"If DOOM gives us vision into the minds and interests of the people who made it, I think Quake gives us vision into the time period that made it. A time period where 3D technology was nascent, shareware was slowly dying as a business model, and music genres like grunge and industrial were at their peak. And ultimately a period where these abstract, mechanics driven shooters were dying off."
The first-person shooters of the '90s weren't known for their narrative complexity. Aliens, Nazis, or demons had invaded and it was up to one hero--whether he's wearing space marine armor, an HEV suit, or just blue jeans and a red tank top--to blast through hundreds of them and save the world. So why is it so excruciatingly difficult to explain what happens in Quake to anybody who hasn't already played Quake? "Well, there are these evil knights and monster guys scattered around these lava-filled techno chapels, but luckily you have a nail gun…"
Chris Franklin of Errant Signal finds that this is because Quake is not about anything in particular, but rather an interactive mood-accompaniment to adolescent angst and power fantasies. Whereas Quake 2 and most big shooters since used clear plots and objectives to drive their action, Quake relied on oppressive environments and sounds to create a cohesive experience. (Errant Signal's running a fundraising campaign, if you're interested.)