable primary weapons), and multiple paths through each map dependent on the abilities of your class, we're eager to see how the final game balance shakes out. The bot-driven games we witnessed seemed to flow smoothly from one objective to the next, but real human interaction across all the maps and gameplay options will naturally put the game to the real test.
Matches in the console versions of Quake Wars will top out at 16 players (somewhat reduced from the PC game), but otherwise Nerve hasn't made any cuts to the content in bringing the game to the Xbox 360. Performance looked reasonably smooth and steady in the pre-alpha build of the game we were shown, and the team plans to make more significant refinements to the engine in the coming months, including splitting the graphics renderer and the networking code onto different cores of the 360's CPU, which should help improve performance further.
Taking a cue from some other 360 games, Quake Wars won't have a traditional server browser. Instead, it will use what Nerve is referring to as an "iterative search" that filters through available games based on your specific criteria, and the game will factor in Microsoft's centralized TrueSkill database in an attempt to match you up with players who are at roughly your skill level. Based on features such as these and the sample matches we saw, it looks like Nerve and Activision are thoughtfully adapting an ambitious, large-scale PC game to the console environment without sacrificing graphical fidelity or gameplay accessibility. Of course, we'll have to wait until the final version of Quake Wars emerges on all platforms to gauge the game's quality in the online space, where it really counts. When will we get to do that? As always, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars will see release on all platforms "when it's done."
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