Reviewed: June 2, 2008
Released: May 27, 2008
QUAKE is one of those iconic game titles that serves as the foundation for an entire genre and more than a decade of action-packed first-person shooters. Its PC fans number in the millions with one of the most active mod communities in gaming history. Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars is the ultimate example of just how far the gaming community can go.
Created by Splash Damage and redesigned for the PlayStation 3 by Underground Development, this latest installment in the QUAKE universe blends all of the multiplayer excellence from those previous games with familiar QUAKE races and events then combines them with all-new tactical elements and squad-based gameplay to create a stunning chapter in the QUAKE saga.
Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars is more than just another FPS or even a tactical multiplayer game like Battlefield 2. It merges elements from FPS, RTS, and RPG genres then blurs those lines to the point where a new genre has been born. Gamers choose to play as Human or Strogg in one of five unique character classes. The core gameplay of QUAKE Wars is designed around class-specific gameplay tactics. Whether you choose the GDF or the invading Strogg, you must pick from one of five professions; Soldier, Medic, Engineer, Field Ops, or Covert Ops. The Strogg side has the same professions, only with cooler names like Aggressor, Technician, Constructor, Oppressor, and Infiltrator. Regardless of the names, your duties are pretty much the same, although you’ll have some cool race-specific hardware to get the job done.
Your chosen class dictates the weapons and tools you can use as well as special deployable units like turrets and radar. You can change your class at any time by going into a Limbo screen and picking a new class and default weapon. This change will end whatever current class you are playing and redeploy you with the next set of reinforcements. While it is recommended that you become proficient in a few key classes, the player who can master all the professions will find the most enjoyment in the game and become a valued commodity in online matches.
Employing an arsenal of weapons, vehicles and deployable armaments, players engage in an action-packed test of skill and coordinated teamwork through a series of combat objectives. Persistent character growth and achievements reward players for teamwork, while clearly defined mission and class objectives guide new players to meaningful contributions on the battlefield. For whatever reason, your personal growth and achievements only follow you for the duration of the current campaign and the current skill level and then they are reset. Not only do you feel slightly cheated when this happens, it hurts the overall incentive to play this game for the purpose of ranking up and unlocking new abilities and toys for future sessions.
At first glance it would be quite easy to dismiss Enemy Territory as 'just another multiplayer combat shooter', but once you dig beneath the surface you'll find an engaging and surprisingly complex, tactical shooter ready to challenge you every step of the way. Gameplay in Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars is all about conquering and securing enemy territory and pushing forward, or it can suddenly swap to where you are the defender, forced to hold your team’s front line against the invaders. In Stopwatch mode you can definitely expect to play both sides of the same battle.
Players must work together using their vehicles, deployables, and character class abilities to complete objectives, defend valuable installations, or execute massive assaults. Teamwork has never been more important. Medics will need to scour the battlefield for injured soldiers and get them patched up. This allows the injured player to jump right back into battle rather than respawning at some location back in friendly territory then having to make their way back to the front lines.
Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars is comprised of 12 massive levels that span the globe, each telling an important part of the QUAKE story and the Strogg invasion of the planet Earth. There are even some subtle plot points that fill in some important historic moments for fans of the original QUAKE titles. The mission maps are enormous with multiple mission goals, sub-goals, and spawn points. Gameplay is progression-based, so the offensive team is always moving forward through each mission checkpoint while the defending team simply tries to hold them off for the chosen time limit. While the defenders can never retake a mission objective they can retake spawn points forcing the enemy to spawn farther away from their current goal. Opponents can also disable or even destroy each other’s deployable units forcing you to repair or rebuild them.
The levels are designed to encourage the use of all character classes working alone and as a team. You’ll need that engineer to build a bridge but you'll want a soldier nearby to provide cover fire and a medic to heal them as needed. Covert Ops cannot only snipe that Strogg from a half-mile away, he can then disguise himself in Strogg armor and sneak into "enemy territory" and create some havoc by hacking a shield generator or disabling a turret.
If you are playing offline then you'll need to swap classes with each new objective - especially if you have the option for bots to complete tasks turned off, which you should, since the only way to earn XP is to do everything yourself. At this point the bots are merely used to divert and defend and provide medical support. Ordering bots to do your bidding is accomplished through a command cross system whereby you push down on the right stick to bring up a menu of available options then move the right stick in the direction of the the option. The system works well enough, but fickle AI is certainly no substitute for experienced human players working as a team online. To that end, any play you engage in offline is pretty much "practice" for when you do go online. If you don't plan on playing this game online then you should seriously rethink your decision to play this game beyond a rental.
