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The original Quake released in 1996 and was all the rage. id Software had developed another revolutionary shooter to follow Wolfenstein 3D and Doom that came before it. Quake’s gameplay was definitely familiar to anyone who played Doom but its full real-time 3D rendering was a breakthrough for the gaming industry. In my opinion, Quake is also the most unique game in the series due to its dark fantasy theme and aesthetic. In our review of Quake, I said this is a very inconsistent series and that all started with Quake II. Developed by id Software and published by Activision, Quake II was released for PC in December, 1997. It was ported to several other systems in 1999, with the Nintendo 64 version consisting of an entire new set of levels. Quake II deviated away from the dark fantasy stuff of the original in favor of a pure sci-fi theme. From what I understand, this was supposed to be an entirely new game and IP, unrelated to the original, but, ultimately, the developers decided to call it Quake II. I guess you could say Quake II was another revolutionary shooter or at least a very popular one. But I think that’s because of the multiplayer and id Tech 2 engine, itself, which was used to power several games in the late 90s and early 2000s. I did not try the multiplayer so this review will only cover the campaign along with the campaigns in the Quake II mission packs, The Reckoning and Ground Zero, both released in 1998. Jeremy and I also played the Quake II campaign in split-screen on Xbox 360. This version is a direct port of the original game with some graphical improvements and it came with Quake 4 on a bonus disk. Unfortunately, the 360 version does not include the mission packs. I played through the Quake II and mission packs on PC using the Yamagi source port which runs on modern operating systems, supports widescreen resolutions, irons out tons of bugs, and remains true to the original single player experience. Yamagi also supports music playback via the OGG file format and the original soundtrack can be obtained from the GOG release of Quake II.
Like previous id Software games, the story isn’t really fleshed out and more of an excuse for you to shoot shit. You play as a Marine named Bitterman and take part in “Operation Overlord”. Your ultimate goal is to stop an alien species known as the Strogg from invading Earth. During an attack on their home planet of Stroggos, your ship crash lands and the campaign begins. In The Reckoning, you play as Joker, a member of an elite squad of Marines. Your mission is to infiltrate a Moon base and stop the Strogg there. In Ground Zero you play as a Marine named Stepchild. Your mission here is to make your way to the Gravity Well and disable the defenses of the Strogg home planet. Just like the original Quake, the storylines have a very “been there, done that” feel to them just because they share some elements with prior id Software games. It seems id Software loves their sci-fi tech stuff and thwarting alien invasions. I don’t really mind because I love the sci-fi genre but it’s hard not to experience a sense of déjà vu when playing this. Regardless, there is a bit more emphasis on story here with intro and end cut scenes for each campaign and you can always bring up your objectives at any time during gameplay so you at least have some idea as to what the hell is going on. Furthermore, at several points during the game you’ll hear somebody over the radio ordering you to do something. Most of the time you’re going from point A to B to either activate something, destroy something, or to find items that let you access new areas like key cards, data CDs, and even enemy heads.
The level design in Quake II is a bit different than what we’ve seen in previous id Software shooters. Each campaign consists of a series of missions and each mission is broken up into different areas, or maps, that are all interconnected. You’ll frequently be backtracking through areas to do something or acquire items to access other areas. It is easy to get lost but when talking about the main campaign and The Reckoning, the levels are not so intricate that they feel like mazes. For the most part, where you need to go is pretty straightforward. If you take notice of landmarks and read signs, you can easily find your way. Now Ground Zero, on the other hand, has truly confusing level design, and excessive backtracking, with you running between areas several times. It becomes very annoying. One tip I can give is that if there’s no enemies along the path, you may be going the wrong way. When leaving an area to go to another you’ll need to wait for the game to load and luckily these load times aren’t too bad when playing on PC. They last less than ten seconds. Now when playing on 360, or at least in split-screen, these load times are significantly longer which does kind of suck considering you’ll be navigating between different areas often. Throughout the environments are health, ammo, and power-ups scattered around and there’s plenty of secret areas to discover. Navigation in Quake II is pretty easy. You’ll primarily be pushing buttons to open doors, pulling levers, and riding elevators and platforms. However, sometimes you’ll need to blow something up or destroy something to progress which isn’t always obvious. If I have any major complaint with the levels, themselves, it’s that they all feel the same, especially in the main campaign and The Reckoning. Most your time in these campaigns is spent navigating through tech base areas and the planet surface. There are different locations like bunkers, detention centers, a power plant, compound, military complex, mines, and things like that. The problem is that there’s just not enough visual variety to really differentiate them. The Ground Zero mission pack does improve the visual