Ultima IX: Ascension

This review was originally published on 15 November 1999 at the now-defunct 3DGaming.net


Once upon a time in a beta test across the country, a man named Rainz got the smack down on a certain Lord British, proving once and for all that knowledge is power.

Have you ever awoken from a restless night of sleep sweating, feeling lost and filled with a desire to go beyond the boundaries of life? Have you ever wanted to be a hero? Has the desire to pass through the halls of Lord British’s castle ever crossed your mind? If it has, then the Ultima series is the game series to try. Unlike other role playing games such as Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Final Fantasy, and the myriad online rpgs, Lord British’s Ultima games have always held firm to the idea that in order for a game to succeed, the player must care about the character he or she is investing such a great deal of time in.

So could Ultima IX change the way role-playing games are crafted in today’s market? That’s a tough call to make. Lord British is renown for having a love of depth and history in his games, as well as involving the player and making them care. If British were ever to have a career high, IX looks to be it. If there’s something role-playing games today lack, it’s a system of morals. Of course, that’s just one of many things rpgs tend to lack, no thanks to games such as Diablo that have dropped rpgs to an inferior level. But nonetheless, they shall survive.

As someone who’s wasted one too many hours in Baldur’s Gate, perhaps only three times did I truly care about the repercussions my actions would have. I’m one of those nice folk who have a thing called “integrity”, so when someone asks me if I found any important remains on a corpse that a family would like, regardless of whether or not it’s worth money to me, I return it. This, in a pinch, is the type of drive I’ve felt has driven Richard Garriott, aka Lord British’s games in the past. That and annoying jump features.

It’s been years since Ultima 8: Pagan (hey, my irc nick!) and without a doubt, anxiety has been developing on Garriott’s newest game. Understandably so in the wake of Tiberian Sun. Fortunately, Garriott aims to please, and if Ultima IX: Ascension is everything that he promises it shall be, then I’d begin telling your loved ones that you’ll be gone for a few weeks.

So what’s Ultima about? If you haven’t been living under a rock since 1915 then you’ll know it’s the granddaddy of role playing games. Ultima IX is the 9th, the final trilogy of trilogies, or something like that. It’s also the one that in Garriott’s own words, is a culmination of 20 years of work on the Ultima series.

Graphics

Ultima IX is one a smack dab new engine built from the ground up to bring the avatar (that guy decked out in armor that you control) to full three-dimensional glory. How does it compare to the likes of UT and Q3 for competition of ‘prettiest game ever’? Well it certainly is a ram hog. British himself said that 128 mb of ram is ideal on this bad boy.

I think its very efficient to sit on the toilet while eating.. it goes in and comes right back out

From what I’ve heard on the newsgroups and in updates about the game, the fans of the Ultima series are in an uproar over the fact that for the first time ever in a Ultima game, it’s not top down as all the rest were. The most prominent fear is ‘Tomb Raider Disease.’ Well unless the avatar suddenly develops some boobies and uh, you know what else (which btw would be really cool) then I don’t think we have anything to fear.

After all, what’s wrong with a fully 3D Britannia? Personally I think The Avatar is about to give Lara a big swift kick to the groin with the imminent release of Ultima IX. She deserves it to. Have you played the TR 4 demo? That demo sucks so much!

Regardless, 3D is the future folks, Neverwinter Nights is evidence of that. The game will also be sporting full 16-bit color. Aha. No 32 bit for you! Mind you, this is not EverQuest. This slaps EQ like a good monkey. While I don’t know what the polygon count is, in this case, the world looks too friggin pretty to matter to me.

If you’ve ever played EverQuest then you’re most likely familiar with the ever annoying zones that pop up at the most inopportune of times. To say the least, EverQuest is to Tomb Raider what Asheron’s Call is to Ultima IX. How’s that for a comparison ? The college boards would be impressed I bet! College, here I come! Hah. I made a funny. Lord British must have heard that load times pissed me off, so he decided to make the world a continuous world.

Storyline and the power of the verb

Without revealing too much about the game, let’s just say that it involves Santa, a double-barreled shotgun and a bottle of scotch whiskey. Actually it involves the avatar’s return to Britannia one last time. This isn’t the Britannia that we all saw in Ultima VIII though, as things have changed, and not for the better.

Welcome to Britannia. All sheep are welcome. Hit next to enjoy them in private.

Twenty years have passed since the Avatar passed through the land of Britannia. Upon being called back for one last adventure, the player (you!) discovers that eight large pillars have risen from the ground all across Britannia. Somehow these pillars are negatively affecting the populace of Britannia, warping everyone and bringing out the bad side of Britannia. Welcome to the dark side of the force baby.

Of course, the guardian is back for one last dance. But this time he doesn’t want to take over Britannia, this time his intent is much more unpleasant. Is the complete and utter destruction of Britannia epic enough for you? That’s what awaits the Avatar. Save the world, restore the virtues to all of Britannia, and ensure that Britannia can survive without your presence, since this is the avatar’s final quest, the adventure to top all adventures.

Drunks elves and gun toting deer! Talk about a wild Yule Tide Season!

The world of Britannia has been rendered in a fully 3d Victorian era design, just the way British likes it (I heard he likes to be on top, but hey). Along the way you’ll run into old chums like Iolo the Fletcher, Shamino the Ranger (am I the only one that thinks they sound like soap products?) Katrina the Shepherdess (good for more than sheep), Geoffrey the Knight and many more.

Control System and the Perils of the Space key

Afraid Garrett fell into Diablo Central? Fear not my rpg loving freaks, Ultima IX is not going to be a hack and slash clone. That title is left for Darkstone. The combat consists of simple attacks that progress to round house attacks and a golf ball type swing that is gained as experience and wisdom are gained. Jumping has also been fixed (Ultima VIII fans know a great deal about this issue).

You want a piece of me fat boy? I’ll spork your ass!

Easy access is also provided to the spell book and map. Just like Baldur’s Gate, when you wear something, you’ll see it too. The mouse icon thingy also changes to indicate what the item the player is looking at. The jump system works now too. Merely point the icon to where you want to jump, and then press the jump key (I’m a whore and use the space bar for such an important task)

Also be on the lookout for the new 12-slot tool kit belt, not unlike the kind Tim Allen wore in Home Improvement. Just like Asheron’s Call, the first slot is ‘1’, the second is’2’ and so on. All the options are easily adjustable, like a good paid of pants. The one factor that has me drooling over Ultima IX like my new cashmere sweater ($100 for a sweater. What is the world coming to?) is the system of virtues, which basically determines whether you’re a wuss, or a real man.

Well not quite, it’s actually a system that balances the players’ values with consequences of actions and through that determines how the character advances in skill. If anything it’s one of the smartest additions to role playing games I’ve yet seen, as it encourages the player to care about the world more and to become more involved with the character and the npcs.

Cinematics

The cinematics are also damn amazing. If you’ve downloaded any of the myriad 4 million Mb files you’ll know that the videos in Ultima IX are dialed pieces of work that would make 3d modelers proud.

Multiplayer

Do we even need to touch this issue? Five years was spent on the single player alone, and nearly half way through the entire design was scrapped. Adding multiplayer would turn this into a Daikatana scenario, which is the last thing the gaming world needs. At least British has cool hair.

Welcome to Britannia Young Adventurer! Don’t mind the smell!

Interface

There are three types of interfaces in my experience. Interface 1 is well designed, clearly shows what can be placed and stored where, presents the user with a myriad amount of options, and is basically placed on a pedestal by players. I place Baldur’s Gate on the pedestal, as well as Asheron’s Call.

Interface 2 is the unused one. If you’ve ever played Tomb Raider or MDK then you’ll know what I mean. They’re the nonexistent arcade interfaces that matter about as much as how many sheep Sweet Dick gets the funk with each night.

Interface 3 is the one I’ve oh so tastefully named ‘Pure Crap.’ Examples of ‘Pure Crap’ include the Nerf Arena blaster demo and Blackstone Chronicles. They’re the type of interface that causes my body to systematically reject the game. The feeling is quite close to having a stomach pumped.

What category does Ultima IX fall under? Well the interface from what I currently understand is fairly simple. Right click to move. Left click to interact. The cursor floating mysteriously in front of the avatar changes shades to determine where the avatar may jump. If the icon is green, the location can be jumped to, red means you’ve got about as much chance as Tonya Harding does of ever seeing Olympic glory

Music

All I have are a whopping load of midis I found from Ultima 1-8 and two mod files that are just above the crap we know as midi. I don’t recall hearing any music in the E3 press junket that Garriott displayed in a crowded sweaty room. (Note to readers: wearing a leather cap in Los Angeles is hazardous to your health.) Hopefully the demo will present me with new music to add to my video game music collection, which I’ll have you know I’m very proud of.

Oh look, it’s daylight savings time.

Conclusions from sedation

This is the section where I get to talk about what I think about Ultima IX based upon what I’ve seen up until this point. Well first I want Lord British nudered for releasing so many large videos but not a single mp3 of music. Ultima IX: Ascension. It can bake a cake. It gives amazing hair cuts, and it’s fat free. It’s Lord British in a brand new way! And it’s dishwasher safe!

In all honesty folks, I don’t see how this game could not succeed. It just looks too damn impressive not to be successful. If the storyline is consistent, the music well written, characters fleshed out and three dimensional, then I don’t see this game not succeeding. It’s just not within my realm of understanding to imagine how this game could fail.

But then again, I’m an eternal optimist who can’t wait to get his hands on Daikatana. Trust in John Romero and Richard Garriott and they shall deliver. Hey, if Ray Liotta can play Shoeless Joe Jackson, then Richard Garriott can take five years to release the follow-up to Ultima VIII. The question remaining in my mind is how well this will stack up against the likes of Baldur’s Gate II and Final Fantasy VIII. Only time, the demo and final shipping version will tell. And remember, when it Rainz, it pours…

The Goods

Quick Peek: You are the mighty (aren’t they all?) Avatar, called to return to the land of Britannia to save the land from the Guardian (I thought guardians were supposed to protect people, not hurt em) and restore the eight virtues to the land of Britannia (open a portal to Woodstock circa : 1963).

Release Date: Imminent. The week of November 23, 1999 is my guess.

Team Fortress Classic

This was originally published on the now-defunct gaming site 3DGaming.net on 27 March 1999.


It has become medically proven that porn can save your life. And why does the music from EverQuest remind me of the music from ET?

This previous November, a small Seattle based company known as Valve Software released Half-Life, which some have labeled as one of the most revolutionary games in many years. Before the release of Half-Life, there were rumors of a remake of Team Fortress Half-Life style. Sadly, to ensure a stable product, TF did not ship with Half-Life. Instead, it was to become its own stand along product, to emerge from the shadows concurrent with the release of id’s Quake 3 Arena and Epic’s Unreal Tournament.

And similar to these other two products, Team Fortress 2 would similarly be a multiplayer only game. Much to the surprise of its fans, Valve announced an update soon to be released for Half-Life: Team Fortress Classic. More than a demo, but less than a new game, it would be something to quench the thirst of TF fans until the release of Team Fortress 2. Team Fortress Classic doesn’t have many expectations to live up to; all it has to do is simply be fun. That’s all we gamers can ask.

Concept

At the time of its release (online) there was nothing quite like the squad warfare twist of Team Fortress, and thus it stood out. And still does to this day. But if you’ve come in search of a story, please don’t sit down, this isn’t your floor. Stories are found on the third floor, this is the exclusive multiplayer only floor. I enjoy multiplayer as much as the next guy, but this is one of the few games that did it right, and to add injury to insult, the programmers of TF did it for free.

When compared to games such as Blood 2 it’s absolutely stunning how well made it is. And when people are playing a game almost three years after its release, that’s a clear sign of the game’s quality.

Despite popular rumor, Charlie was not Willy Wanka’s meat popsicle.


The translation to Half-Life’s engine is flawless. Infact it perfectly fits Half-Life’s pseudo-science fiction/military feel, since Team Fortress is a military tactical squad based warfare game. The engine wraps around TF like a new skin. Nothing felt out of place at all, although at times, it felt very similar to playing Chaotic Dreams (the hallucination grenade is really friggin’ cool), but it’s nothing to get excited about.

As long as Valve focuses more on the gameplay and less on the graphics I’m satisfied. Everything here is just right. No complaints from me. Read on below and you’ll discover why I’ll be playing this game for a long time to come.

Gameplay

I was never much a fan of Quake or Team Fortress Quake myself, because I stuck to what I knew best: adventure games. That was then. This is now. Much has changed since the “I wrote this plot on a napkin and thought we should use it for a game” days. Gamers have asked more of the developers, and they have listened. Quake II has become the multiplayer game to beat, Sin failed to be the blockbuster it was projected to be, Half-Life has set an example of how future games should be, and Wing Commander has its own movie.

They call me Doctor Worm, good morning how are you I’m Doctor Worm.

But that was then. This is now. And the gameplay is still for the most part, the same. Although since I never truly involved myself very much with Quake TF, I don’t know what was or wasn’t in it even after having played it a fair bit. But I believe that I should be asking myself “Well Ilya, did I have a good time playing it?” And to that I can honestly say “Yes” .