The gameplay is designed to allow players of every skill level to jump into a match and make a sizeable contribution to the overall mission. Every player’s choice of character class, along with their actions play a critical role throughout as they gain rank, upgrade skills and provide specialist abilities necessary for victory. Even if you are performing a task critical to one of the three or four primary objectives, there are dozens of sub-tasks, spawn points to capture, and the support of your troops with med kits and ammo packs.
There is a fantastic system in place to help guide players through the linear mission structure. It helps new gamers adapt very quickly to the complex inner workings of a team-based tactical shooter by generating instant mission goals based on events and the direct actions of others. Icons on the map show which character class is required for each task, and when you go to the selection screen and start to cycle through the classes you are told if that class can complete the current objective and how many others of that same class are already in the field. There is a lot of information flowing and it is presented in a quick and stylish method so you don't waste too much time in the battle prep screens.
Each class plays a very specific and integral part of the overall team. Soldiers are the firepower of the team while medics keep the team alive and engineers keep the machines running. Field Ops is in charge of deploying units such as artillery and auto-firing turrets designed to selectively target vehicle and human (or Strogg) targets. Covert Ops can sneak behind enemy lines to recon an area, deploy radar scanners, and even assume an enemy disguise to infiltrate further than any other class.
Every significant action in QUAKE Wars is rewarded with XP, so as you kill the enemy, complete mission goals, or actively perform your support role duties like healing and repair, you'll start to rise through the various ranks and earn up to three stats for each profession. Each star provides you with three new abilities for that class; some abilities are available to both Strogg and GDF while others are race specific. The PS3 version handles things slightly different by having four levels of progression per class, giving each class one extra reward. Both the PS3 and the 360 share the same XP system for vehicles and Battlesense - expereience earned by giving and receiving damage or just near a battle.
Make no mistake about it, Enemy Territory is a multiplayer-only game, either online, over a LAN or using a System Link, or you can always recruit some of the best AI-controlled bots the gaming world has ever seen. Programmed by none other than John Dean, creator of the Fritz Bot from Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the bots were only added to QUAKE Wars with the strict stipulation that they be indistinguishable from human players.
Bots are fully configurable, so you can allow them to actually complete mission objectives or have them serve in supporting roles only. They will act just like human players with occasional friendly fire, complete with an apology before healing you. They'll taunt the enemy, drive vehicles, pilot aircraft, and deploy high-tech weapons. I've logged about 10-15 hours with humans and at least that much with the bots in solo campaign and instant action modes, so I have some good experience with the AI, and was totally impressed with just how well they perform. It would have been nice to be able to order them around or assign them to specific mission objectives, but more often than not I found them to be as good (and sometimes better) than the people I ended up playing with online.
There is a fun and diverse selection of vehicles for both sides that include ATV's, APC's, tanks, attack choppers, an air transport ship, boats, and in the case of the Strogg, a giant mech robot. Many of these transports have multiple seating slots allowing you to carry passengers who often can man some sort of turret. There is an incredible level of balance to the gameplay. For every unit and deployable item there is a counter unit to balance the tactical warfare. If the Strogg can setup a turret your covert ops can hack it or disable it with an EMP grenade. There is even a balance of abilities across all the classes and the unique skills that they possess.
The game supports up to 16 players in 8-on-8 matches, and while there has been some minor lag issues at times, for the most part the game is really solid on the 360. Sadly, the PS3 version doesn't fare nearly as well. Even running at a lower resolution than the 360, the PS Network and its peer to peer online matchmaking system continues to ruin just about any online game you play on it. Out of nearly 20 online matches I've had 5...maybe 6, run smoothly. I've also had about 10 that got so bad (single digit framerates) that I simply dropped out.
There are also some painfully long load times on the PS3 when you begin each new map. Normally, I would associate those with the slower disc access on the Blu-ray player, but considering this game is occupying 4.2 GB of my rapidly diminishing PS3 HDD in a cache file, I have to wonder why my 360 can load the same maps as fast, if not faster, than the mighty PS3, and do it directly from the DVD.
While the Xbox 360 version of Enemy Territory rises to the top of my list of online games, the PS3 version, with its laggy network issues, and people who either don't have or don't use headsets and voice chat, slips down my list of online favorites, below games like Unreal Tournament and Warhawk. Hopefully the PS Network issues can get cleaned up and this game can get the online kudos it deserves. The potential is endless.
