The Quake series always had a bit of an identity crisis. Id Software bickered like children on whether the first game should be a fantasy game or a sci-fi shooter, eventually going for the latter with some sword-wielding enemies and DOOM-like weapons dumped on top. Meanwhile, its sequel, Quake II, was in no way related to its predecessor. Regardless, they still scored rave reviews, and rightly so. They raised the bar for first-person shooters, after all.
Enter Quake III Arena, a multiplayer-centric first-person shooter from 1999. This one is still being played in gaming tournaments to this very day. It’s a satisfying old-school romp, despite how lightweight it is.
In Quake III Arena, the greatest warriors and fighters across time and space have been transported to another dimension, known as Arena Eternal, to battle one another for the amusement of a mysterious species. Its campaign mode is nothing more than seven chapters made up of deathmatches with pre-set score limits, enemies and maps, and playing them may feel a bit monotonous for some players. Other game modes like team deathmatch, capture the flag and tournament mode (which is basically DM, but only two people at a time can duel) can be played in custom matches. Honestly, none of it is anything too mind-blowing or innovative. It just gets the job done.
In the arena, you’ll be battling robots, cyberpunks, soldiers, demons, and more – some characters are just reskins of one another with minor alterations. A few familiar faces from previous id Software titles make an appearance, too. It would’ve been nice to have character stats to add a bit of variety, but otherwise everything is kept fair and equal in this quick-paced shooter.
Considering the title was released almost 20 years ago, while the visuals may look dated by today’s standards, the AI is quite impressive. Altering the difficulty will affect bots’ reaction time, accuracy, item preferences, paths of movement, and whether or not their health is handicapped. They even react to sound, have their own preferences for weapons, and will even spout out compliments or insults in the server chat. Don’t worry, this was made in the nineties – no bot will be screaming profanities about wrecking your mother.
The predictable line-up of weapons is made up of an obligatory melee weapon, a fully-automatic machine gun and plasma gun, a shotgun, explosive weapons like the bazooka and grenade launcher, the one-hit kill railgun, an electro-tool, and the BFG 10K. There are no alternate fire modes, but at least they’re balanced and pretty satisfying to use (excluding the BFG, which is overpowered and just feels dirty to use). The powerups are standard-fare, too, with exceptions to the infamous quad damage, and a personal teleporter that lets you respawn away from danger. On the whole, it’s not the most creative selection of guns ‘n’ goodies, but they’re still crackin’ good fun to use.
There’s an extensive selection of levels that vary in complexity. Some have all sorts of bridges to stumble across or corridors to zip around, while things like jump pads, teleporters, death pits and crushers spice things up. A few of the maps are simple and compact in design, perfect for one-on-one duels. A few missions taking place in the void are available as well, perfect for long-range sniping and aerial combat. Don’t expect any sort of interactivity with the environment; this isn’t Duke Nukem 3D, after all. Hell, being able to activate traps or destroy walls would have done this one some good…
Your ears are in for a treat, Quake-fans. While the announcer’s voice may sound like your dad doing his best impression of a ‘tough guy’ voice inside of a mug, the rest of the sound effects are nice and crisp. The soundtrack is a mix of loud ‘n’ proud industrial metal tracks, manic drum ‘n’ bass blasters, and atmospheric soundscapes made by Sonic Mayhem and Front Line Assembly. Listening to the ‘level win’ theme is immensely satisfying, while songs like “Arena Sacrifice” will blast you down with its distorted, stuttering screams and aggressive beats.
Quake III Arena is barebones, though there’s no doubt a fun one that you can get a good amount of mileage from it, providing you’re not too easily swayed by repetition. To its merits, it has a challenging AI, some great level design, lovely weapons, chaotic music and decent gameplay on the whole. Alas, it lacks variety. So many more features like game mutators, alternate fire modes, character statistics, or different game modes could have made this a title worth returning to over and over. Should you not have a copy of the mind-blowing Unreal Tournament at hand, then Quake III Arena would be the best choice for anyone who is sick of lootbox-infested multiplayer modes and wants to go back to basics.