There’s nothing wrong with TF, and it is very enjoyable, but I myself prefer the visceral victory of deathmatch more, but that’s merely personal preference. But yeah, if you liked Tribes, and you liked Quake TF, and you enjoy team based games, give this a jingle, cause baby, it’s got your number. Just set up a gun turret and get out of range and watch the fireworks.

The weapons of the game are pretty friggin cool. Everything right is wrong again. And I couldn’t be happier. First off is the new shotgun. It’s about the same length as the old one, simply thinner. And fires a helluva lot faster. I love to get down with the hoe rhythm of this gun, cause it cranks out shots quicker than Sweet Dick Willy does Heinekens.

In short, it’s really friggin’ cool to show off the room cleaning process with this bad mutha. If you’re not familiar with the room cleaning process, well, this is it: you walk into a room filled with people, and you’re the only one who walks out. Well, that’s the room cleaning process. Back to Team Fortress Classic.

It’s violence time!

The shotgun has also been given the once over. Now it fires two shots at once, instead of one, essentially, what used to be it’s secondary fire is now its primary fire

The rocket launcher has a new setup as well. Now there are two variations on it. One is the regular version, and one is the pyro version. The regular version allows for four consecutive shots to be fired before it’s reloaded quickly. Let’s call this Rocket Launcher A (RLa) This is the most amazing weapon to use against the scout running away with your flag.

Sadly, the hum of the rocket launcher is gone. You know what I’m talking about. When you’d be running down a hallway and someone would aim for your head, you’d hear the hum of the rocket coming for you. Well, suck it down, cause now it’s a helluva lot more silent. The pyro version is a bit slower, louder, and leaves a red trail, and it does less splash damage; a direct hit is not something that I desire. This’ll be referred to as Rocket Launcher B (RLb).

The pistol is slightly changed. Now it doubles as a regular pistol and as a silencer. Unfortunately, the silencer fires too damn slowly, which isn’t much fun. The Gauss Gun is a weakling (not too unlike me at 3 in the morning) and fires a pussy green laser thing. I have deemed it the pussy gun. The mp5 did a Pamela Anderson and got a face lift, er…sorta. Instead of firing bullets at a rapid pace, it fires…nails. Yeah. Nails. I forgot we were playing Quake. You won’t see me using this.

Big badaboom!

The sniper rifle and its automatic version are the shit. This is why the sniper class rules. The regular sniper rifle has a secondary fire that allows it to zoom in and fire one shot at a time. And even when it’s not zoomed in, it’s friggin cool. The automatic version of the sniper rifle doesn’t allow for zooming in, but it more than makes up for it with the automatic firing. Really fast. A lot of bullets. Popcorn!

The Egon Gun is now officially too cool. Instead of firing that ghostbusters effect thingy, it’s a flame thrower. And people light on fire. Yep. 3D polygons with sprite fires. Not exactly a stunning effect, but still, people are running around! On fire! Because of the flame thrower! Fire! Fire! Yeah! Cool! Sadly, the crossbow was pulled.

Well, it wasn’t in the original, so why break tradition? This isn’t a quickie in your dad’s car you know… The humiliation weapon known as the crowbar is still around for those of you who think you’re cute. The chaingun is the newest addition to the gang. It takes a while to spin up, but, to quote my a friend “Dag yo, this gun smokes.” That’s right. Watch the carnage. Jump into my ocean baby.

There’s also two new grenade launchers in the game, one is similar to that of Quake’s, and the other one works through remote detonation, although I’m not quite sure since the grenades wouldn’t blow up when I stepped on them, and I couldn’t figure out how to blow them up. I can’t find any documentation on them either, so go figure…The final new weapon? Oh this one is so cool. The monkey wrench. Yeah, random, but very cool.

Run Forrest, run!

As for the characters themselves, there’s a whole lot more to it. In the game are 9 character classes: scout, sniper, soldier, demolition man, heavy weapons guy, pyro, spy, engineer, and medic. Each class has different traits to them. Here’s the low down on them to get you in the know.

Scout: This is the guy you want to have capturing the flag, cause he doesn’t just run, he flies. It’s pretty cool. The scout is not only the fastest class but also the weakest. And he has the special ability (also referred to as the secondary fire) to display onscreen the status of the flags. Yeah, it’s kind of a retard special ability, but bitch to Valve, not me. The scout comes equipped with the new shotgun, the remade mp5, and the crowbar.

Sniper: He comes loaded with a very cool looking sniper rifle that has a secondary fire option that allows it to zoom in. Slow but deadly. The second weapon that the sniper can use is my favorite: the automatic rifle. It’s the popcorn gun of Half-Life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t zoom in, which isn’t a bad trade off for the fast rate of fire.

The sniper also comes with the mp5 nail gun and crowbar and moves at about the equivalent of Quake, if not a tad bit slower. If you’re wondering about the grenade attack, the primary and secondary grenade attack are the sam : bland regular grenades. Damn. No acid tab lube job grenades of love? Oh well.

Soldier: Comes prepared with RLa, crowbar, and the new and old shotguns. He’s not quite as fast as the scout, but he packs a punch. And don’t stand near him when he fires his grenade, especially if it’s in an enclosed space, cause you’ll be dead. The damn thing spins around shooting nails before exploding.

Demolition Man: Explosively fun. Oh yeah. What a great pun. Ha! I’m hysterical! Anyways, he carries two grenade launchers, a regular one (if you’ve played Quake, you’ll know what I’m talking about) and a pipebomb one that detonates remotely. And the secondary grenade attack on the demolition man is a grenade that explodes into smaller grenades. Lethal. His lack of speed is compensated by the sheer power he has.

Heavy Weapons Guy: He comes equipped with a very much loaded chain gun. Do not walk in its way for any reason other than being completely drunk. Also in his arsenal are the new shotgun and the crowbar. The only recompensation for all this power? He moves slowly. Real slowly. And the secondary fire on the grenade is the same as that of the demolition man.

Pyro: He comes equipped with a modified Egon Gun, now a flame thrower. Also in the package thrown in for good measure are the RLb and crowbar. The rocket launcher now has a red trail at the end of it and smaller splash damage, and it seems to move more slowly, but its effect is really cool. A direct hit will light someone on fire and after 3 direct hits from the rocket launcher, say goodbye. His secondary fire on the grenade explodes and leaves a circle of flames. So, uh, don’t walk into them. As for the movement rate, well, it’s not quite as fast as Quake, but it’s slightly faster than Quake II.

Spy: He is surprisingly slow for a spy, as the movement rate is somewhere near Half-Life speed. But he more than makes up for it by being lethal. The spy comes packaged with the shotgun, the mp5 nailgun, a knife, silencer, and regular pistol. Slow but deadly. Just like my last girlfriend.

Engineer: He is always a guy you want defending the base, since he sets up all the turrets. He (I suddenly find myself wondering why there are no she in TFC) comes bundled with a modified gauss gun that shoots little green things, the shotgun, and a wrench. Yeah. I know. A wrench. But he’s cool. I promise. The engineer builds the sentry guns you see defending flags. These guys rock. A lot. And as for movement rate, they’re a bit faster than the spy.

Medic: I really hate this class. They’re such pricks. Especially if they camp. Medics have the ability to poison others. And only the medic of the team you’re on can cure you. Annoying. The medic comes prepackaged with a mp5, shotgun, the new shotgun, and a medical recharge thingy. And he moves as fast as the scout does. So he might be useful to have around if for one reason or another, no one picks the scout class.

Graphics

If Unreal is the prettiest engine on the market, this is the second prettiest engine around. What can be said of the graphics that haven’t already been said? They kick ass. Skeletal animation, 16-bit color, and a whole crapload more than even Paul could blow. But despite that, it’s still a very pretty game. What makes the game even more impressive are the backdrops of the day/afternoon/evening desert sky which add to the atmosphere.

Click here to play Unreal. In that case… don’t click here.

The colors work well with one another so you don’t really tend to see guys looking like a part of a wall. Everything fits just right. I can’t say enough how much the graphics of the Half-Life engine are a prime example of programming at its best. Team Fortress keeps up with the tradition. The flame graphics have been slightly improved over the regular version of Half-Life, yet they still look kinda jaggy at times.

The skins themselves are slightly improved and don’t all look alike, as was the case with Quake II. Can we say hard core Half-Life pr0n? Yes, just imagine, you too could become a conspirator in this conscious act of evil against all that is good. Ack. Yes. Back to graphics. Well, they’re pretty friggin damn good. Stop talking about Unreal. Shut up and play. Cause the graphics kick. The models all have their own distinct personality, and everything sort of just… meshes. Hell, one model even has a cigarette in his mouth.

The one giant piece of credit that Valve deserves (Romero, are you listening?): everything feels and sounds like what it is. The rocket launcher looks and sounds like a rocket launcher, the sniper rifle looks and sounds like a sniper rifle, etc. And even what used to be the Egon Gun, now the flame thrower, looks and sounds like a flame thrower. Now, uh, Ion. Read what I just wrote, and uh, stop and think for a second. Cause, uh, your rocket launcher looked like a friggin tuning fork, and, uh, that’s pretty damn lame. That’s all for now. The news will follow the evening movie. Have a nice day.

The stuff that lets you click on all sorts of neat things is called an Interface…

Sound

Perhaps more than any other game out there, Half-Life is an orgasmic jungle of sound. It is a veritable cornucopia of sounds. And Team Fortress Classic continues that proud tradition. How? It’s called A3D 2.0 baby, and it’s a luscious little trinket of love and happiness. Everything has its own sound down to the two different versions of the rocket launcher. The sound effects in Half-Life have always been orgasmically lush, and I’m happy to say the trend continues.

The implementation of top notch sound Sweet Dick Willy style really comes to the foreground when someone has the sniper rifle and you don’t. The sheer sense of terror of having to figure out where the sound is coming from is what impressed the hell out of me. Even the clang of metal has it’s own sound. And for those of you with Aureal 2.0 based cards (I happen to be one of those special people): there’s not a whole lot than can be said other than ‘Please be careful where you step and please refrain from wetting your pants’.

See Spot. See Spot Run. See Spot Die From Fatal Bullet To The Head.

Interface

I’m wondering how long it’ll take newbies to figure this game out. Hit a special key and it gives you a list of character classes. Choose one and have fun with it. If you want to change classes, hit the nifty little class change key and choose a new class, and then die, and you become the newly chosen class. Or you could do it quicker, go to the console and type in ‘kill.’

The interface is fairly simple. Once you start the game, all your options are presented to you in a neat and organized style. To activate Team Fortress Classic you have to go into the custom game option and activate it. It would be much easier to place this on the main screen as so to not confuse people like myself or Levelord(drunk, stoned, or who knows what else).

You know, I was going to put in an amusing little quote about how Daikatana owns, but you already know that.

Other than that, the interface is fairly intuitive and easy to understand. The options to set up controls, advanced controls, graphics, sound, etc, are all present. I’d loved to have seen some more options for graphics akin to Unreal, but perhaps it’s best that Valve not include such options as to not throw newbies for a loop.

In-game, the interface is fairly simple. Buttons 1-9 are all different weapons. And no one really has a problem with this do they? Good! Unlike the other games I’ve bitched about, this one is so newbie friendly even someone who just graduated from Myst could understand this, and two days later you’d see that same person in irc doing ascii art of penises and fireplaces.

Am I the only one I know who enjoyed Wing Commander immensely?


So, yeah, the interface is fairly simple. You can choose your skin, your name, your logo (you can spraypaint a logo, yeah, it’s kinda cool. Mine says ‘You Suck’) etc. It’s pretty friggin easy to comprehend. The game even pings servers via its own in game pinger thingy. Yeah. Have a ball. No gamespy? Nice! Although, I prefer Hydra-SB (insert sucking noise of choice)… that’s just me.

Multiplayer

Everything said and done. Half-Life rocks. It’s the most gosh darn amazing game to play multiplayer, While it lacks at times that ‘let me play with your boobies’ visceral feel that Quake II has, it makes up for it with all that blood. Massive and massive dollops of blood. So much blood. Everywhere. Ahem. Yes. Well, TFC is so cool it’s beyond words! Why? The Hunted. I love this mod so much I want to start typing in caps to exhume my love for this mod.

What is the hunted you say? Well, remember back in the old school days of Quake that I never really liked because I thought the Quake engine wasn’t all that? Well, anyways, there was this neat mod out called ‘The Hunted President’ which I never played. But I knew about it. And ladies and gentlemen, it’s back, and it is amazing.

Anyways, in The Hunted, there is one big fat turd of an ambassador, and he has to get from the starting point to the volvo on the other side of the map… alive. How praytell is this done? With bodyguards. Yep. Very cool. And who’s out to kill this jello blob of a man? Assassins of course. Who else would it be? Gene Simmons?

Well, anyways, I love this mod. Why? Actual teamwork is required. Yep. Real teamwork. Not the sassafras ‘blow me and I’ll help capture the flag’ of Tribes and not the ‘r.t.f.m. newbie!’ of Quake II CTF. I mean real teamwork is done here. It has to be done; otherwise the person playing the ambassador is pooch screwed the moment he spawns. Well, that’s The Hunted, I already found a new icq buddy because of this alone.

I would actually talk to my teammates and ask “Is it clear?” “Good to go”? And they would reply with “Stay there sir,” or “Go go go!” To say the least, I felt involved and a part of something for the first time in a game. No longer was I just helping out or being the lone wolf (in this case, the lone wolf has a John Carmack skin), but for once I was working with random people on the internet to get a job done. And it was tres cool.

