Online first-person shooters tend to break down into a couple different sub-genres. There’s the single guy with a gun games where deathmatch and capture the flag rule. These all have their roots in DOOM and its amazing modem deathmatches and four-player LAN action. Find weapons, armor, shoot everyone not you and maybe drag a flag back to your base while doing that. I love this style of game for its pure arcade roots where skill and cunning at a blistering pace is all that matters.
The other sub-genre is the team game, focused on different classes of player each with their own abilities, but none less useful than the last. All players must contribute or the team will fail. Player skill matters, but it can’t overcome a lack of teamwork. These games have their roots in Quake capture the flag, but ultimately probably spawn out of Team Fortress. That seems to be the genesis of the class-based gameplay, and it’s only been diversified by games like Battlefield 1942 and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.
I have to admit that I’ve grown into fandom of the team-based shooter. I think Battlefield 1942 was the first game that I was truly enamored of the style, but that spilled over big time into the free Enemy Territory. I put that game on my best of for Computer Games Magazine the year it was released. It was amazing that we got it for absolutely nothing, and you can still play it online today and find all sorts of entertaining modifications for it as well as new maps. The core set of maps and the superbly balanced team gameplay was so good that I wouldn’t even care if any of that modding came along. Vanilla Enemy Territory still rocks.
It should come as no surprise that my number three game of 2007 is a sequel to it…
3. Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
This is the hardcore first-person shooter for people who love hardcore team-based genre wonk-style games. There is no place for stupidity in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Before you play, you should probably RTFM. Before you go online, you should play with bots. Before you start telling people how stupidly they’re playing, you should be a seasoned veteran yourself. If that sounds exclusionary, then by definition this game will not appeal to everyone. Honestly, I don’t care, because it’s a carefully crafted series of events driven entirely by player competence, player skill, player ingenuity and player awareness. I love that it asks you to be intelligent, because that’s one of the things that has often set PC games apart. You’re either in this club with the smoking jacket, monocle and pipe or you’re on the outside looking in. I got no problem with that when it comes to Quake Wars.
It’s not like shooting things is hard. If you’ve played other shooters, you can easily pick up an assault rifle and get out there and play. The game has a great variety of weapons, all with different strengths and weaknesses, but none that seems out of place or overpowered. Many of the greatest Quake weapons are here, and I’ll tell you, I’m in love with the Hyperblaster. I have been since Quake 2, and the one in this game is phenomenal. But that’s just one of the tools I’ll pick up when I play. My weapon is usually being switched around during respawn waits because as the battlefield moves and changes, different weapons become more potent. Only certain classes get access to certain weapons though, so you’ve got to know who gets what, whether you’re playing GDF or playing the Strogg. If you manage to play well, you’ll unlock weapon upgrades and new offerings as well as things like extra hit points or a faster respawn.
You’ve got to spend some time playing the game before even the weapons will click. This is not a corridor shooter, though sometimes the fight happens there, too. It’s a game with all sorts of objectives, and they reveal themselves during a single map. Your first task might be to detonate a barrier that will get your team to the next objective. Once that’s done, you’ll fight to hack a Strogg facility. With the facility hacked, you now get a powerful weapon strike that takes out a Strogg base entrance. It’s time to enter the base and place explosives to destroy the Strogg equipment that’s polluting the water supply. Finally the map is over, but now you’ve got new objectives on the next one, and part of those is to drive something called the MCP into position repairing it all the way there. Once that’s there, maybe you have to play what amounts to capture the flag in order to get a Strogg Data Brain back to HQ. For newbies, this all sounds like gibberish, but once it clicks, it’s fascinating to be involved in it.
The fact that it doesn’t just have the simple goal of “hold this point for X minutes” is what makes this one of my favorite games of 2007. I love to be challenged, both mentally and skillwise. I know how to play shooters. I’m pretty handy with a mouse and keys, so that part I’ve got covered. What this game asks me to do is think about the why and the where and the how. Sometimes it’s actually smarter to not start blasting. Staying in cover to catch people by surprise or complete the objective unnoticed is an excellent tactic. Working with your teammates to build defenses and control the field of play is an even better one. Defensive turrets for vehicles, infantry and air defense are available, and you need them all for successful play. These stationary guns have an easy to learn deployment grid and the interface goes out of its way to let you know the hotkeys to get them out there and functioning. And when you’re not on foot, all the vehicles are fun to drive or fly, but can really be deadly in the hands of a good player. They make it easy to get to the fight, but don’t ever make the fight about vehicles exclusively, especially since the maps transition so well to indoor objectives.
If you can get past the first hour or so of your screen coated with icons that you need to learn, as well as the next few hours required to learn the objectives, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars ought to be among your favorites for 2007 too. It’s not a game for people who want instant gratification and simplicity. It’s designed to be technical and to make you use your head, but it also packs a visceral punch. Many of the maps look great and are littered with unique terrain that makes for interesting approaches to the next objective. It’ll take you a long time to learn them and even longer to wear them out. I still find all sorts of new approaches to the objectives as well as new ways to get the job done. Fortunately, while the game certainly won’t appeal to everyone, the people that do play are knowledgeable and work hard to play it right. I really haven’t found a server where I felt like people didn’t know what they were doing, and that’s a big plus when the knowledge required to play is so great. For some of you, that might make this game even more appealing knowing that you’ll be among like-minded players.
There are other team-based shooters out there that have a larger following that Quake Wars is likely to get. That doesn’t mean they’re better games. This one will get played for a long time to come by people who want more from a shooter than just finding a flag or standing on a capture point. I hope the Enemy Territory series of games continues because where this is going is something akin to a sim-first-person shooter and I really don’t think that’s a bad thing as long as Splash Damage remains at the helm. Check out the demo or join me in the full game, but don’t write this one off as more of the same because it’s a whole lot more than that.