I’ve got 96 prob­lems and Quake II is… well, it’s com­pli­cated


It’s the 25th an­niver­sary of Per­sonal Com­puter Gamer mag­a­zine and that’s as good an op­por­tu­nity as ever to look back on all of the times that some­body’s got­ten very ex­cited and slapped the big­gest num­ber out of 100 – 96 – at the end of a re­view. This hasn’t hap­pened very many times, and it’s hap­pened even less for games with the num­ber two in the ti­tle. So, bolt­ing an ar­bi­trary con­ceit to another ar­bi­trary con­ceit, I’m go­ing to spend this month re­vis­it­ing PCG’s high­est-rated se­quels.

I can ab­so­lutely un­der­stand why Quake II was so ex­cit­ing in its time. It is a tremen­dous tech­ni­cal ad­vance over the orig­i­nal, and back when we were all still wait­ing for a big VR hel­met to de­scend from the sky and sweep us away many of its de­tails were mind-blow­ing. Alien grunts sit up be­fore they die and fire a few shots off in spite. Drones sweep across hot red alien skies and bad man-robo-dogs shoot their tongues at you. The shot­gun sounds and feels like some­body throw­ing an old timey cash reg­is­ter into a skip full of bub­ble wrap, and that’s all I re­ally want from an id game at the end of the day.

Here’s the is­sue, then: I miss the orig­i­nal Quake a lot more. All of the com­pro­mises in­volved in the orig­i­nal Quake’s cre­ation have made it more

mem­o­rable than its se­quel after the fact. Its de­vel­op­ers didn’t bother to set­tle the ques­tion of whether they were mak­ing a fan­tasy game like Hexen or a sci-fi game like Doom, so they made both. The last boss is an al­bino tree stump sur­rounded by freaky yetis and the rocket launcher looks like a big whis­tle. It’s a weird game.

Quake II is let down by the fact that it was con­ceived by some­body with a co­her­ent plan. And do you know what a co­her­ent plan for a videogame looks like in 1997? It looks like aliens. Cy­borg aliens. Dog aliens. The movie Aliens. There are cutscenes and mid-mis­sion voiceovers fea­tur­ing all of your favourite char­ac­ters, from Shouty Marine to Scary Com­puter Woman. It’s dizzy­ingly generic be­cause there have been so many games like this since, and the only thing that el­e­vates it above the pack is the sheer fact that it’s roy­alty.


It’s still fun to hop about in mazes blast­ing grunts. That’ll never change. And there’s no di­min­ish­ing the achieve­ment of Car­mack et al when it comes to lay­ing the ground­work for the first-per­son shooter as it is now un­der­stood. But that’s what Quake II feels like to­day: ground­work. Specif­i­cally, ground­work for

Half-Life: the game that would come along and do the sci-fi shooter bet­ter, the im­mer­sive shooter bet­ter, and would adopt the mul­ti­player and mod com­mu­ni­ties of the Quake se­ries and give them a new home. Was it worth 96 in its day? Ab­so­lutely – we weren’t to know that a big­ger 96 was com­ing. Is it a 96 to­day? Hon­estly, prob­a­bly not. But I re­ally don’t want to be the guy who knocked points off

Quake II, so.

It’s dizzy­ingly generic be­cause there have been so many games like this since

Look! The happy jam man! Look how he ca­pers!

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