variety a bit, making some areas feel more interesting. Unlike the original game, any power-ups you acquire are stored in your inventory for use later and you can activate them at any time. Most power-ups last for a limited time and they mainly provide benefits to combat and navigation. I guess this game tries to employ some form of stealth mechanics because you can acquire and use a silencer which just silences your gunfire. I never really had the desire to sneak through any areas but I guess if you wanted to try, this would help. However, Ground Zero includes one area where you can wear a Strogg uniform and run past enemies without being attacked so that was pretty cool. Quad Damage returns and is just as satisfying as it was in the original Quake. It quadruples your weapon damage, letting you turn enemies into gibs in a matter of one or two shots, depending on the weapon. Other power-ups include things like the Rebreather which lets you breathe underwater, the Enviro-Suit lets you traverse in slime without taking damage, and the Bandolier will increase the amount of ammo you can carry. There’s also different types of armor that I guess act as power-ups including body armor, combat armor, jacket armor, and energy armor. You can even acquire Adrenaline which I stupidly never used because I thought it increased your speed or something. I don’t where I got that from but I was very wrong and recently discovered it permanently increases your health by one hit point. So, yeah, use Adrenaline when you find it. The Reckoning adds a Dual Fire damage power-up and Ground Zero adds several more including the Hunter Sphere, Defender Sphere, IR Goggles, double damage, and Doppelganger which I don’t think I ever found. I used the Defender Sphere twice and it’s pretty cool since it will fire at attackers and reduces the damage you take by half. The thing is, I didn’t really use power-ups all that much. I think I just forgot I had them most of the time. You can definitely get through each campaign without using most of them.
Quake II consists of four difficulty modes – Easy, Medium, Hard, and Nightmare. From what I’ve researched, the hardest difficulty was originally hidden and named “Hard+”. It was accessible only through console commands. That would also explain why the 360 version only has three difficulty modes to choose from. Regardless, when using Yamagi, you can select “Nightmare” before playing. Even on Medium, the campaigns can pose a decent challenge. Luckily, the arsenal in Quake II is more than enough to deal with the threats. The base game consists of the Blaster which is like a pistol and contains infinite ammo. It becomes basically useless during combat once you acquire any other weapon but it’s good for blowing things up or shooting buttons if you don’t want to waste ammo for any other weapon. Eventually you’ll acquire the shotgun and super shotgun which are pretty standard for id Software shooters. The biggest difference between the two is that the super shotgun fires from both barrels, obviously making it more powerful. You will eventually acquire a machine gun that can fire rapidly but you’ll have to deal with recoil and learn to control your aim. The chain gun can be extremely deadly and can kill many enemies very quickly but it also eats through ammo just as quick. You will acquire grenades that can be thrown at enemies and sooner or later you’ll acquire the grenade launcher and then later on, a rocket launcher. And this time around they do not share ammo. Some of the more unique weapons include the Hyperblaster which fires lasers and the Railgun which is probably one of the most satisfying weapons in the game. If fires a beam, or “slug”, that can decimate most enemies not wearing armor in one shot. Then there’s the BFG10k which basically acts just like the BFG-9000 from Doom. It fires a giant sphere of energy that will also unleash beams at any nearby enemies. The sphere explodes upon impact with anything, damaging any enemies in the surrounding area, usually killing them. The Reckoning includes three new weapons. You can throw a trap down that creates a vortex sucking in anyone that gets near and then produces some orb thing that provides you with health. The trap is actually a rare item so you may want to save them for later on when you’re up against more challenging foes. The Ion Ripper fires energy “boomerangs” that are very deadly and can bounce off surfaces. The third weapon is the Phalanx Particle Cannon which fires dual slugs that can do more damage than rockets. Ground Zero includes five new weapons. The ETF Rifle rapidly fires flechettes and the weapon, itself, closely resembles the Nailgun from the original Quake. The Chainfist, otherwise known as the Chainsaw, is exactly what it sounds like. An arm-mounted chainsaw. I found it to be pretty useless. The Proximity Launcher is a reskin of the Grenade Launcher which fires proximity mines that explode when anyone gets close. Tesla Mines can be thrown on the ground and will fire a beam of lightning at any enemies that get close. Finally, there’s the Plasma Beam which feels more powerful than it actually is. It fires a plasma beam, hence the name, but it seems underpowered considering how fast it goes through ammo. Now most of the weapons do feel satisfying to use and each do serve a purpose and I found myself switching out weapons often, depending on the situation and enemies I was up against. I do have one small gripe with the weapons. There’s no muzzle flashes. It’s a small cosmetic thing and doesn’t really effect anything gameplay-wise, but it bothers me. Gunfire will illuminate dark areas but there’s no muzzle flashes which is just weird. It’s not really a huge deal but I think muzzle flashes would make firefights a bit more exciting. Like I said, it doesn’t really affect gameplay and is more of a personal gripe.
