Quake Arena Arcade Hands-On

We suit up and head to the battlefield for an early showing of this much-anticipated Live Arcade game.

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The arrival of Quake Arena Arcade on Xbox Live has been a long time coming. Though the game was announced at QuakeCon 2007, there have been remarkably few details released about it, leaving fans of the series wondering if it would ever turn up at all. Quake 4 failed to make an impression when it was released on the Xbox 360 in 2005, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars didn't fare much better, so returning to the series' roots is by no means a bad thing. We got our hands on the latest build of the game and are happy to announce that classic Quake warfare is nearly here once again.

With 45 maps on offer--15 of which are brand new--developer Pi Studios has certainly crafted a jam-packed arcade game. The 30 classic maps come from Quake III Arena, so they should be familiar territory for fans. With most locations covered in artwork depicting the presence of the devil and satanic stars caressing open floor space, Quake Arena Arcade does a brilliant job of creating a hellish atmosphere in which to fight. Its simple demonic imagery and long corridors are a world away from the complex level design we see in many games today, but it's great to see the series sporting its old threads.

Pi Studios has tweaked Quake for the console user. The pace of the game is slightly slower than previous games on the PC, as the developer compensates for the lack of mouse and keyboard. Although many may bemoan the lack of PC controls, the game feels completely natural with the Xbox 360's dual-stick layout. For the initiated (of whom there are many), all the classic weapons and effects are still firmly intact. Hearing the bleep when you tag your opponent still marks a sweet way to track your progress, as it works without needing to see your foe's health bar planted all over the screen. This is especially true if you're in possession of the suffocating plasma gun that'll play a monophonic symphony of death if you get it right; a feat that will surely have you cackling sadistically.

For those who want a single-player challenge, Quake Arena Arcade offers a strong test of your ability. Story is nonexistent in favour of pitting you against a cast of familiar foes. You'll battle against characters such as Grunt, Mynx, and Doom's Space Marine before finding yourself facing a boss in a one-on-one encounter. Of course, Quake's main appeal stems from the multiplayer. This game supports 16-player online action, incorporating the standard modes of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. We've been blasting our way through the multiplayer battlefield with two human players and a handful of bots. The slight lack of speed is hardly noticeable when you're unleashing the lightning gun on a group of enemies or hunting for an instant kill with the infamous railgun. As ever, Quake's weapon selection rewards players who understand the right gun for each situation. The shotgun's strength was remarkable in this early build and is definitely the best tool for separating muscle from bone in the tight arenas we played.

Our preview build showed some lag when a lot was happening onscreen, but we expect that to be ironed out when the full release rolls round. As of now, there aren't many details to go by, but we expect to see the game sometime in 2010. With the series taking a step back for its Xbox Live Arcade release, Pi Studios may just send the old notion that "change is good" straight to hell.

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