Alert! Enemy approaching base! Someone get the mayonnaise!

The next thing found in TFC? It’s called ‘Defend the Capture Points.’ I’m not too crazy about this game because the map blows. But essentially, each team has a base with flags inside, and once you pick one up your movement rate hits the ground. So, you need to take that flag and place it over one of five markers. Once that’s done, the area where you placed that flag becomes your territory. Until the red team decides to place their own little lucky charm eating flag on there. At that point you introduce them to the tip of your rocket launcher and send them through a wall.

Also found in TFC is regular capture the flag. The most notorious map, as well as the most enjoyable one is 2Fort5. Each team has to capture the other teams’ flag. Just get a few scouts and medics to pimp the flag and leave a moist and warm surprise for the other team. You know what I’m talking about. It’s the stuff love baby.

This is where the real fun begins, because here the engineers come out and play. You want your flag defended? Create some sentry guns to piss off the scouts. Want to make sure your pyros and heavy weapons guys don’t run out of ammo? Set up an ammo dispenser. Essentially, wreak all havoc upon the map.

The final type of game is a mod on ctf called ‘Rock 2’, which takes place in a prison and is probably the biggest map of all the maps available. There are two teams. Each with their own warden’s office and gas chamber. Each team’s objective is to get the other team’s key from the warden’s office all the way on the other side of the map, and then head for the enemy’s gas chamber. What happens when you arrive there? Oh, nothing much, you just… kill everyone on the other team who isn’t wearing a protective suit as toxic gas fills the level. Oh yeah, you can’t get damaged if you’re in water. Above all though, hunted is the most fun, simply because it’s actually thrilling. And it’s riddled with bugs.

My favorite? If the fat tubby dude leaves, one of the bodyguards ends up taking his place. There’s only one problem. The bodyguards carry rocket launchers. And now the hunted is carrying a rocket launcher, making the job of snipers that much more difficult. That’s just one bug. Of several. Occasionally, models will just…break down. No, really. Arms and legs and shit will go spinning around in ways the human body never intended them to.

I’d take a screenshot, but that causes TFC to crash. Unless you’re playing a LAN game. Like I said: riddled with bugs. So for rating this one, I’m going to be a prick and rate each mod. Yeah, yeah, you may not like it, but neither did anyone on the other team when they suddenly found themselves dead from poison gas.

Conclusion

Sometimes TFC is purely brilliant (The Hunted), and sometimes it’s really friggin stupid (Defend the Capture Points), but at least the damn thing is fun. And yeah, it’s buggier than Aaron’s (Sin reviewer) beard. But it’s always fun. And remember, this is still a beta, so I’m sure Valve will have stamped out all the problems by the time the release on April 2nd. I have to give Valve credit for listening to their fans though. They could have released this today, and it would

have sucked, but instead it was delayed, so that it would stop crashing… all the time. And instead of releasing this as part of the final game, Valve wanted to hype the game a different way. Not through ‘Suck it Down’ ad campaigns, or through ‘We’re using our technology to save the worl… uh, sorry guys, we’re going to use this crap to make video games cooler,’ marketing hype. Nah. Instead, we get a small taste of things to come.

Valve has so far earned themselves the best marks I’ve seen in a long time and have consistently outdone their competition simply by catering to the fan base with updates, new maps, new skins, and simply caring about what their fans have to say. Valve could have gone the low road and released new maps and made fans pay for it, as many developers have done. Instead, they release new ones periodically to give their fans something new to play with. By releasing new maps for an upcoming addon that they could have simply charged for, Valve deserves a lot of credit. But for going above and beyond the call of duty, Valve, baby, we love ya.

What’s even more interesting is that I could have had this review out two days ago just to beat everyone to the punch, but I didn’t. I wanted to find out everything I could, look for all the bugs, and give myself time to judge this addon properly. And that can’t be done by playing with a game for forty or so minutes and then writing a review. Take that into consideration when reading this, because unlike other sites, we try to give you the real skinny on the game. If it sucks, believe me, you’ll know it, even if the game is Daikatana.

The Goods

Quick Peek: A unique twist on squad based tactical warfare Half-Life style.
Pros: It’s free, it has some truly outstanding mods, Valve made it, it rejuvenates Team Fortress, it’s multiplayer only.
Cons: Not enough maps, some bugs still prevalent, only us press wankers have it.
Value: It’ll be available for download on the 2nd of April if Valve sticks to their promises. And all that’s required is that you own Half-Life.

End of the Line

System Reqs: Pentium 166, 32MB RAM, Half-Life
APIs Supported: Direct3D, OpenGL
Hype Level: 10/10
Overall Grade: A
Recommendation: Get this baby the second its out for download. You won’t regret it. Really.

Mod Grades

The Hunted: A+
Defend the Capture Points: C+
CTF: B+
Rock2 CTF: A

The Grade

Concept: A
Gameplay: A
Graphics: B+
Cinematics: N/A
Sound: A
Interface: A
Multiplayer: B+
Overall: A

Starsiege

Published 23 April 1999 on the now-defunct gaming website 3DGaming.net.


Can I have your address please sir? “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU NEED THAT FOR? I don’t want any crap sent to me!”

Concept

It’s not very often that a game comes along that makes me oodle with joy to play over and over again. Out of the 30 something games I own, not many have enraptured me the way StarSiege has. The list is small. Very small. Baldur’s Gate and Jedi Knight are pretty much the only other two games on the list.

I won’t mince words: Starsiege owns. It’s not quite MechWarrior 2 or 3, but it’s not quite a first person shooter either. And having been a big fan of MechWarrior 2, this surprises me. Since I didn’t really like Starsiege’s predecessors Earthsiege 1 and 2, I thought Starsiege would clone the MechWarrior games, and much to my surprise, Sierra has opted to not do such a thing and instead created what feels like the first robot simulation fps game. And it’s a helluva lot more fun to play than Dakota’s toaster.

I need off the planet… check please.

It’s hercs. They have big guns. They shoot people. They’re very big and heavy. And they make a lot of noise. Come on, this is an age old idea that’s been around since before you were born. So anyone who says this game is a brilliant star in the sky and is revolutionary, come over here so I can give you a smack down on the way this world turns, cause buddy, you got it all wrong. Remember: the whole reason it’s fun is cause we’re killing one another with really big toys. Boys with toys, that’s what makes this world a better place. And hercs are always fun. Even when you name is ‘Activision without an awesome license.’

MercWarrior 2 is still the king. This is a step down but with better graphics. No more disappearing mountains and flames. Now they stay put. Gourad shading is officially a thing of the past. So, no, along with the ‘two armies at war who band together to fight a common enemy’ crap that we’ve seen in a thousand and one different movies, there’s about as much originality in this as there is in sex; there is none.

You see sir, the problem is that you’re just a complete moron. You’re too stupid to be allowed to purchase anything that has an electrical current running through it.

Gameplay

Teddy kicks some dusty
Cybrids are all rusty
Mommy’s Burning
Mommy’s Burning
All Fall Down!


Let’s get this right out: it’s so friggin addictive. Not like a craving for chocolate at 2 in the morning type thing, I mean like ‘give it to me give it to meeee!’ type addictive. The type of addictive where the CD doesn’t leave your CD-ROM drive type thing. I cannot stress enough how much this game has me in its grasp. It’s quite amazing. I always believed that gameplay can rise above anything. Shitty graphics, bad sound, piss poor multiplayer. Anything. But gameplay is a combo of everything working in perfect syncopation. And Starsiege does just that.

There’s nothing exceptionally new and amazing about Starsiege, since we’ve seen this all before. The story is practically ripped directly from a certain George Lucas movie, with a slight twist of course, and the mechs were renamed to HERCS to avoid confusion with Hercules I suppose, and they’re small as hell either way, but still, it’s pretty damn fun, like good cheese.

Have you ever played a game where you could never get past a certain area because of the difficulty of the mission? Yeah, bring back those memories you have of Commandos, because they’ll come into play here. The keywords here are porn and patience, and you to have these both in this game. Well, not really, but some missions are so frustrating that the porn helps to get over it. Really.

You see Mr. Bond, there is no way you could be here and in her pants at once.

Let’s get onto the hercs. There’s an assload of them here. Each one has different pros and cons.

Here’s a list to make you happy.

Apocalypse: Used by both the empire and rebels. This is the heavy attacker d00d. Very fun for offensive missions.

Knight Apocalypse: 10% faster than the Apocalypse. Like a Voodoo 3 3000 to 3500. Except more fun.

Basilisk: For empire use only. Offensive attacker. Not quit as powerful as the Apocalypse.

Knight’s Basilisk: Same as above but with the capacity to store a larger shield generator.

Emancipator: For missions where stealth is a plus, use this bad boy. He’s not very strong, but like the scout in TFC, he’s the one you want capturing the flag.

Gorgon: Slow but powerful. Really powerful. Avoid getting into its sights at all costs.

Minotaur: This is the midway vehicle. Something to use if you prefer a good ‘overall’ vehicle.

Knight’s Minotaur: Same as above but with a slightly faster top speed and acceleration.

Olympian: Light but slow. 6 weapon mounts. I’ll see you online. I’ll be in this. And you’ll be dead. This herc is awesome. There is simply no other way to put it.

Talon: A supped up version of the emancipator. Slightly more powerful, but slightly slower. Never let this thing get into a combat situation, otherwise it’ll be more dead than David Caruso’s film career.

Knight’s Talon: Same as above with a faster top speed and improved acceleration.

Avenger: John Deere would love this thing. It’s a tractor-trailer from hell. The front of the thing even says ‘Danger’. Unfortunately the armor on this thing sucks, and it can’t carry very powerful weapons.

Disruptor: It’s slow. But I will say this much. Stay the hell away from its cannon.

Knight’s Disruptor: A slightly faster version of the Disruptor.

Dreadlock: Here’s the gist of this herc to get you in the know: take a bulldozer, give it armor, weapons, and make it ram opponents. Another first from John Deere. The Dreadlock is extremely useful for ramming opponents and then firing at them at close range.

Harabec’s Predator: Awesome acceleration mixed with medium powered weapons and a small sized herc make for an awesome vehicle of destruction.

Myrmidon: Stay the hell away from this thing. It can take such a beating that all the p1mp daddies of the world would be amazed. Anyone who has the balls to take on this thing better hope it misses when it fires; otherwise, it’ll be having flambé ala herc for dinner. Skapow.

Knight’s Myrmidon: Same thing as above but with a slightly faster top speed.

Paladin: The midget hercs. I hate these guys. These are the guys who are outfitted for defense, not offense. It’s fairly fast and can use fairly powerful weapons. Another must have for the prepubescent boy in you.

Knight’s Paladin: Isn’t this becoming amazingly predictable? Despite that, this one moves a bit faster too.

Now for the Cybrids:

Adjudicator: This thing looks like Godzilla. No really, it does. This is sort of a mid range herc.

Platinum Guard Adjucator: Same as above but with a better reactor and faster top speed.

Executioner: Slow and deadly. Like your mother in law.

Platinum Guard Executioner: You know, I really don’t know why the Cybrids love to give their hercs these huge drawn out names. And much to my surprise (insert neat Batman action word of choice) the platinum version comes with a faster top speed and acceleration.

Goad: Remember that cool bike that Ben rode in Full Throttle? You do? Well guess what the Goad looks like? Neat huh? This Cyrbrid herc can be banged like a door and can only mount two weapons. This is the Cybrids’ version of a reconnaissance vehicle, because, after all, if it looks like a motorcycle, it’s gotta move like one too.

Shepherd: Buy one now and it comes with a free sheep. This bad boy is the midway herc of the Cybrids and is the equal of the humans’ Minotaur.

Seeker: I can’t describe this mec, er, herc (damn, always misspelling that) any better than the manual did: Shoot and Scoot. Yah, it’s corny as hell, but that’s essentially what this mec, er herc, is made for.

Bolo: Fast, great weapons, but the shielding isn’t all that swanky, so get yer buttocks in an out like a quickie in your dads car. Just don’t tell your dad.

Recluse: A more supped up version of the Bolo, the recluse lays a lot of mines and makes missions more difficult. Prepare to be nudered.

I feel it is my duty to mention the manuals. Whoever managed the product, have a cookie, because I love you. The manuals are gorgeous. And to make the game even cooler, there are two of them, like the hot twins next door. One is entitled: Starsiege Compendium: History of the Conflict and is at least 100 pages and contains info on the history of the imperials, rebels, and cybrids. Included in it is astounding artwork of the main characters of the conflict, the vehicles, the many different worlds, production art, paintings, and quotes.

This is a prime example of how to immerse the player in the world of the game. To those who don’t want to go out and purchase EarthSiege 1 and 2, the compendium will fill you in. It’s that good. The second book that comes with Starsiege is the pilot guide, which teaches you how to drink and drive in a herc. And how to demolish an entire city in the span of five minutes. Explained are also the commands and other neat stuff that comes jam-packed with every bite. What a lucky charm.

“You have two messages,” your email is cool… let’s go to the beach with skipper… DIE YOU INFERNAL PINK MACHINE!!!!

