Ground Zero is more-or-less Quake 2 in the traditional sense but innovative enough to get that fresh feeling.
There’s one thing that nobody can deny is that Quake 2 was an instant success. Considering that it didn’t follow the traditional path of making it a ‘true sequel’ Quake 2 delivered what players want – carnage. A year later, the first expansion pack ‘The Reckoning’ used this successful formula with moderate accomplishment however it was getting obvious that the Quake franchise needs something more innovative, something more of a different feel hence brought to the table ‘Ground Zero’; Quake 2 in the traditional sense but innovative enough to get that fresh feeling.
This second expansion pack is from Rogue’s Software; Bearing in mind that Rogue Software and id Software are housed in the same building, my immediate feeling was there won’t be much of a change from Quake II. Similar to Rogue’s Software previous expansion pack back in 96 ‘Dissolution of Eternity’ for Quake (and that was pretty much a bore for me – check out my review on that), Ground Zero unfortunately followed the same path; that is more slugging festivities and not enough innovation.
Ground Zero starts off well enough; as a matter of fact similar to Quake II, you are part of a task force dropping into the Stroggs homeland only to realise that even though the big gun is no longer ‘big’, the Stroggs' other weapon the gravity well is causing havoc to any ships in its vicinity. Therefore your task is to infiltrate the stronghold and destroy the gravity well.
The game play is essentially the same as in Quake II; knock over a couple of Stroggs, collect certain items (which mirrored in Quake II), press a few buttons here and there and then escape the planet. However there are some elements that made is game a little different than in Quake II. Firstly the level designs are a lot more confusing and a good memory is required. For example: there is a force field that blocked a doorway which requires for you to enter another level only to press some button to release that force field. When you head back to go through that force field, you start off in another position therefore spending some time wandering around until you locate that now released force field. On the surface, this may look like a challenge however if the Stroggs actually build the installation the way it is, they themselves would be confused (and probably answers the question why they only guard a certain spot).
Yet, the AI has improved significantly from Quake II. No more of that ‘I’ll just stand here’ attitude as now if they spotted your presence, the Stroggs will be going on a hunting spree and won’t stop for no-one; similar to The Terminator chasing Sarah Connor. You can imagine the Stroggs will flash a picture of you and stating ‘I’m looking for Ranger. Have you seen him?’ when scurrying around those corridors.
Another improvement is the implementation of turrets; not only you need to worry about the Stroggs, the turrets are also a pain on the rear side. They will pop up when you least expected and whammo, time to hit the reload key. I thought the turrets are placed strategically satisfactory as many-a-times I was sneaking up on a Strogg only to realise that a turret was behind me taking aim and as a consequence I died. Thereafter there was no more skipping merrily throughout the installations but peering and listening for any hidden turrets.
With any mission packs there will be new monsters and weapons. Some of the new monsters are really well-designed and a royal pain. The medic for instance is now a force to be reckoned with. Armed with a blaster, the s.o.b. also can revitalise dead comrades; so that dead gladiator you see there can now bring back to life in a matter of seconds (among other Stroggs) so the whole idea is you don't kill Stroggs, you gibbed them. The flying Daedalus is now armed with a power shield and the new stalker is basically a really tough cyborg spider (what’s with mission packs and spiders anyway…). Some of the new weapons are the ETF Rifle (armour piecing), prox mines and the chainsaw made its way back. Personally I thought the prox mines is the only useful new weapon.
A well known feature for any of id Software PC games is the concept of secret locations and levels. I have located the majority of secret locations however because of the somewhat confusing map levels, there will be some areas that you cannot return, no matter what. Also I think there is only one secret level and the level itself is a bummer (hint: you will spend time just running for your life).
Graphically and sound wise little has changed since Quake II. It’s a shame as considering its one year after the release of Quake II you come to expect some changes. The good news though is that there’s a new soundtrack from Sonic Mayhem that still gets your blood pumping. The only other change that I have noticed was the lighting however not enough to warrant some discussion.
Ground Zero as a mission pack is quite long. There are fourteen levels (plus one secret level) hence the value is quite good – almost like having a new game. It also sports that easy, medium and hard level difficulty and introduced via a console command the nightmare level. Considering that this game is considerably harder than Quake II, expect to invest ten to twenty hours as there will be times where you need to scout for those turrets and less of that gun-ho approach, unless you like to die a lot.
As Quake II was famed for its intense multiplayer matches thankfully Ground Zero made some improvements. The game comes with ten new maps and some great new weapons which forces the player to change tactics. Some new weapons are the Vengeance Sphere (which will trigger when you reach less than 25% of your health as the sphere will go on a killing spree), Hunter Sphere (triggers when you die then it will track the killer without remorse), Anti-Matter bomb (plant it and r-u-n) and my personal favourite the Doppelganger (creates a copy of you). There are also three different styles of multiplayer options: death match, co-op (up to four players – very cool indeed) and tag (grab the tag token, get a healthy bonus and get three frag points for every kill).
Since it is one year after the release of Quake II, I felt this mission pack was released a little too late. Even though there is not enough innovation, the mission pack is still a good expansion to those who’s aching for some more quaking. Ground Zero reminds me a lot like Dissolution for Quake – more of that corridor romping and not enough spark. That said and thankfully so, the multiplayer is still where the fun is.