I have been an avid FPS fan for many years, especially when it comes to the classics. From Doom, Wolfenstein, Heretic, Dark Forces and Hexen. I have a wide breadth of knowledge and time with classic FPS titles. However admittedly, Quake has been a long glaring omission in my rotation. Last year, I dived into the original Quake for the first time and really enjoyed myself. Now with Quake II in hand, I was excited to see how the sequel that was originally released back in 1997 stacked up. Especially with some more modern quality-of-life improvements.
A Whole New Setting
What I immediately noticed with Quake II was how different it was from its predecessor. Many sequels suffer from retreading similar weapons, enemies, and environments. This is not the case with Quake II. The setting feels completely otherworldly in comparison. There was a sense of dark magic in the original Quake even pulling from Lovecraftian horror in its monsters design. In Quake II this is replaced with a very mechanical alien feel. The world feels inherently like it was inspired by the original Aliens film.
It was not just the environments and enemies that changed. The music soundtrack was also much more different in Quake II. In the original Quake the founder of Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, brought his style to the soundtrack. Filled with ambient dark tones it is considered one of the quintessential game soundtracks of its era. However, Quake II’s soundtrack was not created by Reznor, with that being said it is still a great killing soundtrack. Originally created by Sonic Mayhem, the soundtrack falls more into a heavy metal melody. With fast riffing guitars playing as you hunt down and kill alien scum. It is completely tonally different than its predecessor which I appreciate. It is clear that ID Software took a lot of risks in creating this title back in 1997.
Creme De La Creme Of FPS Action
I like to think of myself as a bit of a FPS snob, in terms of what kind of gameplay I find enjoyable. Truthfully, a lot of late 90s shooters felt similar as many simply copied what ID Software did in the early 90s. However, I was impressed with just how much variety Quake II provided in terms of its combat encounters. Not only did ID Software essentially create the wheel, but it also continued to reinvent it with games like Quake II.
In a lot of early FPS shooters, it was pretty straightforward in figuring out which guns worked best against which enemies. Typically, you use your big explosive guns for the big enemies then use your shotgun for the small fry. This isn’t the case in Quake II, you will find yourself constantly cycling through weapons. Thanks to the wide variety of situations and enemies you will find yourself facing.
A perfect example of this is the Berserker enemy type that you will find early on in your battles. It is a melee-focused enemy that delivers massive damage quickly and can corner you if you aren’t paying attention. When I first encountered one, I used a healthy amount of hand grenades in order to dispatch it without issue. Then I realized that they would become a much more common enemy type as I progressed and using hand grenades led to me blowing myself up several times. This made me have to rethink my strategy and ultimately I began to use the Super Shotgun in order to destroy these freakish machines.
Punishing Difficulty Demands Your Attention
Quake II is a punishing FPS. You will rack up damage very quickly if you are not paying attention. If you take a bunch of minigun fire you end up resembling Swiss cheese very quickly. Many enemies are easy to dispatch depending on what weapons you are wielding. However, no matter how often you have run into an enemy type before. Sometimes they will simply get the better of you.
There was one particular section that had a large variety of unique enemies swarming me all at once and I dispatched them with relative ease. I was feeling pretty good about myself until I rounded the corner and promptly got shotgunned to pieces by two Shotgun Guards. While I may have died many times, I found myself laughing and quickly reloading my save immediately. Perhaps my funniest death was getting catapulted by a Berserker into a lava pit, just for it to eagerly jump into the pit with me trying to finish me off faster.
Crammed With New And Old Classics
I was pleasantly surprised with just how much content was included with Quake II. Not only do you get the original title and the original two expansions “The Reckoning” and “Ground Zero“. There is also an all-new adventure crafted by MachineGames (the developers behind the reimagined Wolfenstein series) called “Welcome To The Machine“. Remember how I said earlier that Quake 2 was a punishing FPS? The Welcome To The Machine expansion is no pushover either, packed with tough encounters and twisting levels to explore. I would definitely recommend checking out this expansion after you have completed the main game. No doubt, it will put all of your skills to the test, no matter what difficulty you choose to play.
Perhaps one of the coolest additions is that Quake II 64 is now part of the package officially. Originally released back in 1999 on the Nintendo 64, Quake II 64 was a port of Quake II but with some bonus levels and upgraded lighting. Now it’s officially playable on PC, as prior it was only available via emulation and mods. While I didn’t get a lot of time to spend in the world of Quake II 64, it is great to see it come to modern platforms and no longer be lost on the Nintendo 64. It’s especially great to be able to play it without the absolutely terrible N64 controller that was not made for shooters at all.
Quake II front-to-back performed just as well as it did back in 1997. Gameplay is seamless and if you are playing on PC you don’t need a beefie machine in order to enjoy it. Nightdive Studio continues its trend of updating classic titles while still respecting its source material. The updated models and gore were instantly noticeable in comparison to the original. It is quite impressive how well a lot of these late 90s shooters have aged over 2 decades later. But with the love and touch-ups provided by Nightdive Studio and ID Software, it breathes even more life into this title.
It might seem selfish, but after Nightdive’s great work on the System Shock reboot and now with Quake II, I hope they get the opportunity to bring even more classic games to modern systems. The amount of love and attention to detail that was poured into Quake 2 is not often seen when developers bring a classic game to modern platforms.
Controlling The Fight
Combat is incredibly satisfying, I found the controls incredibly responsive. Strafing and continuous movement were critical to surviving even on medium difficulty. I played Quake II on PC and tested the game with both an Xbox Elite controller as well as a traditional mouse and keyboard. The game felt much smoother on the mouse and keyboard. Due to the constant movement, and adjusting the aiming, and cycling weapons.
I will be clear, the controller wasn’t bad by any means. Console players will be able to fully enjoy Quake II. But if you are playing on higher difficulties, expect to die frequently at first until you start adjusting to the limits of a controller. I found raising my sensitivity managed to help with some of these challenges.
An FPS Classic Returns In All Of Its Glory
Quake II brings a classic sci-fi shooter to modern consoles. In a package that was carefully crafted and filled with classic levels, as well as an all-new adventure from Machine Games. It creates a great place for new fans to jump into one of the best shooters of the late 90s. While also being a lethal dose of nostalgia for returning fans.