Graphics

One Laser, Two Laser, Red Laser, Blue Laser
When Toaster smokes our Mom all smelly
And stomps our Dad to bloody jelly
Save one, Save Two, Save Red, Save Blue
For Me, For You.


The graphics in Starsiege are nothing to ramble on about for pages, but they are decent. If you’ve played Tribes, then you’ve seen these graphics before. Except now the OpenGL ships with the game and works right. How is that possible? Someone must have slept with the right person at Dynamix I guess. The detail in the hercs are about as amazing as a pop tart.

Most of the time you can see polygons breaking apart, especially in the cybrids, who look like a collection of polygons stuck together with Elmers superglue. When I moved up close to a herc I noticed that they were detailed, but not the way I expected. It looks like someone took the skeleton of a herc and painted all over it in browns and greens and reds. Kinda like that mig jet toy set you had back in highschool that you blew to kindom come when you set the garage on fire.

Of course, no one knows for sure how it started…

The resolution options are as about as exciting as Dee from ‘What’s Happening,’ and just as hip. If you synch the refresh rate to you your monitor, you can run the game at the same resolution as your desktop. Why this is so necessary I don’t know. Apparently it’s better to see little hercs than big hercs. That’s like saying a small twinky is better than a big twinky. What?

I fight tyranny for the CI— oops forget that I work at Radio Shack.


As for the world outside the hercs, well, it’s gosh dang pretty to look at, but the hercs don’t interact with it too much. Best example. When in the training missions, which by the way are completely useless, I noticed that it was snowing. And not a single snowflake slid off the canopy glass. Not a single one.

I ask now that you turn your little gaming wheel back about two years ago to when a game known as Need for Speed 2 SE came out. It supported Glide and in each level some kind of neat little effect would splash itself upon the windshield, rain, snow, even insects! And this was way back when people were still buying 3dfx cards!

And yet two years later this technology manages to vanish? A technology that would suck down maybe 2 frames from the game. Golly gee skipper, what do you think? I think someone isn’t on the right boat Gilligan. And apparently, everyone in the Starsiege universe is an expert tumbler. Every time I show a herc the happy end of my turret and unmake them, they tumble forwards and break apart at the nads.

As a society we are deeply scarred…

Cinematics

We miss you Mark Hamill! You know, back in the dark ages of computer games, when my 386 was the best out there, a man known as Chris Roberts (who later did the Wing Commander Movie that apparently no one saw) created the FMV game, and the cinematics were quite good. Then recently, someone decided that ingame engine cinematics were better.

Lemme tell you something, when a person’s lips move but the rest of their face does not, that is scary. Especially when the lips are huge. Yah. Watch the movies in Starsiege, and watch the horror. If you can tolerate the reverb effect of wonder, the movies in the game basically outline the storyline of the game with rendered cinematics meshed with ingame sequences.

Yah. Spiftastic. Except the audio is buggier than a 12 year old can of coke. In all respects, the opening is pretty fun to watch with all the explosions.

Got milk biproducts?

Sound

Little old Peter
Missing his liter
While Herky plays in the red
Down came the glitches
And burned us in ditches
And we slept after eating our dead.


After having played the MechWarrior 3 demo enough times to send someone into a spiraling ditch of insanity, I have come to the conclusion that 3D sound is the way of the future. In the MechWarrior 3 demo, when I walk on dirt, the sound of my feet hitting the ground sound muffled. When I walk on pavement the noise that emerges sounds heavy and loud.

This is what we here at 3DGN call ‘3D sound.’ And when my herc farts a grenade, you’ll hear it coming. Now, I wish I could say I was talking about Starsiege, because I never once felt that same feeling, that realization of two disctinct sounds emerging from my soundcard and making me feel as if the environment is more real. Not once.

Onto the soundtrack. Have you ever had a dream that was so real you couldn’t tell the difference between the dream world, and the real world? Have you played MechWarrior 2? Then prepare to meet its clone. Except this time it isn’t sheep we’re cloning (unfortunately)… yes, I am talking about CD audio. It’s really good. It has to be; it sounds too much like MechWarrior 2 to not be good.

In fact, I frag Rob every day to this music. What about the non-CD audio sound? It’s like a twisted version of the Sound of Music. It’s bad bad bad. To your left is a3d support, to your right we have Direct Sound 3D, and at your feet groveling like a sniveling bastard child of Santa Claus is Direct Sound (waitasec, how does that at all make sense?) as for EAX, I didn’t see any. Sorry guys. Either way, it’s nothing special.

I am 25 years old, and I sell Barbie toy cellphones…

I feel as if though I should mention the sound in the movies because I’m special. Now, I’m on an MX300, and the opening video reverberates sound like bad whiskey. Essentially, I’ve heard better. Lots better. I have to give credit to the nameless one who speaks at the beginning. This is one F$&*ked up kid! He talks about death and violence, and he’s about 5 years old! He should be promoted to highschool! At least there he’ll have something to do.

The sound in the opening video sounds like someone forgot to fix a toilet. Go ahead and have a peek, there’s this amazing reverb sound, kinda like when you used to take straws into the bathtub with you as a kid.

Ok, now if you’ll let me, I’ll try to explain how the game works…

Interface

Empire, Shadows and Smoke, Babylon
We are the light, We are the flame
We are the kingdom come, burn the shadows away


Ahh, how I love this thing. There’s just so much you can do, so many little things to click that make your computer love you. How wonderous. The interface is so easy to get used to that unless you happen to have an intelligence quotient below 10 you’ll love the interface.

The radar is easy to get used to since everything is nicely colorcoded, and the text shows up at the top of the screen to block out the awful voice acting, and the 2D stuff allows you to not only fudge in a lot of heavy artillery into your herc but also choose pilots and read about them (what a concept) and allows you to visit the web site of the rebels and get news feeds and watch recorded battles you’ve had.

Can we say ‘Grotto of Love’? I love the interface almost as much as I love banana and strawberry yogurt.

There is no generic health meter or numerical value. Instead, there is a graphical representation of how much damage is taken. For you and the enemy. Yellow is surviving, red is ‘Hello! Taking way too much damage’, and if you suddenly find no herc in your box on the top left hand corner, well, guess who’ll be breathing through a straw for the next couple of years. It certainly won’t be the enemy.

And for those of you who aren’t fighter pilots and use non-inverted mice, there’s something wrong with you, which is why you’ll appreciate Dynamix’s having prepackaged Starsiege with several different key bindings for the fighter pilot in you. Although I would like to have the option to tweak the graphics more (when you’re on a 400 mhz cpu you crank up everything as much as you possibly can) similar to the way Unreal allowed me to decide whether I wanted to have it regular or extra strength.

It goes out there and… does stuff. There you go.

Multiplayer

I spent years watching my brother, trying to see a way to beat him
– Cannon on Harabec, 2829

File this one under good to go. Someone send Dynamix some flowers. This is such a nice setup that I have to make my love for them be known. To have an ingame broswer for games rocks. Which is why Half-Life is so damn cool. And this is why Tribes and now Starsiege 0wn. Go into options, set up what you want, name, etc, and then go find a game, and kick some toaster ass.

For those of you who made customized hercs, well… what can I say… someone’s not too bright. There’s a wonderful little bug (note the cyanide laced sarcasm) that prevents those of us who know how to make our hercs the ultimate machines of destruction and death from using them online. But outside of that, multiplayer is extremely fun. I actually found this more enjoyable than most other games such as Quake II, because you have such a vast amount of time to plan out your actions ahead of time and think about what is the best option of attack.

And as for you CTF junkies out there: To quote the 80’s: it’s rad. And when you’re in a big herc, and you happen to be used to Quake II style lag, well, grab a leg and begin humping, because the lag here is cool! If you’re stacked with big guns that go boom, and you happen to be around another herc, when the lag hits, (and you’ll know it due to the fiber optics connection wire image, which, well, for me, I know what that is, but for the dialup population, hey, one day you’ll know freedom) fire in a circular pattern all around your screen. There’s a very good chance that when the lag ends, he won’t be too happy anymore.

Conclusion

If head cheese had a sense of humor it would play this game. It’s that good. Like a good twinky. Let’s get something clear though. It’s not a sim, it’s really not. Otherwise my keyboard would be filing charges of abuse against me. I’ve always felt that what makes a simulation a simulation is that sims have about 40 gillion keys that need to be pressed just to move forwards. But in Starsiege I just need to press the forward key. Which is why I don’t really consider this a sim, despite what Sierra and Dynamix want us to believe.

Infact, I would say it feels more like a shooter, since you can move your mouse around and fire with it and can be a fighter pilot like me and invert the mouse. With Starsiege, it’s as if though someone let a deathmatcher (of Half-Life of course) wreak havoc with a simulation. It just didn’t feel like a real simulation of me sitting in a herc and killing other hercs. There are many reasons why I feel this way about Starsiege. Perhaps because there wasn’t enough focus on sound.

Perhaps because most hercs are about 3-4 stories tall, and the hercs in Starsiege look like midgets out of Time Bandits. Perhaps it’s because the graphics weren’t as good as they could have been. I don’t know. But the gameplay is the key factor here. It saves the day. Without it this game would be about as fun as Sin would be on the Doom engine (well, at least then my videocard wouldn’t burp 10 million times every time I load it up), but the gameplay saves the day here. Without it there is nothing.

I’ve always believed that gameplay can rise above everything else. If the sound sucked, and the graphics were about as magnificent as mud, and the gameplay was awesome, I’d still play it. It’s hard to explain what makes it so damn cool. Maybe it’s the hamsters, maybe it’s because I’m sick and tired of Quake II style corridor shooters, who knows, but all I know is, I had a blast reviewing this game, despite the flaws that make me want to poke Dynamix over and over again with a cattleprod. So what do I say? Despite the nagging flaws this game is very friggin fun! Which in my book is all that counts.

The Goods

Quick Peek: It’s the first of a new breed of herc sims, this time in the Earthsiege universe.
Pros: Killer gameplay, decent graphics, stable OpenGL and Glide support, awesome multiplayer.
Cons: The 3D sound bites. The graphics could be a helluva lot better.
Value: It’s fun. The gameplay is rock solid, and it’s a nice change of pace.

End of the Line

System Reqs: Pentium 166, 32MB RAM
API’s Supported: OpenGL, Glide, Software
Hype Level: 7/10
Overall Grade: B
Recommendation: If you want to take a break from the recent flood of generic shooters, make your way over to Starsiege. You won’t be blown away, but you will have a good time.

The Grade

Concept: A
Gameplay: A
Graphics: B-
Cinematics: C-
Sound: B
Interface: A
Multiplayer: A
Overall: B

Quake III Arena

Published on 3DGaming.net on 5 February 2000, mere months before I’d leave the world of gaming and enter the world of academia for a decade.


This is your head. This is your head impaled upon a stick.

Concept

Ahh yes, the ever-venerated Quake series introduced the gaming world to 3D. And what yummy 3D it is. Too bad Valve owns yo—! (Editor’s note: The biased writer was executed. We have hired a new writer to take his place.)

It halted the progress of 3d gaming. Suddenly we all want to be a 3D shooter don’t we? After a superior sequel called, ironically, Quake II, id software returns for one more round of ‘The 3D Wars,’ now at your local newsstand.

Nearly two years ago id software announced it would forgo any single player experience at all (good joke guys!) for a completely multiplayer experience. After all the hype and all the speculation, Quake 3 Arena finally arrived on shelves. Original speculation was an all new type of multiplayer experience, where the design would be completely geared for an online experience. Online gaming had been done before with Tribes, otherwise known as perfection, but it was nothing of Quake 3’s standard, or fast and furious deathmatching.

John Carmack even admitted, it was a risky proposition, crafting an online only game. Of course, there are bots to practice against, but that’s secondary to a balanced online experience. Deathmatch has been done many times before, so id had to truly offer something new and intruiguing to make Quake 3 a fun product. That’s the least we ask for, the Bruce Willis equivalent of a videogame. Fast, loud and bloody. Sounds like my Friday nights.

I’m sure you’re wondering how to play Quake 3, and if you’re not then there’s something wrong with you. This is concepts and story! We’re going to tell you how to play Quake 3 whether you like it or not! Those who disobey get to sit in the corner with Romero and the Green Bay Packers.

What you want to do is this: Install the game, double click on Quake3.exe, adjust your settings and get online, then kill whatever moves that isn’t you. Or if you’re playing Team Deathmatch or CTF, kill anyone who doesn’t have the same skin color as you. Otherwise, frag away. Welcome to Quake 3 Arena. Deathmatch refined to its finest. I don’t know how deathmatch could possibly be refined anymore, but hey, apparently it needed to be.

The story can be summed up in only a few words: Ppfftt! Yah right!

I saw a man and he danced with his wife! In Chicago! (That means gameplay is next)

Does a multiplayer game really need a story? Think about it. When you are running around a map, firing rockets and spewing bullets at anything that moves, do you ever stop to think about the utterly captivating history or storyline of exactly what’s going on? Of course not. And id has never been the king of telling a captivating story either. But yet, id was determined to create the best storyline possible for the type of game Quake III Arena is.