As you may or may not know, I found many enemies in the original Quake to just be annoying. Quake II has quite the enemy variety and some enemies here do share the same annoying traits as those found in the original game. When you first start the main campaign you’re up against basic guards with blasters, machine guns, and shotguns. You’ll also come up against Enforcers with chainguns and they can pose a threat if you encounter more than one at a time. There’s a few flying enemy types like the Flyers which are little drones that fire lasers. Then there’s Technicians which are these these flying containers housing some kind of brain in red liquid and they fire lasers and can withstand a decent amount of damage before exploding. The Icarus is a Strogg soldier with a jetpack that can fly around and shoot at you. Some of the more annoying enemies include the Berserker which will run right at you and try to smack you around. These things can take a few shots before dying so you need to be careful. Gunners have a machine gun replacing one arm and a grenade launcher replacing the other. They usually fire grenades in succession and become very annoying when encountered, especially if you encounter more than one. Grenades may be coming from everywhere and it’s just a matter of waiting out the explosions and then popping out to get a shot off. Mutants are these large creatures that will pounce and slash you. They remind me a lot of Fiends from the original Quake. One of the most annoying enemies in the game has to be the Parasite. Fuck these things. It’s some form of four-legged cyborg creature that launches a tube that will drain your health. The Gladiator is a half-human, half-cyborg creature with a Railgun and these guys can drain your health very quickly. Iron Maidens are these female creatures that fire missiles. They also exert an oddly sexual sound. Barracuda Sharks populate the waters and are normally found in packs. Brains are odd creatures made up of human and mechanical body parts. They have a shield that can absorb a fair amount of damage and they have tentacles coming from their chest that can strike you if you get close. The Medic is a centaur-like Strogg creature with a rapid-fire blaster and it can also revive any dead enemy that’s not gibbed. Tanks and Tank Commanders are easily the deadliest enemies in the game, besides bosses. They’re heavily armored, move slow, and carry a powerful arsenal of weapons. One of the biggest differences between the two is that Tank Commanders can take more damage before dying. They’re both bullet sponges but you need to be cautious when they’re around. There’s an enemy known as the Arachnid which I don’t believe I encountered. Apparently, it’s rare. It’s a rare enemy. The Reckoning includes several new enemy types including new Guards which are prominent throughout the entire campaign. Some of them carry Ion Rippers, laser weapons, and Hyperblasters. When you first start this campaign you’ll come across creatures known as Gekks that leap around and slash you if you get close. There’s also Iron Maiden (Beta Class) and Gladiator (Beta Class) enemies. These Iron Maiden Betas fire heat seeking missiles and the Gladiator Beta has a shield, similar to the Brains. You’ll also want to watch out for Repair Bots that fly around. They can revive fallen enemies. The Ground Zero mission pack also includes new enemies and they all suck. The Daedalus resembles the Icarus but is equipped with a shield and more health. Stalkers are these spider-things that fire lasers, use melee attacks if they get close, they seem to be able to dodge some of your attacks, they can walk along ceilings, and they can fuck right off. They can easily sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. Medic Commanders can spawn Strogg during a battle making them a priority target if encountered. Finally there’s turrets. Some turrets fire blaster shots and others can fire rockets. These are, by far, the worst enemies out of all three campaigns. Turrets will really slow down the pacing, making navigation tedious. They’re placement is terrible, often above doorways or in spots you can’t easily see, and their blaster shots are way overpowered. Some rooms contain multiple turrets on walls and ceilings and they can easily put you down in a matter of seconds. Any room with turrets basically boils down to trial and error gameplay. It’s terrible. Each campaign consists of ambushes but Ground Zero goes too far. What do I mean by ambushes? I mean you proceed forward and a hidden door behind you opens up with enemies inside. There seems to be an insane amount of ambushes in Ground Zero and it can just seem unfair at times. With the excessive backtracking, tedious enemies, and more trial and error gameplay, Ground Zero is easily my least favorite of the campaigns. Now the bosses in Quake II are just pushovers. Each boss is encountered in a large area with plenty of obstacles to avoid their attacks. Taking them down requires a simple strategy of circle strafing around the area and shooting at them until they die. Quake II consists of a few bosses including the Tank Boss which is just a slow moving tank with machine guns. The Hornet is basically a flying Tank Boss, complete with machine guns and a different appearance. The Jorg is the exoskeleton piloted by Makron, the final boss. Makron can fire BFG10k shots at you so you’ll always want to be near cover. The Reckoning introduces the Super Tank boss which is basically a Tank Boss now equipped with a shield. Ground Zero introduces two new bosses, fought one after the other. The Black Widow Guardian that will teleport away when defeated and return as the Carrier boss which has a very powerful arsenal and can even spawn Flyer enemies. The Carrier is easily the most difficult boss in the entire game.
