Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Last year, id Software and UK-based developer Splash Damage delivered the long-awaited Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, a large-scale class-based online shooter set in the Quake II universe. Despite years-long development of the game on multiple platforms, only the PC version made it to store shelves for the initial release. After we wondered for a few months what was going on with the promised console versions of the game, publisher Activision came through San Francisco to answer that very question with playable builds of Quake Wars on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Content-wise, the game is the same as on the PC: same maps, same classes, same basic mission and campaign structure. If you didn't play it on the PC, Quake Wars depicts the near-future invasion of Earth by the Strogg, the nasty techno-organic space zombies whose planet you were assaulting (as a human) in Quake II. Each map in Quake Wars presents a specific scenario. On the Island map, for instance, there's a data disc that must be retrieved from enemy possession, brought to a comm station in human territory, and transmitted back to HQ. The Sewer map tasks the humans with breaching a Strogg base, starting with the forward defenses, past a couple of large grates that need to be bombed, and culminating with a computer console that you need to hack to win the match.
The point is, each map presents a logical sequence of objectives for both the human and Strogg sides to complete, and it usually works out that one faction is assaulting a location while the other side is defending it. Most objectives -- such as hacking computer terminals, deploying essential equipment, or arming explosives to destroy barriers -- can only be completed by one of the game's five classes, which fall into team-shooter archetypes like soldier, medic and engineer. That gives you a good incentive to change your class on the fly, in the interest of helping your team advance its objectives.
Quake Wars' basic mission flow and character classes have made the transition to the consoles, but some of the window dressing has changed. Development of the two versions was actually handled independently by two different studios, with the PS3 game being ported by an internal Activision team in California. That version resembles the PC game almost exactly, with few console-specific amenities having been added. Executive producer at id Software Kevin Cloud says the team had its hands full getting the basic online functionality implemented, since the PS3 doesn't have a unified online infrastructure. Thus, the PS3 port of Quake Wars is looking pretty no-frills at the moment.
The Xbox 360 version of Quake Wars, on the other hand, has inarguably seen the lion's share of changes and improvements. Development duties on this version fell to Dallas-based Nerve Software, longtime id collaborators and the guys behind the Resurrection of Evil expansion pack for Doom 3. Naturally, Xbox Live provides built-in support for basic online functionality like matchmaking and voice chat, which allowed Nerve to focus on streamlining the Quake Wars experience for the console audience.
The most obvious changes are in the interface, which has been heavily streamlined to make it more accessible on a big television. For instance, the interface for selecting your class, weapons and spawn point is now a small, clean window that pops up over the action, allowing you to quickly make your choices and get back to the shooting. This window also indicates how many of each class your team currently has, as well as whether or not your selected class is capable of completing the current objective. Those are all critical pieces of information to have, and this interface change makes it easy to interpret them all quickly as you're deciding what choices to make next.
In fact, most of the major changes in Quake Wars on the 360 seem designed around communicating battlefield conditions to the player more efficiently. There's a new objective indicator on the compass at the bottom of the screen, which points you directly at the currently active objective. Since the game's maps are so big, that indicator makes it easy to figure out which direction and how far you need to travel to get to the critical objective location. The bots' hovering icon indicators have evolved slightly, too. Now, when you issue a request or command, the icons of any bots responding to your call will turn blue. If you call out for a health pack, for instance, when you see a blue icon coming toward you, you'll know your request is being tended to.
In fact, Cloud says improved bot artificial intelligence is one of id's major contributions to the console games, courtesy of programmer John Dean. The bots will purportedly pay more attention to the player now, making a better effort to support you directly instead of running off and doing their own thing all the time. This improvement is centered around creating a more cohesive single-player experience. It's also necessary because you can play the game online with only two players, and fill the rest of the player slots with bots if you wish. Cloud mentioned that this improved AI will be rolled back into the original PC game via a future patch, as well.
One new addition to the 360 game that we wish had also found its way into the PS3 version is a single-player training mode. This will take you through the Sewer map step by step, where you'll be led by a bot guide who will approach you and verbally explain all the game's basic concepts -- things like class abilities, objectives and equipment deployment -- as you encounter them. Team-based shooters usually present a steep learning curve, and we found that a quick run through the training program was a good way to learn the game's basic rules and get ready for a real multiplayer match.
In terms of the basic shooting, Quake Wars is sticking to what works: The controls and slight auto-aim features are reminiscent of franchises like Halo and Call of Duty. When you're shooting from the hip, the game won't provide any noticeable aim assistance, but once you score a hit on an enemy, your crosshair will track them automatically to a small degree. Like in Call of Duty 4, when you raise your weapon to look through the iron sights, your aim will snap to the enemy at which you're aiming. On the most basic level, shooter fans shouldn't have any problem grasping the gameplay here.
This preview was based on hands-on time with an unfinished build of the game. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars will release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on May 27.