Quake II
by id Software/ActiVision

Quake II is one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. id Software has not only paved the path for games of this type, they continually lead the way by constantly upping the ante for first person shooters. Quake II has many improvements over the previous version. Up front you'll notice that this version is Windows 95 native, as opposed to the DOS games they have provided in the past. One of the other big changes is the fact that this game actually has a story, something that has been left out of older id games in lieu of the action. You play as a space marine (of course) that crashes on an alien planet. Your mission? Kill everything and disrupt the entire operation. While that may sound very familiar, Quake II does feature intelligent mission objectives that must be completed. Destroying a communications tower entails bypassing security, stealing a data disc and reprogramming it, then shutting things down manually. At last, a reason for single players to enjoy Quake II as much as multiplayer fans. One of the best new features is the ability to collect and store certain powerups, like rebreathers, invulnerbilities and quad damages. No more doing a quick sweep while power runs down. As icing on the cake, powerups also feature a timer that tells you exactly how much longer the ability will last.

As in the original Quake, Quake II features a beefed up version of the true 3D engine. The environment and other characters are composed of polygon based models, not sprites. You'll see light sourcing as never before - fire a weapon down a dark hallway and you'll see the light from the blast shining against the walls as it travels towards it's target. The environment is more interactive, something that was always possible in the original Quake engine, it just wasn't used that effectively in the previous game. There are 39 levels in Quake II, spread across nine "units", similar in nature to the hubs that exist in Hexen and Hexen II. Each unit may include from 2 to 7 levels within it. Your missions will take you back and forth through these levels to complete all the parts of your current mission. The levels are composed primarily of the trademark id brown/gray/green drab colors. I was hoping to see something different this time around, unfortunately even more of the levels tend to look alike in Quake II. The biggest cardinal sin of the original Quake is also back: no map feature. With the hub design, it's even EASIER to get lost now. I was told by a spokesperson at Activision that the developers at id no longer believe in a map. Great news, huh? THEY don't believe in a map, so WE have to do without it. I have a better idea - put the map feature in the game. If you don't believe in maps, DON'T USE IT! That way, those of us who DO believe in them CAN. Sounds like a fair tradeoff to me. Sound effects are on par with Quake, a couple of them even sounding exactly like Quake (the grunt while jumping being the most prominent). The music is absolutely fantastic, I couldn't think of anything more suitable for the action of Quake II than the fantastic beat of the soundtrack that is provided.

Enemies in Quake II are a cyborg race of aliens composed of biological bodies with weapons and other mechanical parts grafted onto them. They come in all shapes and sizes, all of them mean. They're even smarter than before, some of them even ducking your shots as you fire at them. Speaking of which, Quake II actually includes a crouch feature! Something that has become somewhat standard in the genre has finally been included in the Quake engine. Weapons include the standard shotgun and super shotgun, grenade and rocket launchers, and chaingun but include some interesting additions. The rail gun fires a high powered slug at your enemy at high velocity, a pulse rifle shoots charges, and a machine gun tosses out bullets while even providing a kick that moves the gun in your hands as you fire. And the big daddy gun of them all? The BFG10K! Marking it's return from the annals of Doom, the BFG has been upgraded and revamped. The blast is more powerful than ever and shoots out green beams of light that tear up anything in their path. What a kick of nostalgia that was! Interestingly enough, some of the later levels of Quake II reminded me very much of Doom - all in a good way, of course.

Gameplay is exactly what you would expect, the game runs great, and the level design is far superior to the first Quake. Multiplayer capabilities are a staple at id, and has not been skimped on here. There is one system requirement that I feel the need to mention here. The minimum install of Quake II does not run acceptably at all. Sounds must be loaded off of the CD while the game is playing. Whenever a new sound is introduced into the game, the action hangs for a second or two (literally) while the sound is brought into memory. Once the sound is loaded, everything runs fine until you hit a new sound. Moving to a new level of the game unloads these sounds and the game gets the hiccups again. Only by moving to the next level of install, taking a whopping 225 meg of space (yes, you read that correctly) does the game run at an acceptable pace. For a game that is a throwaway, one that I'll play and uninstall, that might be fine. But Quake II is a "keeper", one that most fans will place on their hard drive and leave either for multiplayer or add-on capability. That means that the 225 meg is a permanent loss, and that's unfortunate. I'm sure this could have been accomplished more efficiently, even if the sounds were loaded at the beginning of each level. I'd trade the load time for permanent hard drive space any day.

On it's surface, Quake II does not appear to be all that much of a change from Quake. Peel away at the layers however, and you will find that the Quake II engine is FAR superior. Instead of a major overhaul, the developers at id have spent their time wisely altering small features, like the light sourcing, crouching, weapon kick, and about a dozen or so other small features. Quake was already a technological marvel when it was released, and Quake II is it's more refined brother. Single player mode has been enhanced, although still needs some work on aspects like color. The technology is certain to be put to better use by other companies in terms of single player mode, but Quake II is still a satisfying game that will not disappoint fans of the original. Lots of little changes from Quake make for a vastly improved game overall.

Graphics 85%
Sounds 91%
Gameplay 95%
Interface 92%
Overall Impression 92%

Bottom Line: Lots of little changes to the Quake engine that really polishes what was fine technology to begin with. Intelligent mission objectives give single play mode an added boost. Much improved level design, although many of the levels do look similar. Colors are still drab, and map feature is still annoyingly absent.

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