Summary: Enemy Territory was one of our favorite games ever, so you bet your sweet momma's butt we were all over a chance to take a look at the game at Activision's Santa Monica office. Jakub has a huge four-page preview with 10 spicy screenshots ready for your perusal.
Its successor, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, is based in the Quake 2/Quake 4 universe and takes place before either game, during the Strogg invasion of Earth. It’s set about 60 years into the future, so human weapons are still recognizably based on what we have in the real world. The Strogg are obviously alien in origin and their weapons and even health work differently, but we saw “Quake” weapons like the lightning gun and hyperblaster in action. Enemy Territory will be purely multiplayer.
The developers, Splash Damage, currently have 12 maps they think will make it into the final game, and mentioned that they cut 10 other designs they weren’t happy with at some point in the past year. Normally I’d be inclined to be critical of so few maps, but the original six maps for ET are still the most popular ones for the game and again, judging by the GameSpy numbers, nobody seems to be tiring of them. As most readers of FiringSquad can attest, communities rapidly learn to cull unpopular maps from servers. Hopefully Splash Damage’s goal to make the most promising map designs their focus will result in more, better maps than a large but haphazard collection. As with Enemy Territory, the plan is to have three maps per ‘campaign’, after which the rank and abilities a player gains for his character classes are reset and he’ll start with basic capabilities again.
In what is a radical departure from the original design, Quake Wars will not have teams with identical classes and weapons. Enemy Territory had both the Germans and Allies running around with the same classes, but Quake Wars will only have “class equivalents”, with different weapons and different ways of doing things. The human Engineer still repairs things by running up to them with a wrench in hand; the Strogg equivalent, the Constructor, launches a repair drone who does the job for him. Each method has its advantages and drawbacks. The human is vulnerable and pre-occupied, unable to defend himself. The Strogg can defend himself and his drone, but if his drone is destroyed, that’s game over for him until he respawns to get another one. On the other hand, an Engineer doesn’t have to worry about being left without his key feature unless he dies.
As mentioned earlier, the classes are analogous to each other but not completely identical. Strogg Infiltrators can stun and partially stroggify human hosts, controlling them like spies. Strogg Meditecs will be able to actually fully Stroggify a human, essentially creating him as a one-off front-line spawn point for any Strogg player who died and wants to spawn closer to the front. The exact and final nature of the abilities of the classes is in flux and undecided – at many points during the presentation the developers stressed that they can and will cut features if they don’t think these have a positive effect on the game, but these examples serve to show how different the opposing factions can be.
Yes, Battlefield fans, vehicles are present in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and they will be about as prominent in the game as they are in Battlefield 2. Of course, ground troopers will have their own ways of fighting back at them, with high-flying or slow aircraft being particularly vulnerable. Given the lack of fighter jets or their alien equivalents, we don’t foresee the air-ground imbalance problems that plague Battlefield 2, for example, and the developers themselves expressed confidence that the anti-air capabilities of ground units will force both the Strogg and human flyers to fly fast and low. It is as yet undecided whether humans will be able to use Strogg vehicles and vice-versa.
The differences between human and Strogg vehicles seem more drastic than the differences between human and Strogg character classes. For example, humans have a tank that works more or less like the modern M1 Abrams, but the Strogg have a giant, two-legged Goliath walker. Just their basic configuration and design will change the ways they are used. The walker is much taller and larger than the tank, making it a target but it also offers an advantageous firing platform – and the opposite is true for the tank. In combat against each other, the Walker is at an advantage in ranged combat but its lack of mobility up close will be a detriment against a circling Titan tank.
There will be a variety of vehicles that fall into a few distinguishable classes – light recon, light combat, APCs, heavy combat and of course the aircraft. They all have different roles and maps are designed with them in mind. Light recon units can be used to jump across rivers, while APCs can swim across. The recons are small and nimble but carry only one passenger, APCs carry many but are large, ungainly and poorly defended. Heavy combat units will be limited in where they can go and how quickly they get there.
