Quake III Arena Preview
Longtime fans of Quake may be a bit skeptical about the Dreamcast version of Quake III Arena, but the game is already impressive in its unfinished state.
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While the Quake series has really been the series to beat on the PC since the first game was released in 1996, it hasn't really made too much of an impact on the console scene. The games' heavy focus on multiplayer gaming hasn't really been duplicated terribly well on consoles, and console gamepads are simply subpar when compared to the FPS controller of choice, the mouse and keyboard. Quake III Arena for the Dreamcast hopes to buck that trend by offering online multiplayer, limited compatibility with other versions of Quake III, and a truckload of controller options, including the mouse and keyboard.
While Quake and Quake II were mainly viewed as single-player adventures that also contained multiplayer elements, Quake III Arena was designed with multiplayer in mind. The game has a strong single-player mode, but rather than adventuring through levels, playing alone is essentially identical to playing multiplayer, except that you're playing with bots instead of human opponents. The bots can be set to different difficulty levels, ensuring that even the most novice player will be able to have a good time. But the real point of the game is its online capabilities. Sega will maintain several network hubs across the country as part of SegaNet, the company's online-gaming ISP that launches this September. The Quake III Arena servers will reside on these hubs; up to four players can be in one game at the same time. The game also has a split-screen two-player mode, which uses slightly lower-poly versions of the maps. Over the DC's standard 56K analog connection, the game should be pretty playable, considering the network's regional hubs and the four-player limitation. But as anyone who's ever used a broadband connection to play Quake will tell you, 56K is severely limited when compared to using a high-speed connection. While it isn't in the current build of the game, one of Sega's top priorities is to make the game compatible with the LAN adapter, a Sega accessory that will allow the system to hook up to your existing cable modem or DSL connection. Under optimal conditions, this would make playing the game against three online opponents as lag-free as playing against three bots.
Graphically, the levels and player models are a little more blocky than their PC counterparts, but the game still looks great. At this stage in the game's development, the frame rate is a little unpredictable, moving from smooth to choppy at a moment's notice for seemingly no reason. Rest assured, though - this is one of the issues that will be worked on before the game's release.
One other limitation that Dreamcast owners will face is the game's lack of expandability. While just plain old Quake III Arena is already a great game, the community of Quake III PC fans has churned out lots of great add-on material for the game, ranging from new player models, sounds, and maps to full-blown modifications such as Rocket Arena 3, Urban Terror, and Jailbreak. Since these add-ons require quite a bit of storage space (that is, they definitely can't be stored on a DC, even if you plugged in four controllers and filled each slot up with a VMU), you won't be able to play them on the Dreamcast. Server-side mods, however, are possible, since they simply change the rules of the game a bit and don't add any new content to the game. That means it's possible that some SegaNet servers could be configured to play Instagib (where one hit kills) or have altered gravity settings and the like.
Provided there are no major issues between now and October, you will be able to use your Dreamcast to play with and against players who are using the PC version of Quake III. Sometime after the Dreamcast game's release, Sega will release a patch for PC users that will allow PC players to connect to SegaNet servers and play against DC users. While this may seem a bit unfair, the patch won't be released right off the bat, in hopes of giving DC players time to get up to speed. There will also be DC-only servers to choose from. So if you're stuck with a 56K connection and the standard DC controller, you won't be forced to play against three guys with Pentium IIIs and T1 connections to the net.
The game has lots of different controller options. While most console players will start out using the standard Dreamcast pad - which defaults to a setup not unlike Turok for the Nintendo 64 - the game was designed around and meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard. Using the mouse to look around and the keyboard to move is an easy, intuitive way to play - provided you have a large enough flat surface near your Dreamcast. There's also the Panther DC, a trackball and analog joystick combo from MadCatz, which, once you get over the learning curve involved with using the Panther's large, glowing trackball, is yet another viable control option.
Aside from the standard free-for-all deathmatch mode, you can also play team deathmatch, one-on-one tournament, and capture the flag. Also, some of the original game's larger maps have been cut - a wise choice considering the four-player maximum. But those missing levels have been replaced, so the total number of levels is still the same.
Longtime fans of Quake may be a bit skeptical about the Dreamcast version of Quake III Arena, but the game is already impressive in its unfinished state. If Sega can get the frame rate up and sneak in support for the LAN adaptor, the game will end up being a truly amazing first for the console industry. Quake III Arena will hit stores in October, around a month after the initial SegaNet rollout, so start clearing off your coffee table to make room for a mouse and keyboard.