There was some throwaway plot about alien abductions and Dean Martin’s pants. All this and more on next week’s Star Trek Voyager, The Teen Years. Actually, for the literate bunch of you, (Huh? A sentence? You mean those things with words?) if you ever bother to look at the Quake 3 manual, (which if you did, I’d laugh at you) you’d discover that there’s some vague plot about a gladiator, an arena eternal, a ‘We ripped off Mortal Kombat because our writing skills can’t even match that of a five year old,’ plot, lots of blood and gore, and in the end of it all, some Philosopher-cum-rocketlauncher toting mass murderer named Xaero. And don’t forget, this is all a sport. Much like herding sheep. Except sheep can’t fire rail guns, and if they could, well, they’d have to be some pretty durn special sheep.

The manual also has a short description of each character in the game. It would have been nice to see a little more, but then, this is a multiplayer game, so my expectations aren’t exactly very high. Actually they’re about as high as the dirt on the ground. After all, this is id we’re talking about.

Today’s horoscope: check back tomorrow.

Gameplay

Three words: Fast and Furious. Quake 3 is like the best National Lampoon flicks. Of course, Christmas Vacation is the best of them all, and Quake 3 came out right before Christmas. Ofcourse, it’s all cooincidental. It has to be. Now if only there was a Griswald family skin set, then Quake 3 would tower amongst its competitors. The gameplay seems to be a mesh of Quake 1 and 2 for the most part. Prior to Q3’s inception, the Quake scene was divided into two halves: those who played Quake 1, and those who played Quake 2. Now there comes a third group: those that play Quake 3.

Quake 3 shipped with several modes of gameplay: Free for All, Tournament, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag.

Free for All: otherwise known as deathmatch, needs no introduction. Id is the father of deathmatch as far as I’m concerned and will always hold the reigns of the wheel.

Tournament: 1 on 1.

Team Deathmatch: I actually found this to be surprisingly fun. I’d never played team dm prior to Quake 3 and it’s actually pretty damn daft!

Capture the Flag: As if this needs an explanation? Steal the other teams’ flag dumbass!

On a personal note, in regards to Tournament mode, being 1 on 1, I don’t recommend loading up large maps for an obvious reason: the match will last a lifetime.

Now that we know what the modes of play are, let’s talk about the maps and then the weapons.

Deathmatch Maps

Q3DM0 – Introduction: A fairly small map, good for about 3-5 people playing FFA or Tournament.

Q3DM1 – Arena Gate: Good for ffa’s, this map is good for a group of about 5-6 people. Make sure to stop by the big tongue at the back of the map for a truly disturbing experience.

Q3DM2 – House of Pain: Wow. This map simply rocks. 10 + people in this map is all out chaos. An awesome dm map. Cheers to the id gang for this map.

Q3DM3 – Arena of Death: Decent map. Good for about 6 players in ffa mode.

Q3DM4 – The Place of Many Deaths: What an awesome map. One of my favorites in Q3, this map is a blast with about ten people in it on ffa mode. Props to id.

Q3DM5 – The Forgotten Place: What can be said about this map other than ‘chaotic’? One half Giger-ish space trash, one half heavy metal. Add 5-6 people, ffa and stir.

Q3DM6 – The Camping Grounds: Awwww, I cannot say enough about this map. You don’t forget great designs such as this. The Camping Grounds is an awesome display of superior map design. There’s nothing like playing this map with 10 people and Paradise City by GnR blaring from the speakers. Q3DM6 is a classic ladies and gentlemen.

Q3DM7 – Temple of Retribution: One of the infamous test maps. A good map with one weak flaw – the rocket launcher is a blatant camping spot. If you hate campers (like my editor, that filthy bastard Rick) then I’d skip this map. Good for about 7-8 people in FFA.

Q3DM8 – Brimstone Abbey: I knew a girl named Abbey once. Nice girl. Bad temper though. Brimstone, incidentally is also one of the (at the time of this publication) four ctf maps, with more to be released soon by Disruptor (Christian Antkow). 5 on 5 – 6 on6 in CTF or Team DM can get pretty intense. There are some odd dead end rooms that are fun for an easy kill. On an unrelated note, if you get a chance to stop and observe the arches in the main room with the plasma gun, stop and do so. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that someone has been studying medieval architecture over at id. Fun stuff. The nice use of reds and blues throughout the level is also a nice change from the ever persistent brown and gray palette.

Q3DM9 – Hero’s Keep: Acceleration pad madness. I’ve had more than one fall to my death due to smacking right into someone else mid air on my way to gank myself a rocket launcher. I’d keep the number of players low due to the large number of ‘deaths by pitfall’ that can occur. 5-6 players in FFA. Also a fairly decent Tournament map.

Q3DM10 – The Nameless Place: You got that right. This map has a cool scifi design reminiscent in some spots to aliens with tight and electronically lit corridors. Check out the blue… thing up on the stairs near the mid hallway. It looks like someone broke the teleporter thing from Trek and got it stuck on permanent. A good ffa and tournament map, nice and tight. Good for about 4-5 people in ffa.

Q3DM11 – Deva Station: What a cool map! Just getting the quad is a challenge! Retro is the only way to describe this whacked out map. In some spots it truly feels like an arena, with arena lights up above and everything, and in other rooms it has a space station-ish feel. Like I said, retro but still damn cool. There’s no one theme, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. For FFA this map simply rocks the house. 10 people in this map is a mad rush.

Q3DM12 – The Dredwerkz: If I could rename this level, I’d rename it to ‘BFG: Frantic!’ because of the awesome amount of chaos that ensues when someone gets their hands on the armor, quad, bfg and an assload of ammo. Dredwerkz is a madcap rush of enormous heights, pitfalls, jump pads, acceleration pads, teleport pads and devastating weapons. Load this sweet bitch up with 10 people on FFA and set the timer for 20 minutes. You’ll thank me.

Q3DM13 – Lost World: Remember that killer mpg that was released around the time that the whole ihv incident went down? Remember the cool living orange pillar in the video? Well, it’s here folks! It may not be the main attraction of the level, but it’s still a cool side show attraction. A cool map nonetheless, DM13 is a feast of gibs with 7-8 people getting the smack down on each other in ffa.

Q3DM14 – Grim Dungeons: Sadly, this map isn’t very memorable. There’s nothing that really makes this map stand out other than the surprise near the lightning gun (let’s just say it might offend some people) that I found to be cute. It’s not a bad map, but when compared to the likes of Q3DM2, it loses any sway it might have held over me. Good for about 7-8 people in ffa mode.

Q3DM15 – Demon Keep: Truly a bizarre map, Demon Keep is an immense amount of fun with 10 people blasting away in ffa. Thrown into the map is lava, acceleration pads, jump pads and the rail, making for a wildly fun map.

Q3DM16 – The Bouncy Map: One part ‘The Longest Yard’, one part maze. All parts fun. A decent ffa map, If more time was given to expand this level, it could have been a fierce ctf map. As it stands, it’s a decently fun ffa map that’s enjoyable with 7-8 people.

Q3DM17 – The Longest Yard: One more infamous test map. And also one of the best. This map stands as one of the most frantic with 10 or more people in it. There was some picture on planet quake of a triangle of bodies piled atop one another some time ago that captured my point beautifully. This map shall not be forgotten. FFA with 10 + people is the way to go.

Q3DM18 – Space Chamber: Tall arches and sudden drops into a bottomless black abyss. What more could you ask for? Props to mic for kicking my ass on this map a few days ago. The addition of jump and acceleration pads makes for an experience not to be missed. To the designers of this map: the addition of Matrix-esque gravity could only enhance this already amazing map.

Q3DM19 – Apocalypse Void: Let me get this out of the way right now: I hate this map. It is the most sadistic map I have ever played. I have this theory that I’ve developed that the map designers of Apocalypse Void wanted to induce a feeling of motion sickness combined with anger and frustration so they created this map.

Of course, this probably isn’t a very popular theory. I actually consider this to be a great team dm map simply because I can imagine people taking a large amount of pleasure in knocking their teammates off the sides of floating pads and sending them to their deaths on a very hard surface. With 8-9 people in FFA or team dm is an enjoyable time. Also good for a tournament match.

Tourney Maps

Q3Tourney1 – Powerstation 0218: Blah. A somewhat bland circular map. Nothing outstanding about the design here outside of the consistent use of a purple palette. For 1 on 1’s this is an ideal map, but only for 1 on 1.

Q3Tourney2 – The Proving Grounds: Ahh, one of the infamous test maps. This map sports a spectacular design. The map in one half divides itself into two floors and in another into a tall roofed corridor near a teleporter. Sprinkle with a dash of lighting gun and fog of death and let simmer. A well rounded map that is immensly enjoyable with 10-15 people. Team FFA all the way on this map.

Q3Tourney3 – Hell’s Gate: A moderate sized map, this one feels more at home in a pure dm match than anything else, although it’s small enough that a 1 on 1 match wouldn’t be out of the question, but for ffa I’d stick to 4-5 people at most.

Q3Tourney4 – Vertical Vengeance: The style of this map seems very similar to Q3DM11, which may or may not be incidental. Nonetheless the map design is still solid and stands out. This is a very cool map to get about 8-9 people into for FFA or team dm.

Q3Tourney5 – Fatal Instinct: A remnant of the ihv as someone on the Quakeworld forum (I think) mentioned was originally named Tim1 for those of you that had it. I can’t say I think too highly of this map due to the frustration that ensues due to the piss colored peasoup fog. I can’t say I’d recommend more than 8-9 people for this map due to the frustration that I’m probably not alone in sharing with this map. With a little work, this map could have been improved upon greatly.

Q3Tourney6 – The Very End of You: What an awesome 1 on 1 map! Awwww, this just needs to be seen to be understood how awesome it is! This is a first: Floating mazes. It’s like a combination of ‘The Longest Yard’ and ‘ The Bouncy Map.’ This map is also one of the few I can find that makes use of the oft mentioned reflective surfaces that Quake 3 was supposed to make use of.

Tomorrow’s horoscope: we don’t care.

CTF Maps

Q3CTF1 – Dueling Keeps: Very simple layout, blue and red teams, nothing out of the ordinary. It reminds me of a few ctf maps from Quake 2 for some niggling reason. The map itself doesn’t really stand out in any amazing way other than it just works. One of the cool little options in this map is to jump through the windows besides the doors in the large corridor between blue and reds’ sides, which is especially useful if your teams happens to be rushing or blitzkreiging.

It’s not an enormous detail, but then, it’s the small details that can really make or break a game. I personally like this map a lot and prefer it over all the other ctf maps. A good sized game would be 5 on 5 or 6 on 6. Anything larger and it would become frustratingly difficult to capture the flag.

Q3CTF2 – Troubled Waters: I’m really not too fond of this level. The corridors wind around a bit too much for my tastes, plus, incidentally, the main throne rooms where the flags are held are somewhat similar to the main rooms in Brimstone Abbey, which is somewhat unusual. A fair sized map, I’d recommend about 5-6 players per team. The water is pretty daft too. Check out the skeleton chillin’ in the water. Pretty cool stuff.

Q3CTF3 – The Stronghold: Meh. Another map I didn’t really take to too much. Y’know, I can understand id’s wanting to ship four quality ctf maps instead of eight decent ctf maps, but only ctf1 really captures my attention. The stronghold is a map that could be a great deal better if it was stripped down to its barebones. As it stands there’s one main hall way where big fights should take place but never really do. It might be because there’s too much open space in the map, but I could be wrong.

I do gotta give props to the sound guys over at id for paying attention to little things like the sound that comes from walking on metallic walkways as it actually adds to the dark atmosphere of the map. This may not be an outstanding map, but it’s not a terribly bad one. Teams of 6-7 are about adequate for this map.

Q3CTF4 – Space CTF: This map earns the honor of being named the most fu%*ed up CTF map I have ever seen. The combo of The Longest Yard and CTF, not to mention portals is pretty damn funky. It’s not your typical map, but it gets the job done. The only real problem presented with this map is lag. One wrong move and you’re bacon. The presence of the railgun only heightens tension. A fair sized amount of players is approximately 6 players to each team for this map.

Remember, there’s no grappling hook. Yes, I too cringed at this. The grapple is such a staple of all the things that defines the Quake series.

Now that we’ve talked maps, let’s talk guns, because we love guns. Guns are our friends. They make us laugh, they make us cry, they make us blow the living sh*t out of one another.

Most of the weapons in Quake 3 are weapons seen in the previous two Quakes, but let’s run down the list together anyway.

The Gauntlet: Whirling saw blade + electrical charge = a “humiliation” (award) on anyone stupid enough to get sucker punched by this badass mofo. Everyone starts off with this weapon that also requires no ammo. Each hit from the gauntlet does 21 points of damage.

Machine Gun: Although not the most powerful weapon, it has a high rate of fire. Each direct shot does 7 points of damage.

Shotgun: The shotgun is a useful spread weapon with a short reload rate. Up close the shotgun is a lethal mofo. It does less damage the further away you get. Testing the damage spread on apocalypse void, 3DGN’s artist Dave Myers and I experimented with the damage of the shotgun on the main platform of the map. At point blank range, with 100 hp and 0 armor, a point blank shot will kill you. At a medium distance (about 10-20 feet away) it does 58 damage and at a large distance away (about 30 feet away) it does 10 dmg per shot.

Plasma Gun: Aahhh, one of my favorite weapons. Having 100 shots, armor, megahealth and quad and going on a rampage with the plasma gun is what it’s all about. Releasing a torrent of plasma pulses upon opponents, the plasma gun is one of the three ‘room cleaning’ weapons. Each plasma pulse at any distance does a total of 6 damage.

