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SummaryFunctional, solid, by-the-book FPS with little inspiration
The GoodIs Quake II better than its famed predecessor? Absolutely. No longer a mere tech demo, Quake II delivers a coherent FPS experience set in a much more detailed world that is able to initially impress and even immerse the player.
Of course the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Quake II is the engine. Much improved over the previous game or anything else that came out before it, the graphics are excellent. A special award should go to character modelers and animators: the enemies are singularly impressive and move in a nearly realistic fashion compared to earlier representatives of the genre. It was quite fascinating to watch an enemy fall onto the floor, hit by heavy bullets, only to regain his strength and fire at me while still lying, trying to raise his head for better vision.
It's not all pure technology. Locations feature believable details that were so sorely missing from the first Quake. They feel like environments that were designed with a purpose, with specifically designated rooms, devices, and so on. When you finish a level you feel that you have truly completed a stage and are moving to another one. Perhaps this sounds like a strange praise, but I'm comparing this game to its predecessor, and the logically constructed levels of Quake II are undeniably more interesting to explore than the incoherent stylistic mess of the first game.
Quake II delivers plenty of simple, robust, well-executed, fast-paced FPS gameplay. If competently crafted basic mechanics are all you are looking for in such a game, then Quake II will be right up your alley. The weapons may not be particularly original, but they are well-designed, with some thought put into them, moving away from the arcadish feel of the preceding game. Despite their low intelligence, enemies manage to surprise and intimidate on many occasions.
Technically, the level design of Quake II is good. It cannot be compared to the intricacies of some Build engine games, but at least it still belongs to the good old school of FPS stage-making: let the player explore the surroundings and reward him with some "treasure" for sticking his nose into every nook and cranny. There are optional paths, hidden areas, and even entire secret levels that the player is not required to traverse in order to complete the game.
The BadTake Shadow Warrior today, and you'll see, perhaps to your surprise, how fun it is to play. Take Quake II, which technically looks much better, and you'll feel tired after just a few levels. Though Quake II is undoubtedly more solid than its predecessor, it still shares with it the same fatal approach that brought a lot of trouble to the world of FPSs: level design, presentation, and gameplay nuances are given little attention, while technology benefits from disproportional efforts. The result is a more coherent, but equally unoriginal, repetitive, and fairly bland shooter that wouldn't stand a single chance against the competition were it not for its superior engine.
I suppose it doesn't matter to those who are only interested in recreating the simple thrills of Doom over and over again; but the pretty graphics don't really make up for lack of a genuine horror atmosphere, monotonous locations, and stale gameplay. Doom is still more rewarding than Quake II, because it focused on atmospheric immersion and level design at least as much as did on technology, while Quake II is mostly interested in the latter. The game's locations are monotonous, mostly consisting of depressing colorless mechanical complexes, equally unimaginative as sci-fi tributes or as representations of an exotic alien world. After a while it simply gets tiresome to run around these facilities, shooting similarly-looking enemies and wondering when things are going to change. Unreal, released only a short while later, had by far more captivating, varied alien installations that sustained the player's curiosity for a long time.
The gameplay in Quake II reflects none of the innovations that were introduced by games like CyberMage, Duke Nukem 3D, Strife, and others. A year after the first Quake, it became even more inexcusable to focus on bare-bones FPS action at the time when the genre was rapidly evolving towards a better future. You shoot enemies and occasionally bump into buttons; there is no real interactivity, no setpieces, no innovations of any kind. One can argue that the very goal of the game was to provide the kind of fast-paced, simple gameplay that was initially associated with the genre. Indeed, if Quake II had anything else - original premise, fascinating environments, perhaps charismatic characters or humor - I would accept its old-school gameplay. However, coupled with the serious lack of location variety and unimaginative setting, the gameplay fails to entertain, and pushes the game into the realms of mediocrity.