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Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Massive hands-on with Splash Damage's awesome PC strategy-shooter

It's a predictable way to introduce the article, I know. We've mentioned it every time we've brushed up against Enemy Territory: Quake Wars - but Splash Damage's studios are in Bromley, Kent, a place that wouldn't be missed if it spontaneously sank into the ground tomorrow. It literally goes: kebab shop, corner shop, tanning salon, birthplace of one of the hottest-looking shooters of 2007, then a supermarket. In fact, so hidden is the office in which Splash Damage have been hammering away at their latest multiplayer masterpiece, that I couldn't find it.

Turns out it's tucked right behind the supermarket, meaning it's probably one of the most unassuming and uninspiring places I've ever been. That is, until I get inside and see that what they're working on is both inspiring and assuming. After introducing himself, co-founder and creative director Paul Wedgwood submits me to a brief tour of their modest and dimly lit office space. This includes a glass vault reminiscent of Magneto's prison in which to house their massive 'Megaserv' server - which not only hosts their frequent LAN games, but also renders the gigabyte-straddling Quake Wars look so detailed - and the delightful corridor of concept art, which displayed some rejected character ideas such as the mutilated female Strogg.

"Yeah, we didn't think that one was very appropriate," admits a passing coder, noticing my morbid interest. The short walk back to the meeting room then takes us past a cabinet displaying award after well-deserved award for Splash Damage's previous title, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. In all, it's really not a bad place to work.

Having sat me in front of a projector screen, Wedgwood wastes no time in getting to the interesting stuff. He tells me how the visuals have improved since their astounding E3 movie, before taking the easier route of loading up the Valley map and letting me see for myself. He really isn't lying, and while the difference might not be monumental, it's certainly noticeable.

The terrain texture is far more defined, right out to the horizon. The mega-texture ensures there are no repeating tiles either - compare that to a game like Oblivion, in which detail only exists up to a certain point before turning into a distant blurry green texture. The game's maps, in terms of size, are roughly on par with Battlefield's, but in terms of scale and design, Quake Wars contains the most elaborately constructed maps of any online shooter.

Thanks to the mega-texture technology, fogging is only ever used aesthetically too - and it all runs on a machine that can run Quake 4. This is a major technical achievement for PC gaming, and as if it needs stating, one that obliterates any notions I had of the Doom engine being a useless, clunky shadow simulator.

"With each of the maps in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars," Wedgwood explains, "we retell one of the battles which were a turning point in the run-up to the retaliation against Stroggos in Quake II. For example, in Quake II we know that Earth was able to retaliate against Stroggos using slipgates, so one of our maps features the GDF discovering slipgate technology. Quake Wars is a brand new id Software game, it's a pure multiplayer online combat game."

Splash Damage have worked closely with id to ensure proper homage is paid
to the classic FPS franchise, shown by the presence of a clock on the meeting room wall set to Central Standard Time (aka Texas o'clock), should anybody ever need to make a long-distance phone-call to Mr Carmack.

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