Why Quake is still alive and kicking (and screaming, and blasting you with rockets) 25 years later
Hello everybody! It’s been a long time since my last blog post, but there’s nothing that motivates me to write one quite like getting REALLY REALLY INTO SOMETHING! That something, as you’ll have probably gathered from the article’s title, is Quake, the granddaddy of proper 3D first person shooters (before any Doom fans start loading their shotguns, I promise I’ll explain what I mean by ‘proper’ in a bit!) But why are people like me still enthusing about a game that’s just celebrated its 25th anniversary and boasts polygon models so blocky they make Minecraft’s characters look like state of the art CGI? Allow me to enlighten you, and I don’t mean by shooting you into a pit of lava.
What is it?
Quake was released in 1996 by Id Software as their enormously-hyped follow-up to the world-conquering Doom franchise. Seriously, this game was the biggest thing on the planet from a gaming perspective at the time, with gore-drenched, multiple-page spreads splattered across every computer magazine on the shelves (remember those?)
Like Doom, it’s a first person shooter, released before the term ‘FPS’ was even invented (they were still called ‘Doom clones’ back then); but unlike Doom, it doesn’t use a cheated version of 3D that didn’t allow you to look up and down or to have parts of the map underneath each other vertically – this is the ‘proper’ 3D I mentioned earlier. At the time the technology was absolutely revolutionary, and I remember my clunky pre-Pentium PC only managing to run it if I hacked into some of its system files and tolerated a frame rate barely faster than a PowerPoint presentation. It was the sort of game that made people spend hundreds of pounds on new graphics cards just to play it.
But it wasn’t merely a technical marvel; its perfectly-calibrated, breakneck gameplay, ingenious maps and brooding, bizarre setting (development squabbles led to a game that was half sci-fi adventure, half Lovecraftian horrorshow, its zombie-thin plot held together by some drivel about time-travelling slipgates, but somehow it really, really worked) yielded rave reviews and kept gamers glued to their keyboards (and mice, if you wanted to be any good at it).
I bought it soon after release, possibly thanks to its hilariously incongruous advertising campaign (see below) and wish I still had the massive cardboard box emblazoned with the painfully cool Quake logo (although I do still have the original CD – more on that later) and, despite the aforementioned technical problems, I was absolutely hooked for months.
The rise of ‘boomer shooters’ mean Quake is more relevant than ever
It turns out retro shooters, called ‘boomer shooters’ as a sort of ageist shotgun pun, are all the rage. The nostalgia cycle means people in my age group are desperately splashing their cash on stuff that reminds them of their glory years in the late nineties, which means you can now buy a host of brand new Doom or Quake inspired releases like Dusk or Ion Fury, and also that beloved old classics like Duke Nukem 3D are getting the remaster treatment. Seriously, there are shedloads of Quake-style games available now, many of which are brilliant, although given its influence on modern gaming the chances are that Quake’s DNA has crawled (or squelched, or shambled) into many of your other modern favourites.
There’s a brand new Quake: Remastered edition featuring a stunning new episode
Although the original Quake has been available to PC gamers on Steam for years now, thankfully Id (or Bethesda, who now own them… or Microsoft, who now own them… the IP rights get complicated) have decided to capitalise on the current boomer shooter trend and celebrate the game’s 25th birthday by releasing a fully remastered update in 2021. This means the game is finally available for all major consoles, now in glorious widescreen and with some minor graphical enhancements that improve the experience without making it feel any different from the masterpiece you remember, and more importantly packed with extra content.
Alongside the original levels and expansion packs are two new episodes made by Machine Games, the twisted minds responsible for the recent Wolfenstein reboot. Dimension Of The Past was released a few years ago to mark the game’s 20th anniversary, and is terrific, while the other, Dimension Of The Machine, is absolutely hot off the blood-crusted press, and is quite frankly breath-taking. Unshackled by the hardware limitations of 1996, the levels are enormous and graphically stunning, and manage to tell compelling environmental stories about civilisations greedily excavating forbidden runes… which you can probably imagine doesn’t end particularly well. Seriously, I was stunned by the quality of the new episode, and would recommend it to both die-hard fans and franchise newcomers.
It’s STILL got a thriving modding and mapmaking scene
The remaster and its extra content is great for console gamers like me, but PC players have had a smorgasbord of custom-made mods and maps at their fingertips for years. From subtle tweaks like enabling you to splatter your enemies’ corpses after death (who doesn’t enjoy adding insult to grievous bodily injury?) to entirely homemade and often utterly stunning levels, the fans have ensured new life is constantly breathed into Quake’s old lungs (or gills, or whatever eldritch sacs it uses). Some of these expansions almost feel like a sequel, particularly the Arcane Dimensions mod, which is so stuffed with new enemies, weapons, visual effects and staggeringly complex community-sourced maps that it feels sinful that it’s available for free.
Its amazing Trent Reznor soundtrack has finally been restored
Something I feel I haven’t articulated well enough here is Quake’s truly unique atmosphere. The weird mash-up of futuristic military bases and ruined, monster-infested castles makes you feel like a soldier utterly lost and terrified in a hostile, supernatural world. The sense of occult evil leaps out from the screen, but also from your headphones, with the game’s sound design elevating the experience from unsettling to deeply disturbing. A large part of this sonic success is thanks to the brilliant, unsettling, ambient industrial soundtrack created specifically for the game by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, which was missing from the game’s Steam release but has finally been restored for the remaster.
At the time of its original launch, having the game’s music on CD was yet another of Quake’s innovations, and heralded the era of epic orchestral soundtracks we enjoy today; but even as a standalone album Reznor’s work is in my opinion the best thing he ever did. No wonder they named the ammo for the nailgun after his band… and no wonder I’ve kept hold of the CD all these years!
The remaster has breathed new life into the iconic deathmatch scene
It might seem odd that I’ve left this until last, given that its deathmatch mode is what Quake is arguably most renowned for. Another of the game’s technical innovations was to make large-scale online multiplayer competitions possible, basically inventing Esports and spawning a generation of bloodthirsty kids who would illicitly install the game on their school’s network so they could frag and gib each other to oblivion during lunch breaks. This aspect of the game was so popular that by Quake 3 the game was an exclusively multiplayer affair.
If online FPS slaughter parties are your cup of gory tea, then the remaster will allow you to access old-school deathmatches to your heart’s content (or co-operative mode if you prefer your Lovecraftian bloodbaths on the friendlier side), running incredibly smoothly on modern hardware. There’s even an option to fight against some surprisingly capable bots, or to play against in-the-flesh friends using a split screen mode. There are new, dedicated deathmatch maps to complement the classic line-up, and the experience is just as chaotically fun as you remember it. However, the reason I’ve relegated this aspect to the bottom of the list is because of how utterly saturated the competitive online FPS scene is; even the most persuasive writer would probably struggle to convince a battalion of Call Of Duty die-hards to abandon their military-themed darling and dive into this instead. But it’s there if you want it, it’s a great laugh, and the new deathmatch maps are great.
So there you have it: Quake is ace, was ace, and seemingly will always be ace, and there’s never been a better time to get your twisted talons on a copy. By the time you read this I’ll probably have moved onto something else (Dusk and its mix of chainsaw-wielding cultists, Quakeish graphics and gameplay and punishing metal soundtrack has hacked its way to the front of the queue) but Quake will always have a place in my heart, and if Id keep their promise of releasing regular updates and add-ons then I suspect I’ll soon be venturing back into some gothic cathedrals for a date with a gang of ogres.
Until next time, remember: Quake is good for you!