Gosh, Quake III. The second most popular game on the Internet at the moment, and a firm favourite amongst the EuroGamer staff. But a console version? That'll never work, right? Wrong, Quake III on the Dreamcast is as close to a perfect console FPS as ever I've seen. It falls into a completely different category from games like Goldeneye and TimeSplitters, bringing us the wondrous splendour of the intense, fast-moving multiplayer shooter to the mainstream. Immediately after receiving the game I slapped it in my Dreamcast, drew the curtains and grasped the nearest controller. After switching my display to 60Hz, I sat back and watched the copyright notices flick by, including one from NexGen, for their TCP/IP technology. This bodes well, I thought. The original intro movie from Quake III is included, with Sarge pounding away with his minigun, cigar locked firmly between his teeth. Nothing too special, but suitable enough. The first thing veterans will notice is the way the menu has been simplified. The options are Single Player, Multi Player and Internet Game, Website, Setup and Load Game with MP game highlighted by default. If you sit and ignore the menu, you get a pre-recorded demo featuring a player racing around "The Forgotten Place" to the peeling sounds of soft metal music. The map design is very faithful to the original, and I didn't notice any changes in terms of weapon positioning either. The Forgotten Place wasn't one of my favourites though, so I could be wrong. However "The Longest Yard," (or Q3DM17 as it's known) was, and so I decided to jump on there with some bots and see how it faired.
The MP options are Free For All, Tournament, Team and CTF. Up to four players can join a multi player game - any combination of you, a friend or two and some bots. Flicking through the maps on offer I spotted many of my old favourites and about six I didn't recongize. I set the Frag Limit to 20 with no Time Limit and dived in. Aaaarrgh! The controls! I don't know what it was exactly, but I just could not deal with Quake III on the gamepad. The analog stick allowed you to look around, but no matter what I did I could not get my fingers to work it correctly. Even spraying splash damage around with the Shotgun and the Rocket Launcher proved too difficult - God knows how I would have done with the Railgun. So I gave up, powered down the machine and stuck a keyboard and mouse on. The combination cost me some £40, which is a little steep, but there really is no better way to play. After configuring my controls in the menus, I jumped back onto "The Longest Yard," and went to town. Although the DC mouse isn't quite as sensitive as my Logitech Optical mouse on the PC, I had no trouble putting some of the bots to bed with all manner of weapons, and was given opportunity to assess the layout and style of the game. The first thing that sprung to my attention was the new HUD, or heads-up-display. Panels litter the bottom of the screen, with a completely useless visualization of your character's head, information on how much ammo you have left, your health status and what power ups you have on the go. In order to afford you as much screen space for viewing as possible, the windows that inform you about deaths only appear when something happens. Similarly, when you face up against an opponent, a little ID appears in the top right of the screen momentarily to show you who it is. Death, when it comes, is met by a scoreboard. I was a touch annoyed by the whole look of the system though, it wasn't very like the original at all and was visually unappealing.
The design of the maps has definitely changed, but in very minor, occasionally imperceptible ways. On "The Longest Yard" for example, where you would fall down before and suffer the indignity of going into minus frags, now you are whisked into a red wormhole type thing™ and respawned without losing a frag. After losing horrifically and cursing wildly, I thought I'd give up and go try out another map, Q3Tourney 4. I discovered however, to my utter dismay, that it has not been included. This is something I simply don't understand - T4 is the single most popular map in the entire game for tournaments. As far as I am concerned, it's Quake III DC's one downside. A new map then, perhaps. After playing through all of the new maps in sequence I came to the conclusion that they have potential. Some of the better ones are truly exemplary, and Dreamcast exclusives at that! I particularly enjoyed romping around "Evil Playground". The level design is of course backed up by some brilliant visuals. One of my main concerns when I first heard about the DC port was how the framerate would bear up. It's certainly not 60 frames per second, it's more like 30, which is bearable I think, and on the television you don't really notice the difference. The framerate does chug a little in incredibly complex scenes, but throughout my time with the game I never once banged down my mouse and thought 'this is absurd', something I used to do with alarming frequency on my old PC with Quake III Arena.
Playing through the single player game gives you the chance to soak up each of the conversions one by one. Throughout the campaign, the game moves fast, but it also boasts some great modelling and textures. The models look almost indistinguishable from their PC counterparts, and the textures although occasionally a little fuzzy are nigh-on perfect. As if this were not enough, all of the weapon models are present and correct, from the pea-shooting Machinegun to the powerful Railgun. The single player game won't occupy you for terribly long but then that's not what Arena is about. That leaves us with the Internet. And it's quite a subject. As we're sitting on a 33Kbps connection things are naturally going to be somewhat lagged, or so I thought, however after logging on to Dreamarena and locating a populated server (no mean feat, seeing as at the time of writing it wasn't actually available in this country) I discovered to my amusement that it was perfectly playable! Pings were nowhere near the terrifying levels that I had expected. Games were quite hectic, but it was abundantly clear who was and wasn't using a keyboard and mouse combination. Even on the Dreamcast it really is the single most important variable. Playing with four players locally is also fairly entertaining, especially investigating the various multiplayer modes and the power ups, like the Free For All dominating Quad Damage. As for the game mods; Capture the Flag is a firm favourite on the net but a little impractical locally. Tournament is better, facing friends off one against one, and the team-based challenge is great two versus two, but of course, you can't plug four keyboards and four mice into the Dreamcast, and there is barely room for two setups on the desk in front of my TV. And how many other people have their TVs on a desk? It's a shame, but this is hardly something Raster could have done anything about, to be fair.
So there we have it; a brilliant conversion of a fantastic game. There are a couple of levels absent that I really have missed, but aside from that, it's the best first person shooter in the world at the moment, and it's available on your Dreamcast. Deduct one mark because you really need to have a keyboard and mouse to enjoy it.