Why Quake III Arena is one of the greatest games ever made

Not many games afford the kind of literal and figurative high that comes from rocket-jumping over an incoming attacker, whipping around in mid-air and then nailing him in the back on your way back down. Even fewer allow you to launch yourself backwards around a spiral stairwell on the shockwave of a self-inflicted explosion, before hurtling from the top like a clay pigeon from a trap. Nowhere else can you gaze across a night’s sky streaked with the horizontal rainbow-coloured rain of half a dozen railgun shots jousting for dominance, before launching yourself through the middle at a thousand miles an hour, ready to send their owners scattering with a volley of plasma.

At its heart, that’s why Quake III is amazing. The core of hyper-real but utterly consistent control underpinning every interaction is a devastatingly powerful provider of the thrilling and the genuinely awesome. It endlessly and dynamically generates the kind of sci-fi John Woo spectacle that cutscenes are still sprinting to catch up with. The excesses of its gameplay can be pushed to decadent levels, yet it remains utterly solid, built around rules that can be bent double without ever breaking. It’s fitting that Quake III Arena was released in the same year as The Matrix. There’s a similar philosophy at the centre of both of them.

Aside from making the core game ever-more rewarding for new and old players alike (and thus ensuring its status as a perfect e-sport) Quake III’s malleability has given the game a life way beyond its original intent.

A legion of exhibition players fill YouTube with trick-jump and flair-shot videos to this day, continually pushing their own skills, co-operation, and understanding of the game’s hidden depths in order to squeeze new and jaw-dropping feats out of it, a full 13 years after its release. It’s hard to imagine many modern shooters getting similar treatment in over a decade’s time. But then again, not many modern shooters are designed with the vital symbiosis of pliability and durability that Quake III Arena is made of.

And that’s why it’s lasted as long as it has. In this modern climate of tacked-on, flash-in-the-pan multiplayer and lobbies that echo like a burp in a mausoleum around three minutes after launch day, Quake III still thrives.

It has no levelling-up system. It has no unlockable rewards. It comes with no additional charges and it’s defiantly free of any narrative content whatsoever. It’s fast, uncompromising, and it doesn’t hold the player’s hand for a second. Quake III Arena is the antithesis of current industry wisdom regarding worthwhile, long-lasting multiplayer, yet its community is still doing fine.

Because regardless of the things it hasn’t got, in terms of actual game Quake III has more than enough to be getting on with for many, many more years to come.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.