Grenade Launcher: Once again, personal preference prevails. I liked the Quake 2 grenade launcher a great deal more. It had a better feel to it. The grenade launcher in Quake 3 has a wide blast radius and each grenade that doesn’t hit point blank and ends up bouncing around has a timed fuse, which can be useful if you’re trying to get out of a packed room and want atleast one easy kill. A direct hit from a grenade at 100 hp and no armor will kill you. End of story.

A direct hit with 100 hp and 50 armor will take you down to 50 hp and no armor. Someone from id mentioned a while back that the grenade launcher had a blast radius. What the exact mathematical calculation is, I don’t know. After having tested it out though, I’ve come up with these numbers: standing right next to a lobbed grenade when it explodes will take off 52 hp. Moving away about 2-3 feet will take off 37 hp.

Rocket Launcher: The rockets fired from the rocket launcher can not only do direct damage, but also splash damage due to their blast radius. A direct hit from a rocket with only 100 hp and no armor will kill you, so I recommend wearing armor at all times.

Lightning Gun: Making a return appearance from Quake, it’s the lightning gun! Of course, with time, it’s now changed. Now the gun discharges in water, as opposed to the original Quake, where, if you fired it off in water it was because you had a death wish and a desire for death. Water + Electricity = death. It’s that simple. The laws of physics must be maintained if there is to be order in the universe! Despite this niggling bug, the lightning gun remains one of the coolest guns in the game. Each shaft from the lightning gun does 16 points of damage.

Railgun: Making a return from Quake 2 is the mighty railgun, god to the masses. The speed seems to have been increased ever so slightly, although I could be wrong on this. Quake 2 had a really cool swirl effect that’s been eliminated in favor of a twig like laser beam. Bleh. Where’s the radical effect? Where’s my swirl god dammit? The damage on the rail is a straight unconditional 100 hp. Unless of course you’re wearing armor. 100 hp and 50 armor after a direct hit by the rail will be taken down a notch to 50 hp and no armor.

BFG-10k: You know, I really miss the old BFG-2k. After that, this new BFG just feels underwhelming. I’m probably not alone in this feeling. The BFG-10k fires off massive balls of plasma at your foes. Hmm, sounds like a certain other weapon in Quake 3. For all its vaunted power, the bfg is nothing more than a rocket launcher with a faster firing rate. A direct hit will do 100 dmg. With 100 hp and 50 armor you’ll be knocked down to 50 hp and 0 armor.

So those are the maps and weapons. How do I feel about them? Well, I certainly miss the old BFG. Not having a second firing option also detracts from the game, since secondary firing modes have become a norm in gaming. And I certainly wish there had been more ctf maps to play with. But then again, the grapple could really hurt the gameplay in Q3CTF4, so I can understand the omission of it from the game. I love Q3CTF1 though. It is a kickass map of the highest order. The dm maps are various enough and range from stunning to mediocre, which is expected. You can’t please everyone.

On a side note, I’d like to make the note that Quake 3 should be officially renamed to Descent Quake3. Why? When you shoot at doors, they open. I’ll leave it at that.

Throughout the levels be on the lookout for various powerups:

Green Health: Each cross adds five points of health.

Yellow Health: Each cross adds twenty-five points of health.

Gold Health: Each cross adds fifty points of health.

Flight: Do I really need to explain this?

Haste: Accelerates your movement and firing rate.

Invisibility: Duh.

Megahealth: Adds 100 points to your health.

Quad Damage: Your weapon damage (as opposed to your breath) is multiplied by four.

Regeneration: Your health is regenerated until it reaches 200 or the time limit runs out.

Your friends are laughing behind your back. Kill them.

Graphics

Quake 3 is a pretty game. In fact, Quake 3 is a very pretty game. Between the levels and models, I’m in awe. To the id team, guys, I tip my hat to you. How do you work your magic? Do you tie Carmack down to a chair and force him to work at gunpoint? I always imagined that the id offices would be populated with gordeous women clad in black leather that would motivate staff to work through whatever means necessary, and if that means getting whipped, then by all means, whip away!

You will need a ‘Class A’ accelerator to run Quake 3, as it is a visual feast. I envy GeForce users. What needs to be said that hasn’t already been said? Curved surfaces, heavily detailed models, gordeous smoke trails, and in 3Dfx’s offices, motion blurs. Not that that we care about motion blur, right guys? Right? Guys? Uhhh, guys?

The graphics are certainly outstanding. Shadows fall upon corners with rotting skeletons and heads of programmers, arching tunnels lead to pools of lava, and the water ripples when jumped into. It all looks quite nice. But it’ll also take a hog of a system to run it all. The minumum requirements are as follows:

– A Pentium 233 XXM with an 8 mb video card
– Pentium II 266 with a 4 mb videocard
– K6-2 350 with a 4 mb videocard
– 64 mb of ram

I feel like these system specs should be in a Penny Arcade cartoon where the entire strip consists of Gabe and Tycho laughing at the system specs.

I don’t know how Activision expects to be taken seriuosly by publishing these sorts of things on the side of their boxes. Technically speaking it’s feasible to play the game with such a lack luster system, but you won’t be seeing much of the game. Maybe a few outlines and a flare here and there. Other than that it’s a lost cause.

If you want the specs for a system that will crank out the fps like Sweet Dick Willy on Friday night at TGIF’s, you’ll want alteast a 400 mhz cpu, 128 mb of ram, a TNT1 or 2, GeForce, or Voodoo 3. On my system, which is a 400 mhz system with 128 mb of ram and a voodoo 3 3000, I have an average fps of approximately 30 at 800 X 600 with textures set to 32 bit color, which does actually help, bilinear filtering (enabling trilinear filter just kills the framerate) with textures set at approximately 4/5 their full detail.

There’s a great deal of graphical options that can be enabled using cgi commands not included in the menu options. Remember that you’ll want a powerhouse system to enable things such as shadows. An interesting option presented is the ability to set the detail level to fastest, fast, normal and user defined in the options menu.

The newest incarnation of Quake sports the hyped feature known as curved surfaces. Does it look good? Hell yes. Does it change the game any? No. Once again id uses a palette of mainly brown textures, which begs an important question: is id software colorblind? This is one of the few qualities that upsets me. How many times am I going to play through the same environments again and again? Prior to Quake 3’s release we were all hearing about how we’d be seeing mirrors used prevalently in Quake 3, as well as portals that would allow players to see through to the other side of them.

What did the final product reveal? A combination of Quake and Quake II with improved graphics. Whoopee. Do I get a discount for having purchased Quake I and II? The architecture of Quake 3 is absolutely stunning, but suffers due to sequelitis. Id has been there, done that, so to speak. Dank goth castles with satanic references (which way are those pentagrams pointing anyways? Cause if they’re right side up, they’re not satanic.) have been done to death.

Please, move on. I saw this same design back in ’95. I can hardly tell the difference between the two. Yes, I’m biting with sarcasm. Now you know how my editor felt when he had to review the demo for TombRaider 4. What I’d really like to see is a map of id software’s offices. And John Carmack’s cars if possible. I’ve been looking into investing in a temple of worship for the almighty Carmack.

However, as much of a technological achievement the Q3A engine might be, it took id Software nearly 2 years to reach the power of Epic Games own Unreal engine. And even now, the Q3 engine is still lacking in a few areas. So although the game looks good, it doesn’t actually push any technological limits how Unreal did nearly 2 years ago. But that doesn’t stop this game from bein prettier than a swank chick at a nudie beach. And we all know how fun nudie beaches are.

While I’m on the topic of graphics, let me talk about the models. In the words of the 3DGN homeboys: Eye wub j00 guyz! Paul Steed sir, I worship thee. For truly thou art a god. You and Frank Miller. There’s a certain nostalgia feeling that’s brought up when I see the Doom guy run around killing everyone in sight. I’d like to dedicate a song to you, oh wonderous Doom guy, it’s called ‘Oh Wonderous Doom Guy.’ Original eh? ‘Oh Wonderous Doom Guy, How I love thy lucious rocket launche–. (Editor’s Note: We’d like him to stay on topic as much as you would.)

Cinematics

You’re kidding right? Cinematics? For Quake 3? That’s about as necessary as an enema. Ewww. They’re still cool to watch though, as brief as they may be.

Paul Steed noted in some bulletin board over at Quake World ages ago how he spent some time cooking up a video of his Cable inspired character Sarge. They’re not fmv. There’s a tiny video for every character that you the nameless player must face in a series of tourneys. Outside of that, I quote gamespy on their summarization of the plot for Quake 3: “Ppfffftt.”

They’re well made and look really cool, but they don’t offer much. In or out it wouldn’t change the game in anyway. Nothing much to be said here. I usually just hit escape to skip right past them.

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

Sound

Apparently some time ago someone decided that redbook audio was dead and that all music from now on was to be played in the form of mp3s, as utilized in Wheel of Time and the upcoming (no really!) Daikatana. Unreal used umx format files. Both Quake I and II shipped with the music on the cds. Quake 3 on the other hand does not.

Instead within the pk3 files are several wav files by Front Line Assembly and Sonic Mayhem. It gets better. Now we have to purchase the soundtrack. No longer does it ship with the game. Oh no. We have to pay more. Lovely. At least Romero has the decency to ship his game with the soundtrack in mp3 format.

Welcome back Sonic Mayhem, we have missed thy presence. Lemme tell you something folks, the Quake 2 soundtrack is very freakin’ good, so upon hearing that Sonic Mayhem would be returning to score Quake 3, I immediately became excited. And then I heard the bad news: electronica shall be present. Oh joy. Nevertheless, I remained optimistic that the music would be good, since electronica can range from excellent (anyone remember the music from the opening scene in Blade?) to absolutely horrid (everyone on mp3.com. Get off my planet!)

What I found instead in Quake 3 was a mix of rockish metal and ambient sound. Thankfully I was spared the pompous voice of some “I hate life and wish I was dead,” psychopath who screams into the mic and blows speakers wherever he goes.

As for the regular sound, there’s an option for high and low quality and the option to enable A3D, which upon enabling will absolutely kill your frame rate, so I don’t recommend enabling A3D. EAX is not supported out of the box (read: EAX users got the shaft. Don’t you love independent developers?)

Outside of that, it’s nothing special. Copy and paste sounds from Quake I and II and it’s pretty much done. All returning weapons have if not the same then nearly the same sounds as heard in Quake I and II. Yawn. As for footsteps, they’re there, but it’s nothing spectacular. There’s a footstep sound for regular ground and for metallic ground, but does it really matter in the heat of a firefight? Either way you’re going to die, so you might as well come to accept your fate, and if you don’t like it I’ll spork your ass!


Interface

Hahahahaha.

I feel sorry for whoever designed the interface for Quake III, cause he’s going to get ripped apart by the press. And I think he deserves it. I’ve never seen such an outright sloppy interface. I want a GUI with options. Not a cool logo at the top that allows me a minimum amount of options. It’s as though someone through it together at the last second. The fact that it required a mod maker to fix the multiplayer screen is a sad statement about developers in today’s world.

I want to be able to adjust the size of overlays, of every single last control instead of having to manually edit a config file. Everything should be adjustable. None of this cgi nonsense. If I wanted to learn code I’d go to programming school. Three things must be remembered First of all, Built in server browsers should be neat and organized. Second: Tabs people, tabs! Gamespy uses them for a reason. Take a hint. Third: GUI.

So what did I like about it? The basic options are there. And id did want people to be able to get into the game in three clicks, but did they really have to skimp on design to do so? I think not. And for goodness sake, auto downloading people!

Name filters merely force players to invent creative ways of spelling boner.

Multiplayer

Deathmatch. Team deathmatch. Capture the flag. Tournament. Three out of four require you to turn your brain off. And the fourth, CTF, consists of all of four maps. This is like Clam Chowder. You gotta have the crackers. Without the crackers, the soup just ain’t as good. Manufacturers don’t ship just one or two crackers, but a multitude of them of all different shapes and sizes.

Quake III’s soup shipped with four crackers. It didn’t turn out to be a very good meal. I just made a metaphor to food in a videogame review. That has to be a first. Do I receive any kind of award for being the first?

To understand single player mode, just think: Mortal Combat. And no, I don’t spell it with a k, because that’s improper spelling and my editor won’t stand for that. Don’t you know your grammar?

Let’s talk about the bots first. I’d break down laughing if I wasn’t expected to be taken at least mildly seriously for a part of this review. Prior to the release of Quake 3 the gaming community had been told to expect life-like bots. Well first off, the single player mode should be renamed to ‘Fight The Talking Bot,’ as they are just about the most annoying gaming experience yet seen. Who the hell talks during a match?

I don’t mean snide little remarks such as “You suck Sabre!” but rather, full blown sentences. These guys have mouths that run a mile long. Klesk is one of the more annoying ones. Throughout matches with him he’ll talk about how he wants to eat you. Is this a game or a gourmet buffett? This is what ‘Auto Taunt’ exists for. The bots levels range from ‘suck ass’ to ‘kick your ass’ levels. At nightmare mode it’s absolutely impossible.

Lan-play is also quite smooth, as always. Reports from users on dialup range from “ok” to “horrid.” It really does depend on your isp how well the game will play. Regardless of that, the game is quite smooth over the net, since that’s what it was intended for.