All this is made possible by the use of a heavily modified Doom 3 engine. No longer a vehicle for showing the player confined, claustrophobic spaces, the engine has been modified to show the large open areas that are a hallmark of Enemy Territory. In fact, the map textures are a major new feature. Rather than consisting of various tiles and being built by hand, the maps are now giant ‘MegaTextures’ - one single huge texture of 32768x32768 pixels rather than a collection of smaller once spliced together (yes, we know that 32k x 32k is 1 gigapixel, but this is a marketing term -ed.).
Mod and map makers may worry at the consequences of this – after all, who has the time and skill necessary to design a texture that huge and then make it fit over a terrain mesh – but the level editor itself handles that. It will automatically create the texture based on the layout of the terrain – steep hills will automatically be rocky, grass will be prevalent on rolling hills, the edges of rivers will be sandy, and so on.
The graphics are crisp and attractive even at the “pre-alpha” stage the developers were demonstrating right now. The game engine appeared to handle the outdoors very smoothly, with an ease that reminded us more of Half-Life 2 than the somewhat strained capabilities of the Battlefield 2 engine. Lighting, particularly ambient lighting from the world environment was especially impressive. The differences between a clear, bright noon and a hazy dusk were demonstrated several times, both in outdoor and indoor environments. Curiously, the engine automatically simulates the position of the sun, stars and moon on any point on the planet at any time – whether January 31st, 2006 or March 15, 2063.
Missions will play out similarly to how they did in Enemy Territory – there will be several objectives for an attacking team and they will push up. Once an area is claimed, the spawn points for both sides re-adjust and they fight over the next objective. These objectives can be about assaulting a target, building a bridge, escorting a mobile command post or repairing a structure. All classes will of course be necessary and they’ll need to fulfill their roles properly.
The missions will be tied together in 3-map campaigns, with the player gaining and earning experience and levels in his class that unlocks new abilities or improves old ones. He will continue to accrue these capabilities throughout the campaign, until it’s over and he starts again. The presentation team discussed the possibility of persistent rank to reflect commitment to the game, but nothing that would have any gameplay advantages – ie, they don’t want to put casual players at the mercy of the hardcore who have better weapons or automatically start with greater capabilities.
Now we start to get an idea how the game will play out. Teams will not just compete over the objectives and key chokepoints like they did in Enemy Territory, but will now be on the hunt for enemy deployables. They will have to balance the number of players they need to hold or assault the line with those they decide are necessary to disrupt the function of the enemy’s structures. Once that is decided, players will have to choose for themselves how important the defense of their own bases is. This adds a great deal more depth to the play, complicates it and forces new decisions. Will engineers be most useful repairing key structures? Fixing vehicles? Constructing deployables?
These decisions the teams will have to make for themselves, but they’ll have some help. Splash Damage decided against having human commanders because a commander has an unbalanced effect on the game – a bad commander can easily lose a match for a good team, for example. So rather than give so much power to one player, the servers will suggest objectives to players based on what the player’s team is doing, what it knows about the enemy, and what the player’s class is. The medic might be sent to revive players, the engineers to build a bridge and the field ops equivalents to call in strikes on enemy defensive deployables. This, Splash Damage hopes, will also serve as a sort of live tutorial for new players.
The damage models have more fidelity than most comparable games. Six-wheeled APCs may be too tough for a light infantryman to bring down by himself, but in the demonstration he was be able to blow their wheels off with his gun, and destroy the supply kits attached to the vehicle. The game’s movement code for vehicles is fully physics-based, so attacking lift-generating surfaces can reduce flight capabilities in specific ways. Weapons have damage modifiers, so some will be more effective against heavy armor, others against personnel.
The physics-based movement model will mean that dogfights between the Strogg Hornet and human Anansi Hover Copter are going to be contests between not just the pilots but the capabilities of the machines. The Strogg Hornet uses gravity repulsors and seems to rely more on vertical movement, rapid rotation and strafing, while the helo has jet boosters attached and appears more suited for fast, slashing attacks.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is aimed to hit that sweet spot where it evolves enough to offer a new and improved gaming experience over its predecessor, but isn’t changing so much that it’s losing sight of what made it great.
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