As odd to imagine as it is now, team-based multiplayer games took a while to get going. Back in the Doom days, people tended only to play deathmatch, because the number of players was limited – the Internet wasn't an option, and most players had 28.8K modems anyway. Even after Quake popularized Internet play, it wasn't until Starsiege Tribes in 1998 that companies realized there was money to be made with complex teamplay.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was developed by Splash Damage, a company specializing in multiplayer games; their first commercial title was the original Enemy Territory add-on for Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Gamers will find a lot that is familiar in Quake Wars, from ET and the team FPS genre in general, but there is enough to distinguish it.
Here's a familiar warning right off the bat: like ET, if you don't have a solid broadband connection, Quake Wars is not for you. While the title does have reasonably competent AI players for offline matches, there is no unique single-player mode, so it is only worth playing offline as a form of practice. There are limitations to QW's human element as well, but just basic cooperation and unpredictability make the multiplayer much more lively.
There is a story to the game believe it or not, if only as pretext for guns and level design. Players bear witness to the Strogg invasion of Earth, first referred to in Quake 2. You can fight as part of the human GDF forces, but more interesting are the Strogg, who are half-meat, half-machine and have unique aesthetics as well as gameplay elements. Levels are entirely structured around objectives the armies are trying to achieve: in "Sewer," for instance, the Strogg are attempting to contaminate water supply of the US west coast, while the GDF must hold them back. The battle is fought in a mountain valley, typical of the American northwest.
These primary objectives are broken down into several minor ones, such as destroying a shield generator, or constructing a bridge. Below this in turn are optional objectives that players can pick from, such as capturing a forward spawn, or destroying enemy turrets. The trick to the game is that it's impossible for any one teammate to accomplish all objectives: both the Strogg and the GDF are divided into several classes, each with some critical function. Only Covert Ops and Infiltrator units can hack computers for example, and explosive charges are limited to Soldiers and Aggressors.
This leads to an entertaining teamplay dynamic, since while it might seem important to switch to the class required for an objective, there's always a call for the others. If the Strogg are bombarding an area with artillery, someone has to take it out, so you might as well call in rockets as a Field Ops, or support your friends as a Medic. As a result players can (in many cases) stick to whatever role they'd prefer to fulfill, something that can't be said for the likes of Team Fortress 2.
Quake Wars is built on the Doom 3 engine, so it may surprise some people that the game manages to provide expansive, well-lit terrain complete with trees, grass and water. Though like many games the detail falls apart upon closer inspection, it's obvious that Splash put quite a bit of artistic effort into the levels as well, providing dramatic vistas paired well with gameplay. Particularly impressive is "Volcano," which bathes a strange Omaha Beach-like setting in light breaking between the clouds.
The terrain is also large enough that vehicles become useful, and so Splash has introduced everything from ATVs to tanks and aerial gunships. The Strogg are given some unique hardware to reflect their alien origin, namely the Cyclops walker and a jetpack that drops tiny bombs, but these are fairly easily countered by the right GDF weapons. One complaint is that the deterioration system used to keep performance up destroys vehicles in a hurry - you can leave a jetpack alone for 30 seconds and it will crumble in front of your eyes. Needless to say, this doesn't lend itself to hit-and-run tactics.
Weapons are somewhat disappointing, for two reasons: first because of weak gunfire sounds, but additionally due to a lack of innovation or variety. Each side shares a fairly small collection of common weapons, and they're mostly alterations of what you've seen in every other FPS title, such as pistols, knives, assault rifles and rocket launchers. The Strogg have items like an identity stealer and the nailgun, but they're hardly worth excitement.
Promotions and reprimands
Something that alleviates this problem is the experience system. As gamers accumulate kills, accomplish objectives or simply make good use of their equipment, they gradually build up XP points, which automatically upgrade skills and hardware within the class used to earn them. Initially this brings things like scopes or faster sprinting, but it can lead to greater accuracy, larger ammo drops, and more. Playing on a server long enough can be extremely rewarding, since your seniority will make you dominant in a fight.
As you might imagine though, this has negative ramifications as well as good ones. If you're facing off against a high-XP player it can be an uphill battle, albeit one that's never insurmountable. Conversely, skilled players may find that being given the upper hand eventually produces boredom, as much of the challenge has been removed. There's also an extremely fleeting aspect to the system - unlike the Battlefield games, XP doesn't carry over from server to server, so you'll return to newbie status every day.
If Quake Wars has an overarching problem, it's that there's very little sense of camaraderie. Players will most certainly help each other out, but no one ever genuinely communicates, for the simple reason that they don't have to. The game itself issues orders and explains what needs to be done, reducing most human requests to calling out for medics. The option to organize fireteams helps you identify more closely with your teammates, but even this can safely be ignored for an entire match. To shovel the final dirt on the coffin, voice communication is only expected in an upcoming patch.
Balance of power
The verdict, then, is that Quake Wars is something of a mixed bag. There should have been more concentration on joining players together, encouraging them to cooperate and speak with each other. Original weapons might have been nearly as difficult to implement, yet just more time in the foley room could've helped. The experience system fares better, although devising some way of mixing powers and persistence might've made it a real draw.
The game remains worth playing because for the most part, it avoids tinkering with successful formulas, while still incorporating distinctive aspects like its levels and complex objectives. It's also attractive, as well as fast-paced and easy to hop into, since you don't need to learn everything at once. And really, do you need much more from a multiplayer FPS to enjoy yourself?