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Fragging for the Masses
Browser-based gaming has come a long way. The increased level of power provided by even mid-range systems makes it possible to display 3D graphics with ease. The result has been the arrival of many browser-based games with decent graphics and good production value, and the most popular has undoubtedly been Quake Live.
This is hardly surprising. The Quake brand is still an 800 pound Gorilla, bringing to memory the excellence of the early Quake titles rather than the mediocrity of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Is Quake Live deserving of its heritage?
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That isn't a bad thing. Quake III was one of the last great old-school multi-player shooters. It was all about fragging the hell out of your opponents with absurd weapons like rocket launchers, lightning guns, and plasma rifles. Players move as fast as rabbits pumped full of drugs and re-spawning occurs in the blink of an eye.
Having grown use to the slower pace of today's mostly team based shooters, it takes some getting used to, but it is great fun to frag opponents left and right. Just say the word - frag. Fragging. Its the only worthwhile bit of slang thats ever come from the gaming industry, and it applies perfectly here.
The fast pace also works will with the game's casual format. Matches usually take less than fifteen minutes, and sometimes can be completed in half that. This allows players to jump in and jump out quickly, without feeling it necessary to sit down for an hour to have some fun.
The only criticisms that can be leveled at the game have more to do with its genre than the game itself. Those who prefer tactical combat or highly balanced class-based gameplay will find Quake Live massively boring. But if you're on the fence, don't let that stop you from giving it a try. It only takes about five minutes to download and install.
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Graphics and Sound
Quake III was a graphical masterpiece in its time. But time moves on, and what once was amazing now appears a little old and crusty. Such is the case with the Quake Live, and it doesn't help that the art direction appears non-existent. Quake Live, like Quake III, has all the artistic merit of an eighth-grader's detention room scrawl. The sound is average overall, but there are a few nice touches, such as the tapping noise which sounds whenever the player hits an opponent.
What is a masterpiece, however, is the fact that they were able to implement all of this into a browser-based game. It is ridiculous how smoothly it loads and plays. The transition between browser and the gameplay engine happens in the blink of an eye, and this remains the case even on fairly low-end systems. Only my netbook had any trouble with it, and that was hardly a surprise.
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Ah, community. Games are all about community today, yet they seem astoundingly unable to wrap themselves around the fundamental concept that in order to create a community, people have to have a reason to interact in a meaningful way.
Quake Live, to put it bluntly, doesn't give the slightest reason for people to interact. The reason why this type of shooter has gone extinct is because they failed to create interesting multi-player gameplay when compared to heavily team-based shooters. There is no real reason, afterall, for ten people in a deathmatch to do anything except shoot each other. Granted, there are also CTF and Team Arena modes, but they're both extremely basic.
Another place Quake Live falls flat on its face is the matchmaking system. During the course of the tutorial the game tries to judge the skill of the player based on how far they advance and how well they do in a match with a bot. Unfortunately, the game's matchmaking accuracy is on par with a drunken sixty year old with glaucoma playing a game of darts. Because I knew how to rocket jump and could defeat the bot, I was placed in the advanced skill bracket. I was then thrown into battle with apparent super-humans capable of fragging me with a rail gun from halfway across the map. This was, um, a tad bit frustrating.
There are numerous other features, of course, including achievements, friends, and the lot. But gamers who haven't been living under a rock for the last five years won't find these to offer anything new. The connectivity with social networks outside of Quake Live is particularly weak, although Quake Live is working on that, as stated on their website in a few places.
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Normally I take some account for the pricetag of a product when trying to judge if it is recommend, but Quake Live is free to play. The question, then, is simple - is Quake Live worth your time?
The anwser is also simple - Yes. Quake Live is not flawless, but it is easy to play. Registration and installation, two hoops that some games make it surprisingly hard for players to jump through, couldn't be easier in Quake Live. Give it try. You will be surprised by how much fun a free old-school shooter can be.