The back end of 2007 was a strong period for shooters with the likes of Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4:Modern Warfare, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars all vying for your hard-earned gaming dollar. While Quake Wars won over the critics, it had to fight very hard to compete with its strong competition as former Quake stalwarts turned away from the storied franchise. No VOIP capabilities out of the box, a lack of maps to play on and a few patching niggles prevented this good game from being the great Battlefield killer that it was touted as being. With eight months of player opinion under developer's belts, the Xbox 360 version of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is locked and loaded, with its sights set on putting a dent in the vast Xbox Live arena, but the question remains: do the Strogg have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the other heavyweight shooters that dominate the charts?
Like most multiplayer shooters there is remarkably little plot to kick off proceedings, with the game's back story merely compiling the plot of your generic sci-fi story - aliens attack Earth, humanity rallies to fight for their existence, blah, blah, blah...it's a multiplayer shooter, do you even care about the story?
If you've had your fill of capture the flag/control point styled gameplay Quake Wars, offers up a slight variation - with the focus of the game being on completing mission objectives, which are as simple as placing a bomb over a sewer grate to the more challenging effort of pushing back the enemy to deploy a vehicle in their territory.
At its heart, the multiplayer encounters - both online or via system link (no local play available) - are what entice the rapid reflexes of twitch players to the game in the first place, but in an effort to give players some semblance of a single-player campaign, the developer has included AI bots so players can tackle the maps all on their own if they choose to. While it's a good way to get a feel for the game, most players will find that their brain will start to switch off after a couple of hours of this boring gameplay as the AI tends to pitch a tent and turn the game into a giant camp-fest; never really pushing the objectives to a point where you legitimately feel challenged. While it is a disappointing stumble of the game, let's face it - most people buy Quake games for their online capabilities anyway, although the lack of a serious number of online matches during the peak weekend hours sends off warning signals about the title's longevity. At times during the Queens Birthday long weekend we were lucky to find 3-4 matches to join, a staggeringly sad amount for a primarily multiplayer title.
Rather than one over-arching campaign, the game is split into four theatres of war - covering many corners of the world- which is further split into 3 separate maps, each containing their own objectives. Regardless of which campaign you play, each one allows you to play as either the alien Strogg or the human GDF forces - with variations to the campaign objectives depending on which side you are on. Again, the lack of story makes the campaigns fall flat as each proves to be nothing more than three standalone incursions all on the same continent, with no real explanation as to what ties them together.
With a lack of maps to choose from, you'll find that you are likely to become an expert in all of the maps on offer, but even knowing your way around the battlefield like the back of your hand isn't enough to get your team the victory. The key to victory in Quake Wars relies on knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your class and playing to it, knowing effective choke points and placements for turret guns and most importantly, having a team with a good spread of players between the classes. Shooter connoisseurs will know that games like Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat can be won with a player with an X-factor, with the ability to read the opposition and change their strategy on the fly to suit, but this is not the case in Quake Wars. Even player class is an important aspect of the game. You won't win a battle with a team solely made up of snipers, you will need to find a perfect balance between the classes - as certain classes are required on the battlefield to complete objectives - and a co-operative team in order to win.
The crux of the gameplay will have you running, jumping and shooting your way across the map, like the Quake games of old, but this time you'll find yourself needing a little something extra to get the job done. Vehicles in online shooters are nothing new, but for the world of Quake they add another element to the excitement and really help bring the battlefield to life. While the standard helicopters, tanks and jeeps are a vital tool in battle, there are a handful of useless inclusions that will leave you scratching your head at its usefulness. While fun to hoon around the map in, vehicles like the quad bike and its lack of weapons contain nothing more than novelty value.
The control scheme of the game is just as tight as the gameplay, with a set of controls that even a shooter novice could get used to in a short amount of time. The only qualm being that of vehicular control and combat - but that is more a problem of the vehicles turning capabilities messing up your aim than the control scheme itself.
Like Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, being an effective team player can prove to be a rewarding experience as you'll be given experience points to level up your class. But unfortunately, this proves to be a much more shallow experience on console as the wonderfully fleshed out ranking system from the PC is now a thing of the past. The weapon, vehicle and class-specific rewards are a thing of the past, instead they are replaced with a generic rewards system which merely boosts certain player attributes. Also wiped is the games ranking system to track your global ranking and in-depth stats, which has now been replaced with the meagre offering of showing your kill-to-death ratio and total time played.
The visual presentation of Quake Wars is nothing to write home about, with a majority of the maps covering various shades of the brown, grey and white palette making the game to be quite a bland visual experience. The map design doesn't help either. Considering that the battle is taking place in various parts of the globe, you'd expect to see a large urban landscape. Instead of battle-ruined buildings, we are presented with large concrete structures that are about as visually appealing as the local Bunnings Warehouse. If the buildings themselves aren't boring enough for you, then the large expanses of dirt and sand will surely do you in - making you feel as if you've played twelve versions of the same map.
It defies reasoning as to why this title has appeared so late after the original and why some aspects of the gameplay have been taken out altogether, leaving players with a very shallow experience. While the PC version was merely a few steps from greatness, Xbox 360 players will be left wondering about what could have been.