I was always an Unreal fanboy, first time around. This would have been about, oh, 1999. Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament were released at about the same time and – just like the Nintendo and Sony wars – as a child, it was absolutely essential for one of these things to be perfect and the other to be the worst thing ever. For me, as I say, it was Unreal. I liked the variety of game modes, and the weapon design was very cool. More than anything, it’s probably most important that I played it first. Whatever the reasons, liking UT meant I was required to hate Q3.
They both looked like arse, but I think UT was slightly prettier.
I’ve been playing Quake Live since it came out on Steam recently – it’s more or less the same game as Q3, with some tweaks for accessibility – and it turns out it’s actually pretty great. It’s particularly great for switching on some loud aggressive rock music and going to town on bots that are tuned just slightlybelow my own skill level. For example:
One thing Quake and Unreal share is an approach to movement physics which prioritises fun over realism. In Unreal Tournament, it’s a bit parkour-y: wall jumps and double jumps and sudden dodges. In Quake Live, it’s all about speed: you can keep accelerating by bunnyhopping around the level, and you can maintain it for as long as you keep moving in a straight line. Turning requires you to stop for a second, breaking the flow and making it a little easier to land a hit on. Chain together a good few jumps and it feels pretty good. Then you start launching rockets at people as well, and it feels amazing.
The bots will chat to each other during the match. It’s a bit weird.
Quake Live’s rocket launcher is probably the best rocket launcher in any shooter. (Unreal Tournament’s flak cannon is probably the best shotgun, though, so don’t go thinking my loyalties have completely flipped here.) It fires rapidly and the projectiles move fast, and it makes an excellent THOOOM noise when you launch. The skill curve is forgiving, but it rewards excellence: land a rocket vaguely near someone and they’ll catch a little bit of damage from the explosion. The closer you get to actually hitting them, the more damage you’ll do. If they make the mistake of jumping to escape from you, you can potentially launch them up into the air and juggle them with another rocket. And because the rockets themselves move quickly, but don’t instantly reach their destination, you have to plan for where your opponent is likely to be half a second from now. Frag them, and you get an exceptionally satisfying DING! sound and one more point on the scoreboard.
You can also get a power-up that makes it glow blue and do four times the normal amount of damage. That’s fun.
All of this – the music, the movement, the action and reaction and the perfect audio feedback – combine to create an incredible sense of flow. It’s one of the purest sensations of joy I’ve experienced in a video game, not watered down by the shaky-hands adrenaline of Starcraft or the intellectual rigour I’ve put myself through to start learning Dota 2. It works off aggression like nothing else, and I come out of a ten-minute match feeling refreshed, alert, and totally calm. It’s like a reset button for my brain. As someone who keeps making the mistake of arguing about politics on the internet, I can’t tell you how valuable that is.