Falling In Love With Shooters Again In Quake Champions
My first memory of first-person shooters, as a genre, goes back to 1998. We'd gotten a shiny new PlayStation so my mom could play MediEvil, a game that I'm half-convinced she could still speedrun with her eyes closed. It didn't take my dad long to find stuff he wanted to play on the thing, either. Well, that's not entirely true. It took cursing his way through Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, and Tenchu because they "didn't control right" before he stumbled onto first-person shooters. And while he did pick up Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and other games of the day, the one I first remember watching most was Quake II.
There was something about that game that still stands out in my mind today. Little five year-old me was in awe of what was happening on the screen. Horrific, Eldritch polygonal monstrosities ran at the screen, as if they were about to jump out into our living room. Sprawling labyrinths lay open on our flickering Sanyo CRT TV, like a window into another world. And it was all so fast - I watched my dad fling himself through mazes and monsters at breakneck speeds, speeds that made my head spin. I'd never seen anything quite like it.
It's appropriate, then, that a Quake game has rekindled my love of a genre I've been getting sick of. Quake Champions has been taking up most of my spare time lately, and I don't see that changing for a while.
But let's back up. What happened between watching my dad play Quake II and now to kill my interest in the genre? Frankly? The video game industry happened. More specifically, the post-Modern Warfare video game industry happened. Even before that, though, my interest was waning. I'd become more of a Nintendo guy as a tween, and when I looked at shooters out there, none of them looked interesting. Pre-Modern Warfare, it was World War II as far as the eye could see. Post-Infinity Ward's tour through dull landscapes and duller weapons, it was just more of that. Occasionally, you'd get a Singularity, Doom 3, Serious Sam, or something, but for the most part, it was same-y bullshit that just couldn't hold my interest. Even if I did play every Call of Duty up until recently, it was more out it being popular and having a consistent playerbase as opposed to really loving it.
Enter Saber Interactive's Quake Champions.
Champions is, in a nutshell, Quake's answer to Overwatch. It is for all intents and purposes a "hero shooter," with a distinct and diverse cast defined by their abilities and personalities. However, that's window dressing. Something to help modern players feel more comfortable slipping into it. Choosing characters really boils down to, "what superpower do you want?" Practically every hero moves the same. All of them have access to the same weapons. They can all do the same stuff, more or less. The reason for this is that Quake Champions isn't a shooter based around learning a meta and exploiting it. Instead, it's about realizing that you suck and getting better.
That might sound like hyperbole, but I'm speaking in 100% earnest. Champions, more than any multiplayer shooter in recent memory, is a game where players always know why they died. There's never a feeling of unfairness to it, an inclination to believe that the game has balance problems. When you underestimate how high an enemy can rocket-jump to you, miscount how many more hits you can take, or don't understand the pros and cons of a weapon being used against you, that's entirely your fault. There's nothing here that bad players can spam and not get punished for. Getting good or getting kicked is the order of the day here, and that's a good feeling.
There's also a tactile satisfaction to it that I can't really put into words. It feels like a perfect blend of old-school design philosophies and modern quality-of-life adjustments - the future and the past informing each other in significant ways. Bunnyhops and strafe-jumping are just as vital as quick-scoping and exploiting cover. Saber is clearly made up of shooter enthusiasts who have both experienced the genre in its infancy and watched it evolve over the past few decades. Champions is the perfect distillation of this enthusiasm, a melding of frantic Romero/Carmack carnage and Infinity Ward/Raven Software (RIP) precision. It sort of takes what I like about both varieties of shooters, throws them in a blender, and serves up the resulting smoothie with style to spare.
Really, I haven't enjoyed playing a multiplayer shooter this much since Halo's heyday - and this is from a guy who considered Overwatch to be his favorite game last year. Quake Champions has managed to make me remember why multiplayer shooters used to be fun for me, in the same way that Doom, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Shadow Warrior 2 did for single player shooters.
There are definitely some technical blemishes present, as a result of it being an early access title. And, frankly, there are some questionable microtransaction practices that could threaten to undermine my enjoyment in the long run. However, twenty hours in, my enthusiasm for Quake Champions is still ratcheting up with each match. Here's hoping that trend continues.