When Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was released in October 2007 on the PC, it was lauded as a feverish multiplayer shooter for its objective-based action set in id Software's rich Quake universe. Naturally, console gamers wanted a piece of the GDF-versus-Strogg action, so id turned to Nerve Software to develop an Xbox 360 port, and to Underground Development for a PlayStation 3 version. The results? Console owners are subjected to two lackluster ports that fail to improve or expand upon the original in any way, making the game feel dated next to worthwhile console shooters such as Call of Duty 4 and Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. Something was certainly lost in translation.
If you're not familiar with Quake, you're not going to learn anything in Quake Wars. From screenshots you may deduce that humans are fighting alien-type creatures on a planet that may or may not be Earth. Evil aliens known as the Strogg have invaded, and our last defense is, naturally, the Global Defense Force. We're told that the year is 2065 and that the events in Quake Wars serve as a prequel to Quake II. Sadly, this paragraph features more story elements than you'll find in the actual game. If you want to learn more, you'll have plenty of time to type "Quake" into your favorite search engine during the frustratingly long load screens.
As either the GDF or Strogg, you'll do battle on 12 giant maps, each boasting more than a square kilometer of varied terrain and structures. There's your standard city, jungle, tundra, and desert environments, each of which are very well balanced, with a mix of indoor and outdoor areas that give each character class a chance to shine. You can jump into the combat boots of five different classes on each side each with its own unique abilities. Medics heal, engineers construct defense turrets, covert ops sneak and snipe, and field ops deploy artillery and lace targets for massive missile strikes. Missiles hurt.
Cooperation is the key in Quake Wars. To succeed, you and your squadmates will have to coordinate attacks and defense using each class's strengths at the appropriate moment. Each map has three objectives that need to be tackled one at a time, which ensures that the battle lines will continually ebb and flow depending on the skills of your squad. For example, you may have to use an engineer to construct a mining laser that will blow open an entrance to an enemy base. The engineer may run behind a heavily armed soldier who clears a path toward the construction site with a grenade launcher. Meanwhile, a medic may follow along, patching up the engineer until the task is completed. Covert operatives, on the other hand, can set up a radar tower to get a bead on nearby enemies and then take them out with a scoped rifle. Finally, a field-ops agent may neutralize enemy defense turrets by calling in an orbital missile strike. Throw in a mix of vehicles, such as giant mechs and attack choppers, and you have one explosive sandbox. This dynamic, objective-based gameplay is really the beauty behind the Enemy Territory formula. Developing a strategy and executing it is exhilarating. In the words of Hannibal of the A-Team, I love it when a plan comes together.
Unfortunately, discovering all of the abilities of each class will require you to whip out the instruction booklet because Quake Wars is one of the less accessible shooters in recent memory. In part, that's because there's no true single-player campaign that might, for example, teach you how to use the covert-ops explosive sticky cam or to call in a dark-matter strike as a Strogg oppressor. The single-player "campaign" features the same multiplayer maps, except that they're littered with bots. The Xbox 360 version does have a cursory training mode that teaches you basic mechanics such as how to call in deployables (for instance, radar towers), but the tutorial is superficial and the training officer's lips don't even move when he talks. Nevertheless, a poorly animated drill sergeant is preferable to the useless PS3 tutorial video that tells you little more than that Quake Wars has classes and that classes do things. The learning curve here is very steep even for veterans of first-person shooters. When you discover all the different tricks available to each class, like disguising yourself as a GDF soldier and teleporting across the map, you'll be impressed at how much there really is for each class to do. It will just take you several hours to figure it out all on your own.
Without a true single-player campaign, you would expect there to be a silly amount of maps and multiplayer game types, but that's not the case in Quake Wars. For your $59.99, you get 12 maps that feature the same objectives each and every time. As grand as the objectives sound--plant the explosives, hack the computer, construct the giant laser--they all boil down to the same thing. You choose the appropriate class, run up to the objective, hold down the action button for 20 seconds, and then repeat. Quake Wars has plenty of great moments provided you're playing with a good team, but with the game costing significantly more than the PC version, there really aren't enough to justify the price. Instead, the player count has actually been reduced from 32 on the PC to 16 on both consoles, the graphics are nowhere near as sharp, and there's not even a mission briefing to describe what you're doing and why. For an eight-month-old game, this is a complete rip-off. You're better off playing on a PC with a USB controller.
It's interesting that id chose two different developers for the separate console versions. Other than shooting and running, everything is controlled differently. Both versions handle relatively well, although true shooter fans will want to turn off the auto-aim, which is so sticky that it should be renamed "FPS for dummies." Between the two console versions, the 360 iteration has a slight edge. The colors are not as sharp, but the menus are much more streamlined, which helps you change class and spawn points on the fly. On the PS3, you have to navigate through different screens using a combination of shoulder buttons, which is not something you want to do in the heat of battle.
Quake Wars boasts extensive stat tracking and a persistent ranking system, but you'll have to hunt to find it. Only on the online leaderboards will you discover that you've ascended to the rank of, say, second lieutenant, and that your preferred weapon is the Strogg accurized lacerator. During each battle, you'll earn experience points from secondary objectives such as capturing spawn points or blowing up enemy radar stations. When you accumulate enough XP, you'll unlock extra weapons and proficiencies such as faster sprint and smaller weapon spread. Unlike in Call of Duty 4, these upgrades are not persistent and are reset after each campaign, which lasts for only three maps. This is unfortunate because the two development teams missed an opportunity to add some kind of character customization, a standard feature in any good FPS these days.
Though Quake Wars was by no means a gorgeous game on the PC, it absolutely flounders on both consoles. Textures and lighting are not much better than PlayStation 2 and Xbox standards, and effects are completely underwhelming. An orbital laser strike should rattle your screen with fire and brimstone, burning enemy corpses to a T-for-Teen crisp. Instead, the Strogg dark-matter cannon makes it look like the aliens are firing a giant orange flashlight. The environments are massive, yes, but the structures are uninspired and appear to be designed by Soviet cold-war architects. There's none of the lived-in look you would expect to see in an African village or war-torn European city. Walls are blank. Textures are flat. Explosions are soft. At least there is great draw distance so snipers and pilots can rack up kills from across the map with a great shot. The sound is also mediocre, thanks to the repetitive, raspy voice commands from both the Strogg and GDF alike.
In terms of value alone, it's difficult to recommend Quake Wars. You'll love the giant sandbox filled with such distinct classes, high-tech weaponry, and attack vehicles. But when limited to only 16 players on just 12 maps, the gameplay is one-dimensional. Next to so many solid console shooters that feature persistent upgrades and customization, along with a variety of multiplayer game modes in addition to a single-player campaign, Quake Wars is incredibly shallow. If you're an online shooter fan who has a good group of friends to play with, give Quake Wars a try...on the PC.