For 1997, Quake II looked pretty damn good and also had impressive colored lighting and skyboxes for its time. The texture work is a bit muddy now but it was pretty great when it released as was the modelling and animations. When enemies die you may witness a dramatic and humorous death animation and sometimes they will try and get a final shot off as they fall to the ground and you can get hit from these shots. It’s very satisfying to explode an enemy into gibs or blow an Enforcer’s head off. I think the AI was pretty decent for the time. Enemies will run around and often serpentine, making them hard to hit. They’ll even duck when under fire. I mean it’s nothing too amazing but the enemy AI is definitely improved compared to previous id Software shooters. Now the audio design is also pretty good. The weapons sound powerful for the most part and enemies will groan, snarl, and growl, making them seem threatening. I obtained the soundtrack from the GOG release and from what I understand, it was provided by Sonic Mayhem, with some additional tracks by Bill Brown and even Rob Zombie. It’s primarily a heavy metal offering and I don’t care what anyone says, I prefer this soundtrack to the Nine Inch Nails stuff in the original Quake. It just comes down to my taste in music, really. Many of the heavy metal tracks are quite catchy and I found many songs to be great at getting you pumped up and into the action. Now the 360 version is one of the greatest ports I’ve ever seen of a PC game to console. It runs at 1080p and sixty frames per second. Although, we did notice the frame rate dip a bit here and there when things got really hectic. I also noticed the 360 version seems to be a bit darker in some spots compared to my experience with the PC version. The 360 version is a port of the original game and I was playing the PC version using Yamagi so the lighting may be more accurate on 360 but we did eventually increase the brightness. The 360 controls were excellent however, due to the fast-paced nature of the game, aiming can be a bit of a bitch with a controller but that’s not really the game’s fault. If you want native split-screen co-op support, the 360 version of Quake II that comes with Quake 4 is the way to go and is arguably the best reason to even buy Quake 4 for 360. But outside of that, I would say stick with the PC version.
I’m going to be honest. I enjoyed Quake II more than the original game and mainly because I prefer the sci-fi tech stuff compared to the dark fantasy theme of the original. It’s really more of a personal preference. Quake II is actually a bit more slower paced than the original game but still retains the excellent action-packed first-person shooter gameplay id Software is known for. The main campaign and The Reckoning are pretty great but the Ground Zero mission pack is borderline tedious and a drag to get through. I found the difficulty in Ground Zero to not really be balanced properly with too many ambushes and overpowered enemy attacks that just turn the entire experience into a trial and error slog. The environments consist of a bit more variety than those found in the main campaign and even The Reckoning but your objectives require an excessive amount of backtracking. I really think Quake II is known for its multiplayer more than its campaign but even so, I did enjoy my time with the campaign. It has its ups and downs, especially when it comes to enemies, but overall I had fun. Like Doom and the original Quake, Quake II has an extensive amount of mods but from what I discovered, most mods are for multiplayer. Furthermore, there was even a third add-on titled Quake II Netpack I: Extremities, which added new game mods and deathmatch maps, among other features. It’s just more proof that Quake II was better known for its multiplayer than single player. Apparently single player mods, other than graphical enhancements, are hard to come by but it’s also possible I didn’t look hard enough. Ultimately, I would recommend Quake II to any fans of shooters. It’s a classic now and there’s a few source ports out there to get it running smoothly on modern systems. Its got a decent heavy metal soundtrack which can be obtained from the GOG release, satisfying gunplay, and what may feel like a lengthy campaign if it’s your first time playing through it. So I would say definitely check it out.