Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Hands-on with id's multiplayer blast

Lame AI. It gets more column inches than Nelson and causes more frustration than back-to-back seasons of Lost. But the truth is, we humans are all just as bad as any twitching CPU grunt. Just let a horde of us loose on Xbox Live or a LAN and we pour into battle like a clumsy pink tidal wave - once more unto the beach, where we will clog up the servers with our stupid dead.

And yet Quake Wars loves these dumb rushes. Because this visually almost-identical PC transplant wants you to run and gun: the eight-versus-eight online levels are large; the weapons are hefty; the health bars are small; and the penalties for death are almost non-existent.


So with a mere fifteen second pause between spawns, and multiple respawn points (discouraging camping) plus a hefty array of flying, hopping and rolling vehicles, you can race from soldier to stiff to soldier again in thirty seconds. And the resulting gameplay is so quick it's less twitch, more spasm.

But having spent four hours testing three levels online, from both sides of the Strogg versus Earthling war, we know that these aren't just twelve endless Deathmatches - these are battles with aims and objectives. So while the Strogg have to defend a base, the humans must first breach a wall, plant a shield, blow a gate and finally hack into a computer.

And to make sure that each battle moves with every ripple of the suicidal tide, the defenders can also recapture spawn points or defuse TNT... but they can't push the waves back, ensuring that each final objective is an attritional crawl of bloody last-ditch defence and truly desperate attacks. Basically, it's do or die... and die and die and die again.

However it takes more than brute force to complete all these tasks, so Quake Wars has a class system as complex as trigono-metric equations. There, just like here, the only way to move up is through reincarnation. So while the names change, the idea stays the same: soldier, medic, engineer, infiltrator and tactician. They are also more than just a weapon set, they add strategy, so the engineer slaps down turrets C&C-style, the infiltrator steals skins and the tactician summons airstrikes.

This all works because the levels we played had a more realistic, military feel than the old Quake games. So you can't rocket-jump around like an explosive pogo - you aren't hard enough. If you did plant a shell into the ground, you'd be rag-dolling straight into a respawn point, not racing around.

This version of Earth isn't a world of cramped corridors, the battlefield is spacious and packed with vehicles, and more Battlefield-like. A neat twist on the age-old Quake template.


Apart from a few tiny bugs and a mother-load time, Quake Wars looks like a slick port of a good PC game. The worry isn't that this won't deliver, but more that - like the deserted servers of Team Fortress 2 versus Call of Duty 4's overflowing firefights - we'll get online and find no one to head into battle with.