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The games they couldn't kill

Quake 3 Arena

The modern FPS is about detailed HD graphics that make the game world look and feel completely real. It’s about complex environmental physics which make the player feel as if they truly inhabit its reality. It’s about epic, sweeping, emotionally-charged narrative which binds to the gameplay and plays out through the player’s direct actions. Quake 3 Arena however, is about none of these things, but it really doesn’t care. It’s still one of the best FPS in existence nine years after its release, and it bloody well knows it.

It remains an unfraggable staple of online gaming for many of the same reasons Street Fighter is still the king of combat games. It has a base of straightforward, accessible, and instantly gratifying gameplay at its core, but scratching the surface of those mechanics reveals a bloody meat-locker full of deep, player-driven possibilities underneath.

It’s a whirlwind of gladiatorial combat. A sharp, tightly-designed, light-speed neon death-match in which standing still for two seconds in a row will see you tagging the walls with involuntary entrail graffiti. But for all of its frantic anarchy, Q3A becomes a very nuanced game with practice. High-flying physics exploits like the famed rocket and rail jumps are the backbone of the advanced game, and while any garden variety noob can drop in and enjoy a bloody rampage around the arena, players with a bit of experience under their belts can be seen flying, flipping and running along walls in a way that predates parkour and The Matrix and makes both look as dynamic as a convalescent home picnic serving Valium sandwiches.

And best of all, none of it is too hard to learn. Because all of Quake 3’s advanced techniques are born out of the same physics that underpin the entire game, they actually start to come naturally once a player has spent a few heavy sessions acclimatising themselves to the game world. Becoming uber-pro naturally still takes practice, but the building blocks of righteous pwnage are available to anyone willing to learn the game’s handling and live a little dangerously.

And then there’s the community. If id build the car, then Q3A’s players are the maintenance guys. They’ve spent the years since the game’s original release tirelessly tinkering, adding features, replacing parts, removing defective components and tuning her up so that she still absolutely sings after all these years.

The number of available variations on the game now out there is mind-boggling, thanks to the dedication of its players and id’s willingness to release the source code into the public domain. Everything from custom weapon sets to total conversions that turn Quake 3 into a whole new game are knocking around online if you look for them.

Rather than becoming the domain of a small group of granite-core die-hards as many passing online games do, Quake 3 Arena remains a huge, slavering cyber-squid, constantly changing its colours and upgrading its hardware as it hungrily stretches its tentacles further out in a bid for world domination.

It takes ludicrously fine balancing and noose-tight programming to make a game last nearly a decade, but Quake 3 Arena makes the feat look contemptibly easy. It still stands up to regular competition-level outings, and its global poularity is great enough to have inspired Quake Live, the free-to-play browser version currently on the way from id.

Quake 3 as the new Bejewelled? Don’t be at all surprised…

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