This page was last updated on Saturday, 21 April 2001.
First Person Shooter
Ahhhh life's classic moments, your first car, the worst hangover and playing Id's First Person Shooter (FPS) classic Doom for the first time. All imbedded in every male's mind like a badly dubbed VHS tape. It's amazing how good memories can seem, redo them for real and it might shatter your precious illusions. Quake 3, subtitled Arena, and this only being the demo version, looks and sounds like your remembrance of Doom, with Unreal Tournament not far behind. (Double-click on these thumbnails to see what I mean)
Some History to start with. The earliest FPS I played was probably Maze-Wars, while not very 3D, it had all the elements of modern multiplayer gaming - action vs. other humans or bots, the first person perspective and different "skins" for your avatar. The first real FPS would be Wolfenstien 3D, which had flavour, but lacked depth and decent AI. Then came the Doom years, all somewhat similar (more violent, more weapons, darker themes), they introduced decent LAN gaming but people wanted more than 4-way action. Finally we get to the Quake series. These had true 3D environments, internet play for 16+ people, and more balanced weapons. Some would say Quake was the first proper FPS game, as it contained all the modern elements. Id games have been imitated by others, some going for more interactivity with the environment (Duke Nukem, Half Life), others with the bots/monsters (System Shock 2, Deus Ex), others again were more blood-thirsty or action orientated (but didn't balance for multiplayer). A few managed to break the mold and be successful about it, Rainbow Six being the most obvious; it is a FPS, but sure dosent play like one. With an ever increasing push for improved graphics, full surround sound and features like voice controlled commands/chat, no other genre has the same requirements for hardware (you can now get 64MB dual-processor Video Cards!), so it should be interesting to see just what the future holds...
I must admit that Id hasn't really innovated their games much, Doom 2 is still the most brutal (what's behind door number 1? oh a cyber-demon and 75 Cacodemons, great!), but Quake 3 is a close second. It just plays so fast. The weapons all spit out loads of damage. And the opposition is the best you can get - human. You see, it is purely designed for the multiplayer experience, either via the net (here's my pathetic first net-game result), LAN, or as a single-player vs. computer simulated humans (bots). This has drawn a lot of criticism, although I can see why Id did it; the online Quake community is so big, they would still make money even if the single player market didn't convert. When it comes to the crunch, humans are just more cunning than current AI bots. This is why net gaming has taken off so well, other factors are things like non-gaming interaction, ranking yourself to others, and of course money. Yep if your good enough (in the USA at least) you can go professional! With typical prizes of US$40K, plus endorsement monies, it is just getting bigger. How many people play? I found the following on GameRanger; QuakeWorld = 744 servers, Quake 2 = 2561 servers, Quake 3 = 4770 servers, Unreal Tournament = 3626 servers. Sure a proportion of these are down, or have no-one playing, but average numbers have 2-6 and then bigger games of 10-16 people (with few servers hosting games between). Kali.net must host more, and then there are the other FPS titles....
Not bad, but not too good either. Playing online makes you rethink your skill level. there is always some better out there to humble you, and getting used to lag takes some patience. Tweaking your settings vastly lowers your lag, then you are not fighting your computer and modem speed, but the graphic detail takes a huge hit. Q3A in full "pretty" mode really does look special, however it seems as though getting that high frame/second rate is very important, and then you need to get the network stuff just right - after which you should run without much skipping, or ice-skating around the levels. I have connection speeds of 44,000 - 48,000 bps from my 56K modem, and this translates to response/ping times of about 150+. There are loads of games with response less than 200, and despite ingame pings fluctuating above this (and the occasional "interrupted connection" freeze) it is mostly as smooth as single player mode. The main lure, and it is quite seductive, is the human factor (just watch out for those T1 connected LPB - Low Ping Bastards). The bots just don't feel fallible enough, on low/medium settings they are too predictable, and on Godlike or Nightmare difficulty they are just too accurate and omnipotent. Beating your fellow Homo sapiens makes the endorphins flow, while humiliation at theirs hands demands respect to their skills. You can also go into Spectator mode, and either view the proceedings from a disembodied avatar, or jump into a player and experience their skills in first or third person mode.
My most amusing experience to date was when I logged onto a completely empty server to test my ping. Within a minute someone had joined to give me a good fragging, and within 1:30 to 2 minutes more the numbers had shot up to about 16 players! I was ice-skating into walls and off edges, so I bowed out quickly, but I was amazed at the bee's nest I had stirred up!
