Quake II

released on Aug 10, 2023

A remaster of Quake II

You are humanity's last hope to stop the Strogg, a hostile alien race waging war against Earth. Play this military sci-fi FPS, now upgraded for modern platforms with improved visuals, new campaign content, online multiplayer/co-op, and more.

Also in series

Quake II RTX
Quake II RTX
Quake Champions
Quake Champions
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Quake 4
Quake 4

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went into this completely blind; didn't even know it wasn't a quake sequel. also tried the original version first, which definitely made for rough initial impact

quake ii kicks off in a way that i can lightly describe as "complete dog shit". for some ungodly reason, Club Carmack decided it'd be a nice idea to start players off with the worst pistol and shotgun combo known to mankind (even complete without muzzle flash if the og release is your preference). the fun doesn't stop not starting there, though, because then you pick up the grenades and boy oh boy - my personal favorite aspect about them is how they take 35 years to throw, which makes them only remotely viable either around corners or as a tool to very slowly kill yourself with

it was during the entirety of this first level that i thought to myself, "why does this suck so much fucking dick? who enjoys this? can john carmack really be trusted to call steve jobs an idiot for designing a mouse with one button when he actually thinks quake ii is fun?" then i got the one-two punch: the super shotgun and the chaingun

suddenly - enemies died from being shot. i no longer needed to constantly pop from cover to reliably fight hitscan baddies spongier than those seen in 'chasm: the rift' (which, ironically, is a quake clone). things only went up from here - especially in level 3 where the 90 or so grenades i'd been eagerly not using were finally given purpose via a launcher that didn't have 600 frames of startup. i'd say this is when the game really starts

...and barring the last stage - which definitely gets to a point of feeling sluggish due to its over-eagerness in spamming the most aggravatingly tanky two-legged enemy in the game - it doesn't let up. every later earned weapon (that isn't the rocket launcher) continues to feel pretty fantastic. the BFG in particular took me by surprise with its insane splash and chain damaging. you can fire this thing at one enemy and it'll clear out an entire fucking room. it's awesome and thanks to it using the same ammo as the standard laser rifle, there's no shortage of opportunities to let it loose

i'm not much for movement tech in my fps, but the levels here were designed in ways where i was pretty eager to push myself even on that front. lotsa opportunity to master bunnyhopping and circle jumping. i even skipped some chunks of levels with a few well-placed rocket jumps. fun stuff and it made me just a little more interested in giving quake 3 another shot

sonically and atmospherically though, everything's obviously downgraded from q1 due to the lack of trent reznor (note: "HUH" is still intact (phew)) but the sonic mayhem soundtrack isn't totally unwelcome. i'll certainly take a competent albeit standard metal ost over the mick gordon-branded djent slop that this genre is so overly saturated with now

i've yet to play any expansions, but i did try a smidge of the n64 stages and found them to be really charming. kinda surreal to see a take of this game with so much color in it. definitely gonna get back to that, but for now i think i'm just gonna go straight for quake 4

Buttery smooth and fun shooting, level design leaves a bit to be desired. Simple but propelling musical score

The first Quake is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, but the second one is very alright. I absolutely hated this game at first, mostly because the starting weapons are complete trash, but it started to grow on me as I progressed. Then it sort of fizzled out toward the end. I like the idea of the unit-based level design, and some of the maps are a lot of fun, but it occasionally brings with it some annoying backtracking that really kills the game's flow. The enemies are pretty bland and spongey as well, and while the later weapons are far better than what are maybe the weakest pistol and shotgun in video game history, they never come close to matching the satisfying arsenals in either Quake or Doom. Now that I've finished it, I don't feel as strongly opposed to this game as I did at first, but unlike its predecessors, it didn't leave me wanting more. I'm sure I'll give the expansions a shot at some point, but right now I feel like I've had my fill.

I don't know. I've never liked the campaign of this game. Felt really bland.

(Star rating is for Call of the Machine; the base game would likely be a 1.5 or a 2)

To this day, I think Doom 1 and 2 are the only truly great games out of id's 90s output (in singleplayer at least; I've heard the Quake games are far better in multiplayer but I can neither confirm nor deny this myself). Wolfenstein 3D and Quake 1 were likely great games upon release (I wasn't alive so I can't really say for sure) and in retrospect they're still technical achievements for the time, but they're also...dated in the present day, for lack of a better term. Wolfenstein is too rudimentary to be anything but a curiosity, and Quake is a drab game that botches the basics of FPS mechanic design. Doom 1 and 2 are polished, imaginative, and frenetic, if imperfect; even when modern boomer shooter designers take influence from other classics, it often feels like the energy they take to their games' pacing is derived from the primordial cultural concept of Doom, and this isn't to mention the thousands of Doom WADs that build upon its structure more directly. Doom is the sort of masterpiece that comes once in a century; to expect id to make a worthy followup to it within the decade would be foolish.

Quake 2 isn't a worthy successor to Doom, but it fills its place in id's legacy well enough. Infamously, it isn't really a successor to Quake either, though I'm apathetic enough towards Quake 1 to not really care. Quake 2 does utterly trounce Quake 1 in terms of mechanical design (having guns and movement that feel good does a lot) and it's a forward-thinking game for 1997; the interconnected levels and objective-based progression prefigure Half-Life from the next year, but the game avoids the more tedious and naturalistic design choices from Valve's seminal title in favor of a more "boomer" arcade sensibility...well, in most regards at least.

Unfortunately, Quake 2 is also a very toothless game, especially compared to the ball-busting difficulty of Doom 2 and Quake 1. The game floods you with resources, and while some of the enemies are kinda annoying, every encounter is pretty easy to cheese. The game introduces an inventory system (which goes against everything Doom and Quake 1 stood for but I digress) but none of the combat-related items are particularly helpful other than for speeding up the process of shredding through enemies like a knife through warm butter, and I forgot they were even there for most of my playthrough. It's a shame, because the game really could've been good; the gunplay and movement is genuinely excellent, and despite my more Luddite views on first-person shooter design I can't deny the possibilities that the engine brings to mapping. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Nearly 26 years later, though, Quake 2 did finally reach its potential. With the 2023 remaster came Call of the Machine, developed by MachineGames, and with it I think Quake 2 has finally become an excellent game. While it still doesn't have the elegance or expandability of Doom, it is a mechanically solid game that finally has the confidence to use every mechanic to its fullest and to give the player a meaty, but fair challenge. Elements of crowd control and resource management that felt underutilized in the original campaign are brought into sharp relief, and the maps transport you to their locations in a way that the main game never did. If I could nitpick, I do think this campaign is a bit stingy with health and armor pickups, and the encounter design forcing players into large open spaces makes the grenades feel almost useless. The campaign is also fairly meaty, but it's difficult to shake off the feeling of "wait, was that it?" at the end. You can select areas non-linearly, but the final level unlocked after finishing the first six is just a final boss; it doesn't feel like the difficulty ramps up or the game remixes elements you saw earlier. You just fight a boss and it's over. CotM is meant to be an extra itself, so I can understand it not having a full game arc, but it all just comes across as kind of underwhelming. Regardless, it's excellent, and I think it's worth the price of admission alone.

The remaster also includes both original expansion packs and the unique campaign from the Nintendo 64 version; for people who want more of a Quake 2 fix, these will suffice nicely, but I wasn't too interested in them. From what I played of the first expansion and the N64 campaign, they hew fairly closely to the original game's design philosophy without being as bold as CotM, so if you want to play all the remaster's content, I'd recommend saving CotM for last.

Now, when's the Quake 3 remaster coming?