Single player is also included in here, if you really want to call it that. Deathmatch is just what you’d expect it to be: Run around and kill everyone else. No real surprises here except that it plays out like the best of Quake and Quake II.

Team Deathmatch: Uh, yah. Why not just add a flag while you’re at it, since that this is simply Ctf without a flag.

Tournament: This mode is actually quite fun. Matches are one on one only, so wait your turn, although no map is limited to one set mode, so Q3Tourney1 can be played as DM, Team DM and Tournament.

CTF: The weakest mode in the game. The general stance seems to be that Q3CTF1 and 4 are the craptastic maps and Q3CTF2 and 3 are the well designed ones. I enjoy them all myself, but the main problem is just that: there are only four maps. I’ve already heard the argument that ‘We didn’t want to ship 8 or so decent quality maps when we could ship 4 great maps.’ Let the fans decide bub. This is a game aimed at the fans, and in this case, less is not more.

I’ve heard rumor that a certain thematical design was intended for Quake 3. You mean Creepy castles and futuristic landscapes? Yah, we’ve all seen it before. Just give us all the maps you’ve worked on. There are a total of 29 maps in Quake 3. That is not nearly enough for four different modes of gameplay, especially when fans will find themselves sticking with a certain 3 or four maps all the time, as players did with the Q2DM1 – The Edge.

Multiplayer games can be found by simply clicking on the multiplayer tab, which will allow you to sift through local games (meaning LAN or node system for Cable isps such as my own), M-Player (which annoyingly installs itself on your hard drive when you install Quake 3), and regular servers. If you want to join a server while the list is refreshing, simply hit the space bar and click on ‘Fight!’ and you’re on your way.

The one minus to the multiplayer is that there’s no auto download as there was with Quake 2, so if you don’t have a map listed on a server you’re automatically kicked back to the main screen, rather than told that you don’t have the map. It’s a slight annoyance that should be eliminated, much like decaf.

Conclusion

So how do I feel about Quake 3?

Nearly two years ago PC Gamer pimped id and Quake 3 with a world exclusive. The promises excited me, as did the really funky screenshots. The designs were old hat id, but it was still more interesting than what the final product produced, which is a mishmash of gothic castles and science fiction settings. But that’s what id does best, so who’s to complain? Those who were looking for innovation, perhaps.

When it comes to deathmatch, it doesn’t get any better than this. The visceral rush of Quake 3 deathmatch is unparalled. But outside of that and team deathmatch, it’s somewhat lacking as a stand alone product. The Quake series keeps itself alive through it’s fans and the mods they develop. I’ve always found it somewhat tasteless to let a community complete a game a developer could easily have made great. Only now are new ctf makes being released, and mods such as Team Fortress Quake 3, LMCTF for Q3, Rocket Arena 2 and more.

In the nearly two years that id spent working on Quake 3, it could have been very easy for them to comple a variety of different mods into Quake 3 outside of deathmatch. There was some development of this occuring, otherwise the gold edition wouldn’t have shipped with ctf maps. But as Paul Steed said in a post on the Quake World forum, Quake 3 Arena was to be a pure deathmatch title only, and certainly, in that respect it’s done it’s job. But I can’t help thinking that it feels a tad bit incomplete nonetheless.

If you’re a fiend for deathmatch, you won’t find much better than Quake 3. But if you’re a gamer who enjoys a variety of online combat, look elsewhere, because Quake 3 is nothing more than a reiteration and an unneccessary refining of the Quake series. Quake 3 is like the equivalent of TombRaider 3 to me. It’s all been done before.

That’s the problem. There’s nothing new here. All the weapons we’ve seen before in one variation or another, with the exception of the gauntlet. Some of the maps look like direct descendents of Quake and Quake II. There are even models brought back from games past. It’s like the Generations Mod with a new engine. Despite that, Quake 3 is one of the finest 3d shooters on the market and should not be overlooked, despite its flaws. You may pass by one of the most enjoyable games you’ll ever play.

The Goods

Quick Peek: It’s Quake. Again. This time purely multiplayer. Same game as Quake I and II, but with a new engine.
Pros: Stunning deathmatch. A variety of skins. Some of the maps have awesome level design. A new engine.
Cons: Everything else. Shoddy ctf. Repetitive map design that’s been seen in the previous two Quakes, feels rushed, laughable interface. No grapple in ctf. No code to play with upon release. No EAX support. Annoying bots. Lack of innovation.
Value: Been there, done that. Unless deathmatch is the only type of online gaming you do, this just isn’t worth your time.

Grades

Concept: B+
Gameplay: A
Graphics: A-
Cinematics: B+
Sound: B
Interface: D
Multiplayer: A
Overall: A-

Rainbow Six: Eagle Watch

Originally published on 11 March 1999 for the now-defunct 3DGaming.net, I clearly abandoned all pretext of taking myself even remotely seriously. But that was also the sort of thing that 3DGN built its image around – we didn’t take ourselves seriously and we tried to offer readers entertaining writing. I like to think we succeeded.


You run around. You shoot stuff that doesn’t look like you or your next door neighbor. And then you do it again. And again.

Concept

In case you haven’t heard of Rainbow 6, it’s just about the most amazing “shooter”, a term I use lightly, to ever hit the market. In a genre flooded with Quake clones, Rainbow 6 was a fresh of breath air when it was released. Unfortunately, the fun was limited by the lack of a level editor. For the most part though, there’s no “real” story. Basically, you get in, you take out the bad guys, rescue some folk, and then go onto the next mission. Not exactly a heart stopping masterpiece, but then hey, I’ve come to expect no brainer gameplay from shooters in this day and age.

The basic premise comes from the Tom Clancy novel of the same name. The concept as written in a book is essentially an anti terrorist squad that replies to terrorist threats before anyone else can, quickly, efficiently, and secretly. And you’re the guy heading the operation. Have fun. As with Tim’s gripe about the storyline, mine is the same. There’s no real cohesiveness here folks, the levels have about as much to do with one another as Burt Reynolds does with good movies.

Ok, so you say it’s cool. What else?

But after a while, that becomes a moot point as the gameplay saves the day. Remember, the game is “loosely” based upon the novel of the same name, but at least the book had a plot. Once again, Rainbow Six: Eagle Watch is a wonderful example of gameplay saving the day. Got that? Good.

With the exception of Mysteries of the Sith, MechWarrior 2: Ghost Bear’s Legacy, and the various addons for X-Wing and TIE Fighter, very few missions packs live up to their predecessors. Rainbow 6 is one of the rare few that does. It’s not a step up from its father, infact, it’s exactly like Rainbow 6, but the level design is so far beyond that of the original that it deserves whatever recognition it gets.

See the bad guy with the gun? Put a bullet in his head.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Eagle Watch is just as amazing as the its prequel. Being a self proclaimed Quake 2 aholic and railgun whore, R6 was one of the few games that changed the way I looked at first person shooters. No longer could I pretend that I was John McLane and that everyone around me was Hans. Now I had to think! What? In a 3D shooter? That’s what made Rainbow 6 so damn amazing. And Eagle Watch is the same way.

The one major issue though is a lack of any real story. The novel has every terrorist event occur to test the main character’s will for some kind of enormous challenge. The game version lacks the same novelty feel that the book conveys, thus losing any interconnectivity between the various missions, other than that they get harder with time.

It’s fun to play. But is it fun to look at?

Thankfully, there’s an option to load a preset map that sets predetermined paths for the other troops to take. It’s sad that the AI on the other soldiers sucks so badly, because had it not, the game might have been more fun. Despite that though, the gameplay rises above the craptastic AI to save the game. I always believed that the point of a mission pack was to continue the story of the original game, and I only wish that Red Storm had attempted to make some kind of story in the game so that the level progression would seem more logical and flowing.

The one fact that must be remembered is: this is a sim. Not an action game. There is a severe difference between the two. With sims, it’s harder to just jump into the game and play. You have to know which keys to use and how to make one thing to do another. Because of this, the keys are always complicated since there are so many of them.

Everything else seems the same unfortunately. The graphics still have the occasional glitches, the AI is still at times fuzzy, and the weapons are for the most part the same. So outside of the levels, you ask, “Well, then what is new in the game Ilya?” Well, from the looks of it, 3 new weapons, 4 new operatives, and some interesting new deathmatch options. Other than that and the new missions, there’s not much else. Sadly, I was hoping for more. But then, they can’t all be golden, can they?

Is the game prettier than an SAT test on a Saturday morning at 7am?

Graphics

In a pinch, it’s the same crap as before. That’s right, in the last half a year or so since Rainbow 6 came out there have been no graphical improvements in the industry. Yup. Right. Ok. Sure. And David Caruso has a career. There’s still the occasional clipping problem, and the flat “I’m a dancing polygon!” look that everything has.

While the models actually do something when they’re not moving, they don’t do much. I think I saw someone scratch his ass once or twice, but that was about the only really neat thing I could think of to mention. Although I don’t want to start up a flame war about this being an aging engine, there’s always room for improvement.

Enough with the shiny monkey’s ass, I wanna see the porn!

Compared to Unreal and Half-Life, I’m left wondering why no one thought to make improvements upon the engine? Were they all so busy working on five levels to stop and think “Well, there’s been some new graphical developments these last few months, and people bitched about a lack of story, let’s give them one!” Yes, I’m very cynical. There was almost a 6 month period where a few people could have made the graphics so much better.

I was hoping for lotsa skin here. I got guns instead. A fair exchange.

Cinematics

In his Rainbow 6 review, Tim mentioned the lack of any real cinematics throughout the game. Same complaint here. Except my opening introduction didn’t have any voice over at all. Just prerecorded gameplay with music. I wish I could have a neat voice telling me about the beat down I’m going to bestow upon the terrorist scum.

The least Red Storm could have done is created some cinematics to make the story actually function. Instead of having me assume I’m going in and introducing people to the wonder of an mp5 because I’m a laugh a minute guy. At least then I’d feel like I had a purpose to play the game. Believe me, every bad guy has an alterior motive. If you don’t believe me, read the Evil Overlord List. I’m sure a bad guy would rather be in his dungeon drinking tea while torturing a victim than going out and setting bombs up all over a building. He does have a life you know.

We call this sound effects. This game borrows it from another game by a similar title, called Rainbow 6.

Sound

Half-Life and Thief emerged before Eagle Watch did, and in that time I expect that everyone all of a sudden said “holy shit!” and began working on implementing better sound it into their games. Rainbow 6 sorta did that. There’s no real 3D sound per say. It really depends on your definition of it. When moving around, my anti terrorist guy made so much noise cause of all the shit strapped to his ass, and who knows where else, that I wanted to personally end his life for not being quieter.

Other than that little flaw, the sound is fairly on the mark. The weapons sound the way they should (although since I don’t know Charles Heston and his little gun toting psychos too well I wouldn’t know, but I would imagine they sound the way they sound in the game).

Perhaps the most outstanding part of this game (other than the orgasmicly lush level design) is the soundtrack. It’s the same as the music on the first CD. But at least it can be said that the music was developed by Hollywood professionals, and whoever wrote the music had something to do with the music from The Rock. It’s good stuff to. I actually listen to it now and then, even though all the songs are short as hell.

It’s good stuff. I’ve heard better, but still, it’s good stuff. As for the rest of the sound, it’s all (and I’m sure you can see this coming… lifted from the original. I guess it’s too much to have some new noises? Maybe have some terrorists shout orders to one another while I sneak around and reveal to them the wonder of my silencer?

Interface

I have to quote another 3DGN writer(Tim) on this paragraph, otherwise it’ll be a waste of html and Office 97. “‘(Woo-ooh-ooh) It’s all been done. (Woo-ooh-ooh) It’s all been done. (Woo-ooh-ooh) It’s all been done. (Woo-ooh-ooh) It’s all been done (done, done) before.’ — This Barenaked Ladies lyric applies here.” I love the amount of originality presented in this mission pack.

3 rings for Elven kings…wait, that doesn’t belong here. Dude, this can take forever to figure out. Have a cookie.

Multiplayer

Anyone else here a Hydra-SB addict? I’ll even accept Gamespy for an answer instead! Now don’t you hate it when neither support a game? Well, that’s yet another flaw. The co-op multiplayer is absolutely rock solid. On a 33.6 the game can get a bit laggy at times if the server absolutely sucks though. And with the one-shot-one-kill attitude, the game can become that much more difficult to enjoy online. And it’s absolutely a must to go and kill a squad member and blame it on someone else. Kinda like that body guard in Out of Sight who shoots himself in the head when he runs up the stairs and slips.

DM in R6 was never very fun, and since there isn’t a great deal of space in which to move, when compared to Delta Force, the DM aspect looses its fun quickly. Fortunately, there are four new options at hand to elongate the online aspect of the game: Scatter, Assassin, Terrorist Hunt, and Save the Base.

There are also six multiplayer modes that derive from the main four types: Assassin, Scatter, Scatter Assassin, Team Terrorist Hunt, Scatter Team Terrorist Hunt, and Save the Base. Each offers something different and helps elongate the life of what could otherwise be viewed as a stillborn child of a game.

You can kill alone, with a friend, in the company of many friends, and with absolute strangers.

