After hours upon hours of indulging myself in the chaotic and unceasingly violent world that is Quake III Arena, I have come to one categorical conclusion: this game is seriously gross—maybe even downright nasty. Keep the so-called intellectual gamers at bay, because Quake III Arena is an outright orgy of blood, sweat and violence. The designers at id Software decided to take the most popular feature of many of their first-person shooters—the deathmatch—and make it a game unto itself. This ugly child has become one of the most popular games ever released, gathering legions of loyal followers with its PC incarnation. Unfortunately for console gamers, advances in PC technology prevented a port to the PlayStation or Nintendo 64. Now, however, courtesy of the Dreamcast's advanced technology, Quake III Arena has finally crossed that shaky bridge for the masses to enjoy.
The Dreamcast port of Quake III has for the most part stayed true to its PC cousin. Memory limitations have dictated that a few of the larger levels be left behind in favor of some new, smaller ones which better suit Dreamcast's capabilities. And of course, there is no room for user mods and the like. However, the frantic, senseless violence that has made the game such a smash is fully intact, and how thankful we are that it is.
For those of unfamiliar with the premise of Quake III, it's about as straight-forward as it gets. Players are dropped into an arena of sorts, with the simple mission objective of "kill everything that isn't you." The player who gets the most kills (or "frags") wins the match. Getting fragged by an opponent is just a bump in the road, as you are immediately regenerated to resume the killing. There is some degree of strategy, and refining one's fragging skills is certainly an art unto itself, but Quake III is basically about insane violence, nothing more.
Right from the get-go, Quake III is impressive. The graphical presentation of the game is great. Backgrounds are gorgeous and highly detailed—complete with the hauntingly beautiful satanic imagery and gothic architecture that has accompanied many of id's games. Aside from the occasional slowdown on some levels, the frame rate moves along smoothly, creating an amazingly fast experience the likes of which has never before been seen on a console. The character models are not as impressive as the backgrounds, but they look good and their freakish nature suits the mood of the game well. Effects such as blood and smoke look fantastic, and don't seem to affect the frame rate. In fact, Quake III is one of the best looking games on the Dreamcast—surprising since it's a PC port.
Audio is well done if not outstanding, with a sizeable array of grunts and groans to accompany the nearly constant blasts and bangs. The music that accompanies the game is the typical generic techno-metal which is routine in many action games (and truthfully, gamers are better off turning it down to better hear the footsteps of approaching opponents).
What I really like about this incarnation of Quake is that despite its technological achievements, it is basically an old-school game. It may look pretty, but it's all about fast eyes and even faster fingers. You'd better be on your toes if you hope to win this one. It's a satisfying and challenging game, and losing can be a frustrating experience. The computer-controlled bots are are fairly tough, and on the higher difficulty levels they display a respectable level of intelligence—competing for power-ups, camping and giving chase.
But of course the real meat and potatoes of Quake III is the online deathmatch. Playing against the computer-controlled bots can be quite enjoyable, but play the game enough times and their strategy becomes pretty predictable, so the only thing left to do is take on some human players. Thanks to the Dreamcast's built-in 56k modem and some free hours from SegaNet, getting online is a breeze, and playing against other people is a blast (no pun intended). There is some noticeable lag (even on SegaNet) but the great thing about playing an online match on Dreamcast is that everyone is playing with the same handicap. No more running scared on your 56k at a 500 ping while your opponent slaughters you thanks to his T3 line. Everyone's on the same boat here, so there's no excuse for getting your stomach handed to you. Notably, Quake III is also the first Dreamcast game to feature broadband capability, so once Sega releases its broadband adaptor, the "everyone's on equal ground" argument won't carry as much weight. The online servers feature Capture the Flag, Free-For-All, Team Deathmatch and Tournament (one-on-one) play. For yours truly, it's all about the Free-For-All. Nothing captures the real potential of the game like being in an arena of death with a gang of unpredictable opponents. Quake III really has a great feel to it, and the speed and intensity of the matches are second to none.
All praises aside, Quake III has a significant flaw that prevents it from being truly outstanding: the matches are limited to just four players. Given how chaotic some of the massive, 30-plus player matches were on the PC, this puts it a good notch below the PC version. Four is sufficient for many arenas, especially since the gameplay is totally intact, but more would definitely be merrier. Weapon variety could have been better too; it seems like most players just make a mad dash for the rocket launcher. Also, the lack of an auto-aim function is annoying, as aiming with the controller can be exasperatingly hard, particularly with the ultra-precise rail gun. It's great that mouse and keyboard functionality is included—I use the mouse/keyboard setup and highly recommend it—but players who use the mouse and keyboard have a clear advantage, something an auto-aim option would have remedied.
Though it may not be everything the PC version is, the Dreamcast port of Quake III Arena has succeeded in fully capturing the speed and insanity which make the game such a joy ride. Plenty of options and some addicting online play will extend the life of the game for quite a while. PC players may not be jealous, but I'll take a couch over a desk any day.