DEVELOPER: id Software
PUBLISHER: GT Interactive (Original release), Bethesda
AVAILABLE ON: PC, Mac, Amiga, N64, Sega Saturn Screenshots are from the DarkPlaces source port of Quake on PC.
Back in 1996, it cannot be understated what a massive influence id Software had been on the entire gaming landscape at that point. Their shareware hit Commander Keen had gotten some attention, sure. Wolfenstein 3D had become an even bigger shareware hit. But their 1993 game Doom was the game that truly made id Software into game development legends. Suddenly these guys were on top of their game. Doom was installed on more PC's than Microsoft Windows and by 1995 Bill Gates announced a Windows 95 specific version of Doom.
But Doom could only take them so far. Ever since the days of Commander Keen, the team had tossed around the idea of "The Fight For Justice", a VGA RPG side scroller featuring the hero Quake, wielding thunderbolts and a Ring of Regeneration. And while this original idea was scrapped, the team picked up the name Quake once again after finishing Doom. Quake would become the final masterpiece from id. And personally to me, Quake became the end of an era for id. After Quake, John Romero left the team, and id's games would become increasingly tech focused, to the point where Quake II did little to innovate over its predecessors on any gameplay or story level. Quake 3 forewent any story entirely and was purely a multiplayer game. In many ways, Quake was the final game in id's masterful classic FPS trilogy of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake. This (un)holy trinity of shooters not only were excellent games in their own rights, but also provided tools and engines for other developers, with remnants of Quake's code possibly remaining in engines that are still used today. Quake was the game that tore id Software apart. The game that marked the end of their incredible streak. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honour to present to you, Quake.
The slipgate awaits...
An Introduction To Madness
The moment you start up Quake, you might be lured into thinking the game is another Doom. Industrial rock music, courtesy of Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor fills your earspace, pumping you full of adrenaline and getting you ready for the adventure ahead while a demo of gore and explosive weapons plays. Then... the music dies down, becoming a series of drones and ambience. The shift in tone the Quake theme has perfectly symbolizes Quake's subversion of expectations. Of turning the familiar into the unfamiliar and unknown. Of taking what you know and love and may even expect, and twisting it into something different.
Nothing about Quake is as you would expect. Instead of a simple menu like you would get in any other id Software FPS, you're placed right into the world, instead using portals to choose your desired difficulty from Easy to Hard respectively (with a fourth Nightmare difficulty hidden from the player). From there you are given four episodes to play, each with their own themes and gradual increase in difficulty. While you can play the episodes in any order you desire, you will no doubt have the best experience playing them in order on your first few playthroughs, due to the rise in difficulty and because the first episode serves as a tutorial of sorts.
Quake's levels are at times abstract to the point of making you feel like you're playing inside someone's dream.
Once you enter your episode of choice through any of the four slipgates, your adventure begins. And yeah, the first level of each episode begins in a base of sorts. These levels are extremely deceiving as they feature rather weak enemies and have almost more of a Doom feel to them, focusing on fast action. It's very easy to be mislead into thinking Quake is just another Doom upon playing the first level alone. In a way this is a genious move though as most players of Quake would no doubt have played Doom beforehand and having the first level be more of an easy Doom-esque FPS romp eases you into the world of Quake. And into the world of 3D, seeing as Quake was id Software's first game utilizing a true 3D renderer. No more sprites and fake trickery to achieve a 3D effect, this is the real deal.
It is only when you enter the slipgate at the end of the first level that the true nature of Quake starts showing. The music becomes increasingly menacing and terrorizing, levels take on an otherworldly feel as you enter a different dimension entirely. The effect of this is achieved by not re-using ANY of the enemies from the base levels, none of the same textures or architectures or music theme. This theming is what sets Quake apart from practically every other id Software shooter before or since. Each episode, each level and even the way the game is structured is done with incredible attention to detail and gives you the feeling of stepping into a world you should not have stepped into. And this is what brings me onto the horror aspect of Quake. Because Quake is nothing like Doom. Gone is the fast paced combat against hordes of enemies. Gone is the fun heavy metal music. Gone are the colourful levels inspired by real life buildings.
Existential Dread - The Gameplay of Quake
Quake in many ways is id Software's game that truly explores horror. Its Lovecraftian influence is particularly strong in some of its levels. Quake goes out of its way to make you feel alone, vulnerable and constantly struggling for survival. Supplies are finite so careful play is rewarded over running and gunning. Enemies are no longer plentiful and weak, but few and strong and each of them can ruin your day if you don't watch your step. Particularly the Shambler and the Vore are exceptionally powerful enemies but even regulars like Fiends and Ogres with their clanking grenades can be a bitch to deal with. I don't think I like any of the enemies in Quake. Instead, they make me feel anxious, panicking at times. They induce a feeling of unease and fear that so far is unparalleled in id Software's catalogue. The only enemy that comes close is the Arch Vile from Doom 2. The gameplay in Quake has a disjointed feel to it where you're often required to be fast and nimble when combat does break out, but also careful and meticulous in your approach to avoid taking damage. Especially on Hard difficulty the game becomes incredibly tense and truly brings out the survival horror aspect with much stronger enemies assaulting you.