Using id Software’s new MegaTexture rendering technology, Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars renders massive and highly detailed, un-tiled outdoor environments all the way to the horizon. Dynamic lighting allows for every battle to be fought during day or night, with accurate simulation of shadows, atmosphere, vegetation, and weather specific to terrain and climates like deserts, glaciers, mountains, and countryside.
The levels are quite huge with objectives set far apart. As long as you have at least eight players it’s pretty easy to stay in the action, and there is usually an ATV or other vehicle that can speed you back to the frontlines if you end up having to respawn further back.
Character models are excellent, although the GDF come off as all too familiar clones of the soldiers we see in games like GRAW and Rainbow Six. At least each class has a unique look with specific equipment, and the weapons all have distinct models whether you are carrying them or have one slung over your shoulder. The Strogg have far more impressive models, both in originality and complexity of design. I actually got shot once while I was crouched over a fallen Strogg examining the facial textures.
Vehicles are really impressive when viewed from far away or from within the cockpit. You can control each vehicle from a chase view, which offers slightly better battlefield awareness, or you can go for realism and slip into a fully lit and functional cockpit. Many vehicles have multiple slots for additional passengers, gunners, etc. and real-time damage meters for the vehicle and any occupants.
Architecture is fairly simple, especially for human structures. Interiors are usually sparsely populated or entirely empty with the exception of perhaps a spawn computer or a random crate. Primary objective locations definitely have more detail in their designs than the incidental buildings between these goals. And once again, the Strogg wins the war for originality for structure design and texture details with creepy locations that look like something from an Alien movie.
The PS3 definitely takes a step down in visuals. First, the game only plays at 720p, which is unacceptable on a next-gen system using a Blu-ray drive. The overall image is slightly more washed out with less contrast and less detail in textures, and there is an overally fuzziness to the picture. The framerate is good in all the offline modes but turns to a frequent slideshow when you go online depending on who you end up playing with. The HUD is minimal and the pop-up command window is easy to figure out. Ammo counts, health status, and the mini-map with all of the nearby objectives is easy to read. You can even pop-up the big area map to see the entire battlefield and which side controls which areas.
There is a cool opening movie with the obligatory female announcer followed by fly-overs of various levels with exciting music and intense combat action. Once the game starts the music stops leaving us with only the sounds of gunfire, unique to each weapon, and the assorted engine noises of land, air, and sea craft, again, all with various sounds. It will take you a few hours before you can actually identify those sounds.
There is an extensive library of prerecorded voice commands for both GDF and Strogg that you can pick from a menu system. The rest of the dialogue is pretty much taunts and orders being shouted out and confirmation of those orders. The Dolby Digital mix is stunning, with powerful bass effects that really punch up the explosions and a very spatial 3D surround mix that puts you in the middle of the battle to save (or conquer) Earth.
Enemy Territory offers one of the most complete online experiences of its kinds. With 12 massive maps, it will take you months to learn their layouts and the strategic importance of every hill and riverbed. And when you factor in playing these levels over and over as each of the character classes, who all have their own responsibilities and functions for each stage of each mission, then factor in playing as both the Strogg and GDF…well, you have a solid year of gameplay ahead of you.
While the 360 offers gamers 50 challenging Achievements, the PS3 comes at you with just as many Advancements spread across class-specific accomplishments as well as earning various amounts of XP while performing certain duties. These include vehicle and Battlesense rewards. While not as publicly gratifying as Achievements, the Advancements do give you an overall sense of progress and accomplishment with the game and there are Military Ranks in place if you need to boast to your online peers.
It would probably be a good idea to reiterate the fact that Enemy Territory, while lots of fun offline, is designed primarily as an online experience, so if you don’t plan on playing with real people over the PS Network your mileage (and satisfaction) may vary. As impressive as they are, the AI bots are merely stand-ins for you to learn the lay of the land and the structure of the missions and objectives. The real gameplay awaits you when you join that first online game or form your own clan.
No matter how many hours you may have logged playing Warhawk, Unreal Tournament, Call of Duty 4, or any of the other multiplayer shooters, nothing can prepare you for what you will experience when the Strogg invade Earth. Enemy Territory is the very definition of tactical warfare and its objective-base design and multiple classes will keep you playing longer than any other game in the genre.
Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars is a revolutionary online experience, a paradigm shift in tactical multiplayer game design, and the online game that the console world has been waiting for. Sadly, the lacking visuals and some performance issues with the PS Network keep this version from attaining the same status as its 360 cousin, which is ultimately going to stoke the flame wars in the 360 vs. PS3 debates. Enemy Territory is a good game...it's just better on the 360.