Quake III: Team Arena is an expansion pack for id Software's superb first-person shooter Quake III: Arena, which was released a year ago. At a glance, the expansion may seem like nothing more than a trumped-up modification - an add-on that includes a few play modes and extras and little else. However, Team Arena also has several new features that enhance the original game, including improved graphics and sound, a new user interface, some new maps to fight in, new weapons and items, and three new team-play modes. The new items and play modes are collectively the most significant additions that the expansion makes to the original game, as they allow for a number of interesting and surprisingly complex strategies in team games on Team Arena's polished, well-balanced maps. These strategies tend to work best - and be the most enjoyable - when you're playing with teams of experienced and organized players in an online multiplayer match.
Team Arena is powered by an improved version of the powerful Quake III graphics engine, and despite that the engine itself was released last year, it looks excellent. As with Quake III: Arena, Team Arena supports dynamic lighting, light-mapping effects, and curved architecture, though the new maps in the expansion make more and better use of all of them. The expansion also includes three expansive outdoor maps that make impressive use of real-time shadows and render great distances without any traces of draw-in. But these graphical enhancements come at a price - you'll need a 16MB 3D accelerator card at the very least (as opposed to Quake III: Arena's minimum requirement of 8MB), and though you can still play the game with 64MB of system RAM, you'll need at least 128MB to get the game to run at an acceptable frame rate. And even then, you may have to turn off a few video options. In addition, since many of Team Arena's team maps are more graphically intensive than the original game's, you may use only Team Arena's new team player models on them, since the new models are specifically optimized for use with those maps. There are essentially two basic models - a humanoid male and female - and each has a few different heads and five different skins, but none is anywhere near as interesting or distinctive as Quake III: Arena's gargoyles, androids, and aliens, which aren't available in any of Team Arena's team-play modes.
Team Arena doesn't sound quite as good as it looks. The game has most of the same hard-hitting weapon sound effects as those in the original Quake III: Arena, and it features the enhanced sound effects also included in the Quake III v1.27g point release, including a realistic-sounding Doppler effect that is produced by rockets launched from a distance. Team Arena also has new music tracks, though they resemble those of the original game - passable but largely forgettable techno/thrash that you'll likely turn down (or turn off completely) so that you can better hear what's going on around you. Team Arena also offers a new chat option: contextual voice taunts that you, other players, and nonplayer bots can use in addition to Quake III: Arena's standard gesture taunt. Interestingly, Team Arena's contextual taunts change according to the situation: If you successfully frag an opponent, your voice taunt will be a smug insult, but if you've just been fragged, your voice taunt will more likely be a confused "What the...?" Unfortunately, nearly all these voice taunts sound horrible. Apparently, they were intended to emulate the brazen, foul-mouthed trash-talk of the characters and bots in Epic's Unreal Tournament, though Team Arena's voice taunts actually sound more like the result of a corporate focus group's attempt to emulate bored, mildly peeved teenagers. Fortunately, you can turn off voice taunts, and if you play Team Arena for any appreciable length of time, you probably will.
If you do play Team Arena for any length of time, you'll find there's more to it than good graphics and bad voice acting. Unfortunately, if you're looking for head-to-head deathmatch or an improved single-player game, you won't find much more. Team Arena includes a slightly enhanced bot-orders system that lets you give general directions to computer-controlled bot players on your team - but the bots' artificial intelligence is still rather unimpressive, and as with Quake III: Arena, they won't put up much of a fight except on the highest difficulty settings. In terms of head-to-head competition, Team Arena has four new one-on-one tourney maps (some of which were included in the Sega Dreamcast console port of Quake III: Arena) that are, on the whole, fairly good as tourney maps go. You can also access deathmatch and team deathmatch modes by using the game's "/g_gametype #" console command, though the game's maps aren't really suited for free-for-all or team deathmatch play and none of the game's new power-up items is available in either mode.
However, you'll be able to use all three of Team Arena's new weapons in any game mode: these are the proximity mine launcher, the chaingun, and the nailgun. The proximity mine launcher is the most interesting of the three; it launches small, beeping antipersonnel mines that can be affixed to anything, including enemy players. The chaingun and the nailgun are both extremely damaging weapons that can be made even more so with the game's power-up items.
Team Arena features four power-up items - the ammo regen, doubler, guard, and scout items - as well as two new miscellaneous items, the kamikaze and invulnerability items. Each of the power-up items grants its bearer special abilities that will remain with him until he's fragged, while the kamikaze and invulnerability items are one-use items - the former kills its user in a huge explosion that inflicts grievous damage to any bystanders, while the latter renders its user briefly invulnerable but immobile. As you play, you'll find that different items lend themselves to different sorts of strategies depending on your choice of weapons, the game type, and the map layout; for instance, ammo regen lets railgun snipers fire continuously without having to leave their posts to search for more ammo. You'll also find that the different items and weapons serve as counterbalances to each other. An attacker who's protected by the powerful guard item may be felled by a rapid-firing scout equipped with a damaging nailgun; in turn, this scout may be torn to shreds by a persistent defender equipped with a chaingun and ammo regen.
You'll use all the game's new weapons and items in each of Team Arena's four team-play modes. Team Arena offers a standard capture-the-flag mode, as well as three new game types: one-flag CTF, overload, and harvester. There's only a single flag in one-flag CTF, as the name suggests, which must be captured and brought to the enemy base - this game mode tends to be the most dynamic and least strategic of the four, as both teams will follow the location of the flag all over the map. The other two game modes, overload and harvester, put much more emphasis on teamwork and territory, respectively. In the overload game mode, you must destroy your enemy's obelisk, a stationary object that can withstand a great deal of damage; one player usually can't destroy an obelisk, so it's imperative to coordinate joint assaults with teammates and to bring along some heavy artillery. The harvester game mode requires even more organization; in it, you collect glowing skulls that appear when your opponents are fragged from a central point on the map and then carry them to the enemy base. As such, you'll need to make sure your team is organized enough to guard both the skull generator and your own base while making enough kills to generate skulls. Regardless of what mode you play, you'll find that you won't be able to win entire matches alone and that the more organized team generally tends to win more often.
Team Arena includes a total of 19 maps; 11 of these are brand-new team maps, four are tourney maps, and four are slightly reworked versions of the original Quake III: Arena's capture-the-flag maps. These maps were created by different designers for different styles of play, and certain maps are far better suited to certain game types than others. Unfortunately, Team Arena doesn't have many maps to choose from in the first place; there are really only 15 all-new maps, and four of these are tourney maps. This is somewhat disappointing, especially considering that the original Quake III: Arena was released a year ago and that there have been literally hundreds of free user-made Quake III maps made available for download on the Internet since then. Fortunately, the maps that are included with the expansion are all extremely well designed and balanced.
Quake III: Team Arena may seem unimpressive at first, since it superficially resembles nothing so much as a Quake III mod - and its bland character models, lousy voice acting, and its relatively small number of brand-new maps may do little to improve such a first impression. Yet though its new features may not seem remarkable individually, when put together they comprise a number of interesting new strategies and also let experienced players organize team-based games based on those strategies. Team Arena is an extremely focused expansion that may not add a great deal of obvious breadth to multiplayer team games, but it does add a good amount of depth and will subsequently make such game sessions that much more enjoyable to fans of Quake III's multiplayer component.