As a side note, Quake may have been the first game where the WASD+mouse control method originated. While the game originally did not have any mouse look option in the menus, you could enable it by typing "+mlook" in the game's console. Up until WASD though there was really no standard for how people played Quake and people would often come up with their own ways of playing. Personally I played Quake with a keyboard only, much like Doom when I first played it in the late 90's (with my dad not knowing I did), and it did take a while for me to adjust to WASD+mouse controls, but nowadays of course it's impossible to play it any other way. Most modern source ports however come with mouse look enabled and buying the game on Steam or GOG will have the game come with WASD controls preconfigured.
Something about Quake feels otherworldly beyond what even Doom achieved. Because nothing in Quake feels familiar. The levels often have heavily abstract layouts that would make no sense in reality as we know it, but make perfect sense in the game itself. This gives Quake an almost dream-like quality, a feeling of exploring a nightmare as you play it unlike any other game I've played. The levels are never too maze-like though, and you can find your way if you spend enough time exploring them. If there ever is a Quake remake, I would love this dream-like aspect to be explored even further. And each episode features unique level textures and designs that help each episode feel unique, with Episode 1 featuring an almost medival theme, Episode 2 continuing that theme with castles and forts, Episode 3 having more of a nightmareish feel with numerous traps that invoke all kinds of phobias and fears, and Episode 4 being the most difficult with the most dream-like quality of all of the episodes. The biggest moment where Quake made me feel like I was playing a dream was when I exited from a pool in a castle into a graveyard outside. This would make no sense in reality, but in the game it makes perfect sense to suddenly be in a graveyard. The only way I can describe the level design in Quake is that it's incredible and still holds up today.
He seems pissed I grabbed his rune.
The Armory of Quake
While Quake does a good job instilling a feeling of fear and vulnerability, you aren't completely defenseless. The game features some pretty classic staple weapons such as the Shotgun, Super Shotgun and the Rocket Launcher. However it does have its own spin on things with the Nailgun and Super Nailgun, both using nails as ammo (with the ammo boxes bearing the Nine Inch Nails logo in a tongue in cheek reference to Trent Reznor's band), as well as the Thunderbolt which fires a constant stream of electricity (although its ammo is incredibly rare in all but the fourth episode where it's definitely needed), and Grenade Launcher which fires bouncing grenades.
You can also pick up items such as Quad Damage (which multiplies your damage by 4 as expected), Pentagram of Protection (makes you invulnerable and sets your armor value to 666), Environment Suit (allows you to swim without drowning as well as swimming through slime without taking damage) and Ring of Shadows (makes you invisible). All of these activate upon pickup and expire after a while.Most of these are hidden in secret locations though, so exploration is often greatly rewarded.
Mandatory Dopefish cameo
It's often said that Quake is not the prettiest game to look at. And there may be some truth to that. The colour palette in Quake is often incredibly drab and with very little colour variation. Levels are often painted in tones of brown and grey, with some episodes having more of an azure theme. However, this does aid the atmosphere in Quake, adding to the feeling of dread and alienation you feel. It's really hard to imagine Quake would be a better game if it had more colour as that would almost ruin the entire feel of the game.
It's very easy to say Quake has aged a bit in terms of fidelity. The low poly models tend to look slightly like papermache figures at times, and the choppy animation of the original builds of the game definitely makes the game feel like it at times suffers under its limitations of the time. However with a decent source port like DarkPlaces or DirectQ, or even the original GLQuake port, you can achieve some pretty good results. DarkPlaces in particular offers some stellar lighting effects and smoother interpolated animation and is the port I recommend playing for the best experience on modern PC's.
Quake running in DarkPlaces with max lighting effects. While this dips the framerate considerably at times, it does look amazing and brings new life to the game.
Of course it would be a crime not to compliment the sound in Quake. With all of it done by Trent Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails, Reznor has managed to craft a soundscape that is entirely unique to the game. From the moment you hear that opening theme, those droning ambient soundscapes that creep in on you like a blanket of pure terror, you really feel immersed in Quake's otherworldly atmosphere. And it doesn't stop with the amazing soundtrack either. Quake's sound effects are equally terrifying with the Shambler's roar, the Vore's alien shrieks, and the Ogre's animal-like grunts and groans making you feel like you're facing creatures born from nightmares with no shred of humanity to them. It is hard to imagine Quake without its sound as it helps give it so much of its identity. If you can I highly recommend ripping the game's soundtrack to .ogg files and running them from the hard drive in DarkPlaces to get the music playing without the need to have the game CD inserted. If you bought the game on GOG or Steam there are also ways to get the soundtrack online and add it to the game yourself. While it is easy to say Quake has a very boring palette, it has a beauty all of its own at times with its dream-like architecture and design.
The only bad thing about Quake is that id Software never fully resolved its story or fully realized a lot of its potential. A lot of things are explored in Quake but never completely fleshed out. And the fragmented development of the game does show in how Quake feels pieced together by so many different ideas and concepts. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
Quake is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It may be easy to dismiss Quake as a Doom clone but that would be doing it a disservice. With meticulous attention to detail, Quake gets your adrenaline going in ways that Doom never came close to. Quake is about true horror, about exploring the unknown and facing creatures beyond your capability of understanding. About exploring impossible places, places that could not exist in our dimension. They exist in dreams, in our nightmares, in the space between death and life itself. Quake explores themes that seldom are explored in games and for the time and even today remains entirely unique.
And perhaps, we all are in the end, figments of some creature's imagination. The very thought itself sends shivers down my spine. SCORE
SOUND: 10/10 FINAL SCORE: 9/10