So how does it play?
Deathmatch is fast, weapons are everywhere, and they respawn very quickly (Team games are a little less weapon intensive), if you are accurate you can often kill an unarmoued foe in less than a second, with single-shot sniper death coming from from afar. You move very quickly too, not unrealistically so, but the amount of running and jumping would see most of those competing in the Olympics easily. As an aside, rocket jumps in Q3A seem to throw you much higher than Quake 2, and you can take as little as 10-15 damage with no armour on! UT's rocket jumps aren't very useful, unless your playing team games with no damage to team-mates, then you get them to shoot at you for a boost. Otherwise you can jump with the Shock Hammer, but you take a stack of damage. For deathmatches you need good reflexes as it's all action and very furious. Capture the Flag is more sedate, with tactics and teamplay balancing individual skill, of course you won't get far if you can't hit a barn. Unreal Tournament has more game types with the shipped game. UT's Domination being a favourite (control certain areas to score points), and Assault's mission based action just rocks. The flavour online is definitely different from single-player - more devious foes, lag, and multiple modifications of gamers efforts to create their own maps, skins or game styles (love UT's Fatboy mod).
What should I play?
The two big names for online fragging are Quake 3:Arena and Unreal Tournament. Rainbow 6, and Half Life also make a good showing, but don't seem to be in quite the same league. Quake 2 still has a huge following, probably due to the lesser system requirements, base loyalty, and number of mods out there. But really Quake 3 is an evolutionary step forwards; smoother, more balanced (I would have preferred less deadly overall though), and far better visually. I don't see myself going back to Quake or Quake 2, it's like owning a mini, I remember it fondly, but modern cars just offer so much more than nostalgia.
Both ship with Deathmatch, Team DM, CTF, and a single player mode. Q3A also has a "Tournament" game, where only two people fight at a time, any others observing in spectator mode until it is there turn to try to win and stay as King of the Hill. UT also ships with Domination, Assault, and Last Man Standing; everyone has a set number of lives to respawn with, last one alive wins. UT's single player mode is more enjoyable, with bots showing more individuality. Level design is very good for this frantic style - very few safe camping spots, with multiple egress' to rooms. Only the powerups are more difficult to get to, either requiring good navigation skills, or jumping to get to. Q3A has very few doors in the new levels, with the introduction of Bounce Pads (throw you into the air), and Speed Pads (which fling you more forwards than up). UT's levels are slightly larger, so encounters occur less often, and they have far less emphasis on jumping.
Q3A has the edge graphically (as a friend said: "glitzier and with better looking models") if your machine is a power-monster, it has proper curved surfaces for starters. Problem is, to get 30-40 frames/sec I have to turn off a stack of effects and run at 640x480, UT actually looks better with these restrictions. I can make Q3A look real shiny and pretty, but it runs like a dog, and then your chances of fragging a blind llama are slimmer than Kate Moss... Both have the usual line-up for weapons. Q3A's are all very deadly, and have slight quirks to set them apart. The actual death dealing abilities are all pretty similar in terms of damage/seconds Vs ease of use. UT has two firing modes per weapon, with some being quite similar, and others having more specific benefits in certain rolls. This adds up to greater variety, flavour and tactical depth.
I ordered UT because it seemed a little more thoughtful/tactical, which is what I prefer. Don't get me wrong frantic fragging is well and good, but I think it does numb you after a while, I want some Capture The Flag, and Domination. Offline, UT seems better. Q3A looks prettier if you have the machine to do it justice (you hear about people pushing their machines to over 100 frames/second, full pretty mode!). I'll need to play more to see who wins the lag war, but UT seems smoother so far. Each will have new mods appearing (should help long term appeal), as would the full version of Q3A. This may be one area where Quake wins as the numbers of mod makers is far greater, with a bigger base, and easier tools to develop with than UT (fallacy?). For the cost of the download I highly recommend Quake 3, paying £40 however makes me think twice about it's longevity. Unreal Tournament is great both in single and online play. Really it's a choice of style, like a Ferrari vs. a Dodge Viper. Any way you look at it, there are telephone bills to run up, and sleepless nights to look forwards to.
> Stinja says: Suck my Boom-stick!
I'll update this again soon, until then, frag me online; if you can...