Summary: Jakub's most anticipated game is finally here. And it's... rough. A diamond, but very rough.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was my most anticipated game of the year. Promising class-based objective-oriented gameplay on a dozen detailed and well-balanced maps divided into four campaigns, where players get to fight with vehicles, infantry, and all sort of goodiesÖ kingdom come, right?
Not quite. Nobody promised a 30fps cap on framerates. Or the worldís second-worst server browser (Battlefield, of course, taking first place by a mile). Granted, the twelve maps divided into four campaigns are rather excellent and remain balanced, though playing offense can be very aggravating, especially on low-pop servers or those running more than 24 players. The game seems to hit a sweet spot at about 10-12 players per team, rapidly dropping off into a spam fest on 32-player servers or becoming far too vehicle-centric at 8-per. Some maps, such as Slipgate, Iíve never seen the GDF win.
ETQW is balanced somewhat assymetrically. While the classes and vehicles arenít wildly different as, say, StarCraft is, the variation among the Strogg and GDF forces, especially in vehicles, is notable. Tanks are not equivalent to the Desecrator hover tank or the Cyclops. Similarly, only a lunatic would prefer the Husky to the Icarus, or the Armadillo to the Hog. On the other hand, the GDF forces have an APC that doubles as an anti-aircraft unit and an air transport. In some cases, proper use of these units is vital to success (notably Island).
Weapons are rather similar though the Strogg dependence on Stroyent rather than ammunition is both a boon and a drawback. For example, itís harder for the Strogg Oppressor to level up because he doesnít dispense ammo, but the Strogg Technician fulfills both healing and resupply duties. This is vital in close quarters, where the Field Ops just isnít that useful.
Moreover, all the classes are capable in combat. Thereís no such thing as a gimp stand-up fighter like the Medic or Spy from TF2. If youíre a GDF Engineer, you still have a fair chance even against a Strogg Aggressor, despite his usually superior firepower and greater health.
Then, of course, there are snipers. Thereís a pet metric most informed reviewers use called the Sniper Fail Factor, ranging from Ė10 to 0 (-15 in the case of the bunny hopping scoped lethal toe shot AWP patches of Counterstrike), generally indicating how useless and/or annoying the sniper class/weapon is in a game. In recent years designers have recognized the SFF and compensated for it. TF2 does an excellent job, both by giving snipers some actual useful duties other than mere attrition (like taking out sentry guns), and by forcing them to stay zoomed rather than running around and bringing the scope up for a half-second on-the-run headshot. ETQW tries at giving the two sniper classes a role, by making them get into the melee to hack objectives, but generally speaking the SFF rating is about a Ė6, -8 on the GDF side due to its low-visibility weapons trail.
The 30fps framerate cap is limited to singleplayer, but the multiplayer feels like itís playing at a low framerate as well. Whether itís the netcode or some other factor, thereís just something very rough about trying to shoot someone up close in Quake Wars. Compared to the generally smooth TF2, ETQW feels like it has a low pushrate setting and this tends to make close-quarters combat chaotic. Itís simply not a pleasure to get up close and personal on those maps that take the player deep into a building to achieve an objective, which is a real shame since the original Enemy Territory did a rather excellent job of keeping close quarters combat exciting.
The lack of polish continues past the low framerate. In the GUI menu, whether in limbo or in the server browser, the game continually reads inputs from my rudder pedals, joystick, or TrackIR and sets the mouse moving off on its own. This is a hold-over issue from Quake 4. Another Quake 4 favorite has to be the very slow and clumsy server browser. Not only is it slow to read servers in general, but it insists on checking the empty and bot-populated ones first. Not until 1000 servers have been scanned do you begin to see a list of servers that have actual players on them. Refreshing the server list is like engaging in a certain geek form of masochism, though thatís generally a term we reserve for the Battlefield series. How long can it take? How many servers will the browser scan before coming up with an actual populated one? Itís a game you can play, like licking a certain number of envelopes per hour, and then seeing if you can beat that record the next hour.
All these polish issues are a shame because they detract from what is truly an excellent game at its heart. While Team Fortress 2 will be the preferred title to just jump in for 15 minutes before work or dinner, it doesnít offer nearly the variety of gameplay and challenges that ETQW does. TF2 roles are rigidly defined, the maps are tiny and the battles impossibly similar. The TF2 learning curve seems steep at first but then levels off on a surprisingly low plateau. In Quake Wars, on the other hand, the number of options any character class has on most maps is staggering. What has a lock-on on your Cyclops heavy walker Ė is it a GDF soldier, an anti-vehicle turret, or a rocket launcher battery? Itís not always easy to tell. Knowing would help you decide whether to launch flares, back out of range, or bail out Ė and if you survive, what to do next. With few exceptions, Iíve yet to repeat an encounter the same way in ETQW.
Oh, and where are my voice comms?
Itís not super-attractive but the levels and individual characters work. Thereís a certain style to the units, though clearly not as full of character as what TF2 offers.
Diverse, varied, generally balanced. This is definitely a diamond in the rough Ė a huge diamond. It just needs polishing.
Thereís a definite sense of challenge in learning the various vehicles, understanding their weaknesses and strengths, and how to overcome them. The much-maligned APC can force the enemy from the skies and away from your tanks, the Cyclops can control and open field if properly supported, and so on.
Maps and Campaigns
The maps are generally balanced though there are a few exceptions at least in my personal experience where the offense can get hopelessly bogged down. However, in general they are varied and exciting, with enough space to act but not so much as to slow down the action. Combining them into campaigns with an experience and rewards system is all the better.
The bots are pretty good and a general surprise, they outperform the Battlefield bots handily though itís debatable whether theyíre as good as the UT variant.
Worldís second-worst server browser
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