Editor’s Corner: Quake Singleplayer

The Quake Champions beta continues and reminds us that Quake’s all about mastering multiplayer arenas. The pure Quake experience is one-versus-one as each strafe and rocket jumps around an arena, picking up armor, weapons and ammo with impeccable timing, predicting the opponent’s every move, and scoring the frag when the moment comes. This is what Quake is to most people and I don’t want to challenge it. I love that part of Quake, I aspire to master it, and I respect highly those professional Quake players who can dominate a match. But my speed is more the single-player map: the creepy, surreal castle full of monsters that you, a lone soldier, must blaze through.

As much as I may become obsessed with Quake multiplayer at any given moment — and they strike at odd times — I always return to what Quake is to me: a powerful, raw charge through a monster-infested labyrinth — an action-driven boiled-down version of the dungeon-crawling RPG formula. I experiment with mods, I sometimes try a speed run, but the crème de la crème Quake experience for me is the 100% kill-run through a vanilla single-player map.

So when did I first light upon this experience? I started playing Quake in 1996. It was the shareware version. New to games, I was fascinated by the world I had discovered of scary monsters and wondered who this poor guy was who had to fight them all alone. Soon I played through the full retail version and with it each successive year have appreciated more the design of the maps and the mood of the soundtrack. Designer Sandy Petersen’s Episode 4 maps, also called “The Elder World,” are my favorites, and Trent Reznor’s companion ambient tunes are delicious.

I also played the mission packs, Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution of Eternity. The new monsters, weapons, music and levels in these charmed me, especially the mischievous little gremlins who’d steal your weapons.

Quake II I experienced some years later, playing the demo on an old laptop. After I found the game used and played it in full, sans rockin’ Sonic Mayhem music as my Dell Inspiron refused to play the CD tracks, I continued to love it over the years as well. Since then on newer PCs the music has blessedly played and I have been able to experience slaughtering Strogg to gnarly metal rhythms. It makes Quake II quite different – my ears bleed. Recent titles have continued the tradition of killing monsters while blasting metal music, like id’s own DOOM reboot. If you haven’t partaken of this tradition, do so at once. You haven’t lived until you’ve leaped and shot to head-banging material.

But I digress – I did not set out to write about Quake’s music here, though the music is an important part of the single-player experience. Not many pro players like music while mastering an arena, but music goes well with killing ogres and fiends in a creepy castle or cyborgs on an alien planet.

So what are Quakers like me who prefer SP to do? Bethesda and id are not likely to reveal a Quake single-player reboot anytime soon with Quake Champions cranking. Who can blame them? I’d wager most Quake fans just want one-on-one deathmatch. And when Raven Software revisited a single-player Quake campaign in Quake 4, they used the less surreal and safer world of Stroggos from Quake II. Quake 4 was great for the Quake II lover in me, but the adventurer of gloomy castles who raised nailgun against countless knights, scrags, and shamblers was bummed. He’s still bummed. Bethesda has delighted me with solid Wolfenstein and DOOM single-player reboots, but my Quake single-player reboot fantasy remains unfulfilled.

My point? Quake has single-player too, and it needs a reboot. A new title could make a fine atmospheric monster-killing game, a moody antithesis to DOOM’s heavy metal.

Strafe jumping and arena mastering are great, but only so many gamers will get good at it. Many will never match up against the veterans. Quake single-player offers a chance to escape competition and battle only with AI-controlled monsters. There are Quake fans who enjoy the single-player and DOOM and Wolfenstein have single-player anew – Quake needs a refresher.

Let me see those monsters in new graphics! Let me hear a new Trent Reznor score! Let me wield ax and gun both while journeying through surreal lands! And, please, let me play a new Quake without the context of humiliation at the feet of pros.

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