Conclusion

This has been something of a challenge to review due to the nature of the game itself. Rainbow 6 was unlike any other game I’d played when it was released. And I’d come to expect quality work from the team that designed the game. But everything presented here suggests a shoddy, rushed product. The manual is a worthless waste of trees. The game ships with all of 5 new missions.

The sounds and music are all lifted from the original game. There are only 3 new weapons. And the install is buggy. I had to reinstall Eagle Watch twice to get it to work. Bugs are amiss to the point where I discovered I had to go and edit something in my registry to play the game. I can only imagine a newbie who doesn’t know what he’s doing editing something in his registry. Oh yes, I had to turn off the opening video as well.

Besides these outlandish bugs and the lack of any story whatsoever, the grand total of 5 new maps and several new multiplayer options just isn’t enough here to make me want to recommend that anyone run out and buy this. And it requires that Rainbow 6 be installed as well. If Rainbow 6 happens to be your favorite game, then I see no reason to not run out and buy this, otherwise it’s not really worth it.

Software developers release new levels all the time online, I don’t see why Red Storm couldn’t have done the same with Eagle Watch. There’s some decent work done here. But everything just seems to not work right together. The multiplayer and interface are the best parts of the game, and although the concept is neat, it’s just not deserving of a higher grade.

The Goods

Quick Peek: A unique and challenging first person shooter than requires as much thought as it does balls.
Pros: Interesting concept and gameplay, varied internet options, stunning level design.
Cons: Pathetic manual, new troops are useless, only 3 new weapons, only 5 new maps, no level editor, AI tends to act idiotic.
Value: If you don’t already own Rainbow 6, you can pick it up and throw in Eagle Watch for another $20. If you like shooters with a twist, give this a whirl.

End of the Line

System Reqs: Pentium 166, 16MB RAM, Rainbow Six
API’s Supported: Direct3D
Hype Level: 5/10
Overall Grade: C
Recommendation: For fans of the original who have the patience for this, it’s a fun experience. But if you’re willing to shell out $60 for Rainbow 6 and Eagle Watch and you know you’ll love it, then hey, go for it. Otherwise, it’s a cheap thrill that can be saved for something more worthwhile. Buy a book.

The Grade

Concept: B
Gameplay: B
Graphics: D
Cinematics: N/A
Sound: D
Interface: B-
Multiplayer: A
Overall: C

Ultima Online: Renaissance

Originally published on 13 June 2000 on 3DGaming.net. Man, those were some fun times.


Concept

Recently, Origin released a second expansion pack for Ultima Online, known as Ultima Online: Renaissance. This new expansion offers a variety of improvements to the original product, as well as the full game to those who don’t own either UO or the first expansion, known as The Second Age.

Ultima Online: Renaissance felt like an old friend upon the initial boot. I’d played Ultima Online shortly after its initial release, which, as has been told many a times, was a less than perfect release candidate. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it for a short while until I found myself enchanted with other products. Ultima Online stands as an achievement in the online RPG category. Not only is it a unique game for not replying upon an AD&D level based system (as the competition does), but it also earns high marks for not forcing its players to resort to combat to make a living.

For those who are ready and waiting for some flaw in my review, I’ll make this clear right from the start: I am not comparing the gameplay aspects of UO: Renaissance to the original Ultima Online, nor to The Second Age. Instead, I’m stating what the upgrades to the original product have been and how it compares and contrasts with the current competition on the market: Asheron’s Call and EverQuest.

Although I have played UO before, it has been quite some time since I have ventured into Britannia, thus any mistakes made in the review are based solely on my own limited amount of time in which to review the product, as well as lingering memories of the original product. There are no biases present, only observations made during my time playing UO: Renaissance.

If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence you tried.

The concept of Ultima Online is succinctly explained in an opening video detailing the Avatar’s defeat of the evil mage Mondain, who used a crystal in an attempt to enslave the world of Sosaria. Apparently the Avatar wasn’t very nimble, as he destroyed the magical crystal the wizard was having an affair with.

You’d think Mondain could get a room so we wouldn’t have to watch the love making process with the crystal. Anyway, the Avatar killed him and shattered the crystal, thus creating a concept I’ve seen before in DC comics, a thousand different worlds that are all more or less the same. Or something.

Does Ultima Online really need more exposition than this? I think not. On with the review!

“See, you just shouldn’t have a social life! It works!”

Gameplay

Welcome to the world of online RPGs. Time to make a character! Choose your gender, your hairstyle, your traits, your skills, and your name! We hope you don’t mind, but…you’re a sprite in a 2D world. No 3D for you! You know, I bet you could make a song out of that: ‘Sprite in a 2D [Kind of] World.’

Anyway, the gameplay is pretty much still the same old thing you all know; you have your character and he can do whatever you built him or her to do: blacksmith, chief, dominatrix, anything you like. My cool guy Tauger Aman is a mild mannered adventurer with swagger and style. In my first adventure in Britannia, I wandered around and had random NPC’s telling me to talk to various people that a magical floating arrow would point to. Eventually, if you talk to enough people you begin receiving free stuff.

After having harassed the local blacksmith about what hours his daughters were free during (note: plural. I was going to have some fun tonight!), the blacksmith sent me to a woman dressed in a purple cloak. Apparently fashion sense is a phrase lost to the people of Sosaria. After I talked to her for what must have been the fourth time, she gave me a free sword. In the real world, sexual harassment cases are taken to court. In Sosaria, you get a free sword. This game is starting to look better and better all the time.

“Man, I gotta stop eatin’ the whole box of pop tarts. I was okay when there were six in the box, but eight definitely plays tricks on my mind.”

I decided to go hunting and see what neat stuff I could do. I found a goat stomping around in the forest, so I decided to kick its ass. After about five minutes of combat, the little bastard finally fell to the might of my powerful newbie sword and I was victorious. After taking a few minutes to heal though some means unknown to me (I’m guessing it’s magic), I saw a llama. I decided to attack the llama. It kicked my ass. I ran back to the city and vowed revenge upon the llama.

Eventually I met up with a dialed dude by the name of ‘The Respectable Druuz.’ He taught me to swing like the coolest of cats and gave me some bone armor, after which we decided to go hunting in the forests surrounding the city. He helped me pick up a box, lift some rocks, and stand on my head. Then he attacked a wraith. I joined in the battle and we kicked its smarmy little ass.

Then I saw that damn llama. With my shiny new sword, shield, and armor that I was too weak to wear, I attacked the furry bastard. A few minutes later I stood over the corpse of a sautéed llama, covered with its blood, but by Tempus, victory was mine! Wait, Tempus was a god in The Forgotten Realms. Dammit! Wrong universe! I knew I should have taken my Ritalin this morning!

I mentioned earlier (somewhere) that Ultima Online: Renaissance sports a variety of new features, and among them is one called Modified Player Killing. Asheron’s Call had it right from the get go. Origin didn’t. Any ‘1337’ newbie with a “DIE YOU STUPID HEAD!” T-shirt and a face resembling the surface of Mars could take your ass out once outside the city limits.

The interface (or the lack thereof) has been improved for group/party playing. Imagine the game twister but with swords and you’ll get the idea. Members of your group can also take loot from your body if specified in the group options. The landmass has apparently also been increased in size, which should make all you real-estate agents happy. Let the auctions begin!

The object of war is not to die for your country but try to make the other bastard die for his!

Graphics

Six years ago, Ultima VIII: Pagan was released, powered by the… Ultima VIII engine. The same engine that powers Ultima VIII powers Ultima Online.

I’m at odds with this part of the review. On one hand, the graphics are fine and decent for their time, but compared to modern games such as Baldur’s Gate, the as yet unreleased Neverwinter Nights, and even Diablo, the graphics of Ultima Online feel a bit underwhelming and dated.

All the characters are sprite based. ‘3D’ is not an applicable term with this game. Even your old S3 Virge you’ve condemned to the darkest crevices of your basement would have no trouble running this game. At least it’s not as graphically intense as other games in this day and age, but that’s to be expected with an engine this old. Having 3D graphics would be nice, but then, that’s what Ultima Online 2 is all about, right?

“Iku iku!! Translation: I’m coming I’m coming!”

Cinematics

As I mentioned in the gameplay section, the opening video details the Avatar’s overcoming the evil mage Mondain, which sounds dangerously close to “mundane.” This brings me to my biggest gripe. Why are all mages evil? Why can’t they simply be… misunderstood? Perhaps venting at the world due to the death of their favorite servant? I think future fantasy games really have to work on fleshing out their ‘evil mages’ into something a bit more three-dimensional.

Nonetheless, the opening video conveys the plot of the game and at least attempts to explain the existence of the various servers (known as shards). It’s more than other games have been willing to do. Then again, perhaps the other games simply don’t care.

(blakeRz) Anyone who confesses to being a Starbucks fan will be banned for one hour.

Sound

In the day and age of red book audio, compressed wav files, mp3s, and mod files, why am I still hearing midis for music? The day and age of midi is over ladies and gentlemen! I want to hear crisp digital audio at 448000 Hz! No more of this midi nonsense! As midi goes though, the music isn’t quite as catchy as EverQuest, but it’s better than Asheron’s Call. That’s an inside joke, since Asheron’s Call has no music.

Don’t expect superb quality midi when you purchase the game. It’s passable as background noise, but that’s about it. The ambient sounds are decently done; sounds such as footsteps and birds are common to the ear when playing UO.

I expect to hear high quality music in all the games I play. This is the year 2000, not 1996. Technology has advanced to the point where having music via an mp3, mod file, wav file, or even red book audio is the only way to go. Please catch up with the rest of the world, Origin.

Interface

Ho boy! This one is a crapper. Ultima Online, meet the year 2000. Your interface sucks. Due to UO: Renaissance being nothing more than a glorified patch, the chances of getting an overhaul to escape macro hell seems highly unlikely. Hopefully someone at Origin will realize just how much of an aberration the interface is (not likely) and won’t allow such a travesty to occur with Ultima Online 2. The problem is this: the game is run completely by macros. Everything is a shlep and a bitch to access. I wonder if anyone working on the UO Live staff has ever played Asheron’s Call or Baldur’s Gate, which stand as the best examples of how to make an interface work properly.

(Rob) I love Starbucks. -o+b Rob

Due to the already overly strenuous learning curve to the game, a cumbersome interface only further pushes my already strained tolerance. Having items scattered about a backpack in no specific order is not what I would consider organization, and the item recognition system isn’t the finest I’ve seen either. Hopefully UO2 will sport a refined and smarter interface than the one currently in use.

Another gripe is the chat system. It’s simply disgusting. 1994 is no longer in style. Having dialogue appear above characters is simply an ugly system that not only clutters the screen but also causes an immense amount of lag, which is felt quite painfully by those on dial-up connections. Having a chat box at the bottom of the screen is the way to go. It also allows for a larger amount of chatting to occur without slowing down the game.

The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it’s unfamiliar territory.

Multiplayer

I really don’t think this needs much detail. Is there lag? Yes, but only when you’re in a heavily populated area. Other than that, the lag is minimal and I have no complaint with it. I’ve rarely ever felt any, which may be largely due to my cable modem, but I have felt it, and when Britannia is crowded… no one is safe.

Compared to the likes of EverQuest and Asheron’s Call, the lag has been fairly tolerable. The servers do die on occasion, and during peak hours I do suggest staying the hell away from crowded areas, but otherwise, it’s not all that bad. I didn’t see any window that monitored lag to give me an idea of just how bad it was. Personally I think it’d be a welcome addition to UO.

Conclusion

Whether or not you like MMORPGS, or specifically Ultima Online, one clear fact can be ascertained: Ultima Online is a hit. There is something inherently fun and exciting about Ultima Online. Perhaps it is the ability to not have to fight to survive and make a living. Perhaps it is the wholly unique role playing system; perhaps it is the lack of a ‘MarketQuest’ style atmosphere. Perhaps it is something else entirely.

While it may not be a brand new game, the expansion does add more depth UO by offering more options for group playing, culling player killer power, expanding land, improving the interface, offering new looting options, and improving the chat options. Then again, being able to kill a llama in any game means it will offer hours of joy.

The Goods

Quick Peek: A new update of Ultima Online, a “massively multiplayer” game with the ability to hold hundreds of players in one world on different servers known as shards.
Pros: Atmospheric world, addictive gameplay, Pking improved, tweaked interface.
Cons: Extremely steep learning curve, dated graphics, midi music used, hellish interface, macros rule the game.
Value: It’s $10 a month for terrifyingly addictive gameplay. You know the deal, you log on, and you don’t stop playing. Origin takes your money, your loved ones leave you and you’re left all alone.

End of the Line

System Reqs: Pentium II 233, 32MB RAM, 590MB HD, 8X CD-ROM, 56K Internet Connection
API’s Supported: N/A
Hype Level: 7/10
Overall Grade: B-
Recommendation: MMORPG, drug, it’s the same thing as far as I’m concerned. Although it’s not a 3D game like Asheron’s Call and EverQuest, it’s still damn fun and has its own pros and cons. There’s a great deal to be enjoyed. If you want a game with depth, you can’t go wrong with UO. I highly recommend you try it, despite the steep learning curve.

Grades

Concept: A
Gameplay: A-
Graphics: B
Cinematics: A
Sound: C-
Interface: D-
Multiplayer: A-
Overall: B-