id softwareâ€™s Quake series, like most id games, were traditionally largely tech demonstration for their excellent engines. The singleplayer campaigns, while loved by some, were largely accused of being forgettable and formulaic. Multiplayer, however, has always been something where the precision-tuned engine has always excelled - some of the best, most intense multiplayer experiences on the PC are based in this very game engine, including the Quake games themselves.
As if acknowledging that fact, 1999â€™s Quake 3 Arena largely ditched the singleplayer side of the game (leaving only a series of matches against computer-controlled bots in place of the more traditional humans-vs.-stroggs narrative gameplay) and instead focused purely on the multiplayer.
And it rocked - hard. As a big-time LAN gamer at the time, I can tell you that this game was played at almost MMO-like levels.
That, however, was 12 years ago. Time marches on, gamers grow up and new technology comes along. So it was with some interest, then, that I approached this Xbox 360 port of what is largely exactly the same game we played so hard back when we thought the millennium bug was going to turn us all into zombies (or something).
As already mentioned, Quake Arena Arcade is basically Q3A. The user interface is different (and much, much worse for it) but the underlying game and maps are both largely identical. The singleplayer flow has changed for the better, with some options as to how you proceed, etc, but itâ€™s still pretty similar to the original game.
What this game was (and still is) focused on is the multiplayer. So itâ€™s a bit of a shame that, since itâ€™s release in December, very few people seem to have bought it. Itâ€™s quite rare, you see, to find anyone online playing it - anywhere. Time and again, no matter what options you choose, youâ€™ll find no one to play against. Donâ€™t let that stop you buying it to play against your friends, of course, but if youâ€™re hoping to plow through some n00bs on a random evening, chances are youâ€™ll be disappointed.
The lack of opponents is frustrating enough alone but when you consider that situation against the fact that the game itself is so damn good, it becomes near unbearable that no-one seems to be playing it!
The core of Quake Arena Arcade, you see, is so pure, so tight and with such excellent controls (including all the options of the original, down to the colour of your rails), itâ€™s a joy to play. The controls are so very good youâ€™ll find yourself bunnyhopping around as if at your favorite keyboard and mouse, railing bots in midair and generally kicking all kinds of AI-ass.
The AI can be a bit dense in the team games, though, which end up feeling rather shallow and pointless as a result. Again, the hollow disappointment of finding so few random games to play will rear itâ€™s ugly head here and this, as a result, is likely to be the point at which you stop playing it.
All the secrets areas are there, the sounds exactly the same and the action all the more intense now thatâ€™s itâ€™s on a 42â€ť TV instead of a 15â€ť CRT monitor. It doesnâ€™t compete graphically with modern games but it skips along at a good pace and at no point do you feel like your 1200 points should have resulted in a better looking game. Whether or not itâ€™s retro-stylings and classic multiplayer action will appeal to you is something only you can really determine for yourself; fortunately, thanks to the trial version all XBLA games are required to support, you donâ€™t have to pay anything to find out. So download the trial and check it out - this may just be the cheap(ish) multiplayer blast youâ€™ve been looking for.