The original 1996 release of Quake holds a special place in the black space in my chest where a heart should be. I smashed it hard in single-player (using the CD Play function to crank The Prodigy’s Fat of the Land). I smashed it hard in multiplayer (using a 56K modem that cut out whenever somebody called the landline). Today, I’ve just smashed it all again on a PS5 in local co-op with my son.
Short verdict: parts of this influential shooter still play like a dream – other aspects are bad dreams that the genre has woken up from. The brown-town aesthetic, for a quick example.
Basically, what we have here is the gaming equivalent of Encino Man – a cave-shooter respawned into 2021. There are facets of this game that my lizard brain just accepted; it was quite interesting to see what bamboozled my boy when I sat back and asked him to run point.
Quake Remastered Review
Before we get into all that, I should probably size up the features of this rejig. This refurb includes 4K and widescreen resolution support, enhanced models, dynamic/coloured lighting, anti-aliasing, and depth of field. Audio-wise, Trent Reznor busts out a new theme song, too.
Cool to have, but it’s no Closer.
Content includes the original’s DLC packs, the Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution of Eternity. The biggest drawcard (for me) are two entirely new expansion packs entitled Dimension of the Machine and Dimension of the Past. Both were hammered into being by MachineGames, the legends who successfully rebooted Wolfenstein.
I thoroughly enjoyed these, even if they didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel (of pain) that is Quake. They sure do look nice and extra detailed, though. Sometimes you’ll get a brooding schmear of FromSoftware’s gothic ruins or be asked to traipse through a weirdo alien landscape elsewhere.
Clearly, the design assumption is that the player’s a 25-year vet who’s yearning for the old ultra-sadism. Health kits are hen’s teeth. A few less-than-textbook enemy ambushes are tougher than a woodpecker’s lips.
All that being detailed, what’s vanilla Quake like to play if you’ve never been exposed? “Break-neck” and “sadistic” are the best terms to describe its pace and level design philosophies, respectively.
A frenetic bullet ballet will begin when you trigger one of iD’s many tripwires and your screen explodes with jack-in-the-boxing foes. Enemies that can hit you with instantaneous projectiles are in the minority. You usually have the option to goosestep around melee leaping monsters, lobbed grenades or thrown entrails from seemingly immortal zombies.
Speaking of the latter, there’s a mechanic that shouldn’t have gone out of style: living-impaired who won’t stay down unless you blow them into chunky kibbles with a ‘nade. Mind you, those guys + enclosed spaces + the ability to rebound ordnance of walls and back into your own face? Yeah. It’ll keep you on the edge of that seat.
Having sharper visuals and more clearly defined lighting has taken some of the spook out of the above scenarios, I have to say. Don’t get me wrong – there’s still that “oh shit” moment when a trap springs. But there were places where I felt the old Stygian gloom had been far too well lit. That, and the fear factor of these Lovecraftian “horrors” has receded. Low-poly just makes for low heart rates.
Also, while Quake does technically include a story, it was back of the box or maybe in a text file on the CD-ROM stuff. It’s basically a lazy plot-shuffle of Doom. Science people make dimension tech. Man go through with shotgun. Demons and satanic imagery ensue.
So yeah, newcomers, go in expecting 1% exposition to 99% evisceration.
You should also prep yourself to be puzzled. Unlike the modern shooter that rollercoasts you down a linear path of set-piece explosions, the average Quake level is a sadistic maze of pain. Paranoia is your best defence because every free weapon comes with a just as free opportunity to meet your maker. Could be an Indianaesque tomb trap. Could be a quick teleport into a small “town meating” of carnivores.
Out-thinking the level designers and overcoming all odds with a dwindling ammo supply is still gratifying. I did, however, note my young apprentice’s frustration at not knowing where to go next. Quake is a game of keys, doors and corridors which (due to texture constraints) sure all do look alike. ID also revelled in its newfound verticality – a lot of crap is hidden on high perches or buried down underwater.
Another hot tip: expect to die more than you’re used to because Quake is OG brutal. This predates regen health, so you’ll be making risk-reward decisions to keep your life and armour numericals at their peak. Should you turn into a bunch of red polygons, well, you’ll restart the level with nothing but an axe and a shottie.
At a minimum: use the Save function at the start of every level. There’s even a quick-save for the especially accident-prone among you.
Sadly, there are no such saving options for local co-op multiplayer mode. I had an absolute blast playing it with my family (friendly fire ‘on’ for maximum carnage). That said, when it came time to take a break, we were pretty dismayed to see that quitting would cost us all of our individually earned guns.
You and your posse will need to smash out each of the four episodes in one session apiece, ideally. That’s, like, a seven-to-eight level undertaking. It’s a bit of an ask.
Local, quad-screen deathmatch is here, too – plus an 8-player online version. The latter, of course, would represent the first strike against MP. The original supported 15 max.
Otherwise, I found it to be fun with a smaller group, though the same golden rule applies. Whoever knows the level best will dominate, because half the weapons are kinda meh. The two shotguns are insta-hit but feel like peashooters. Conversely, the flechettes of the two nailguns do significant damage but take too long to stick a person who’s probably out by now.
Apex killers rely on perfectly lobbed and/or ricocheted grenades, flick-fired rockets, or the savagery of a sustained Thunderbolt electric beam. Fail to have any of those three in your arsenal, and you’re already dead – you just don’t know it yet. The only exception to that rule: the Quad damage buff that turns everything – even your piddly little axe – into a body exploder.
Truth be told, this is fast-paced but ultimately pedestrian multiplayer that won’t keep any but the most diehard Quakeheads entertained. Fact is, iD did their best arena design/weapons balancing in Quake III Arena, three years later. Also, I seem to recall the true joy of the original Quake MP lay in the application of user-built mods that let you inject wacky weapons, abilities or modes (see: the original Team Fortress).
Word is those are already being trickled out on the PC version by garage devs. Best of luck seeing any of that good stuff appearing in the console versions.
So, is this Quake remaster as earth-shaking as the moniker insists, 25 years after the original? No. It does, however, do a fine spit-shining of a touchstone FPS without diluting (too much) of its atmosphere. Slightly enhanced lighting and less eyesore on the models/textures are all greatly appreciated, but it’s the smooth-running split-screen opportunities that clinch it for me.
Grab a copy, gather some friends and “axe” them to take a trip back to the brownest, most essential FPS 1996 ever produced. This side of Duke Nukem 3D, at least.
Quake was reviewed on PS5 using a digital code provided by the publisher.