Bethesda dropped a nice surprise on everyone recently: a remastered version of id Software’s 1996 classic first-person shooter, Quake. And, unlike their Doom rereleases from a while back, which were an absolute mess on launch, Quake Enhanced, as the new version is called, looks set to be a benchmark for how this sort of thing should be handled in the future.
The first bit of good news is that if you already owned Quake on Steam or Bethesda’s own launcher, you not only get a free update to Quake Enhanced, but the original installation of Quake stays right where it is. That means if you want to make use of mods or engine enhancements that only work with old-school Quake, you can continue to do exactly that — Quake Enhanced, meanwhile, makes use of a curated “Add-Ons” menu similar to the one found in the Doom remasters.
Supposedly, according to Bethesda, most mods that worked with the original Quake should work with Quake Enhanced, too, but they can’t guarantee this — particularly if they are dependent on a specific source port rather than the original executable and code.
But to be honest, this is actually quite nice in a funny sort of way, because it gives us a good excuse to replay the original Quake, plus the two official expansion packs Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution of Eternity, and two new expansions developed by MachineGames: Dimension of the Past and Dimension of the Machine. That’s a whole lot of game for £7.99 — and you know what? It’s good.
This might sound like something blindingly obvious to say, but playing Quake in 2021, divorced of its original context as the most revolutionary, genre-advancing first-person shooter of 1996, reveals that at its core, Quake is simply a damned fine game. It’s speedy, it’s responsive, its levels are immaculately designed and beautifully paced — and dear Lord is it ever fun.
One exciting thing worth noting is that this is the first rerelease of Quake for a long time that has included Trent Reznor’s wonderfully atmospheric soundscape fully intact by default. Past rereleases have sometimes included this as a CD image, but it would be necessary to either burn this to a real CD or mount the image as a virtual drive in order to make the music work. With Quake Enhanced, it’s just there in the game right from the outset — and if you haven’t heard it in context for some time, be prepared to be deeply unsettled by what you’re about to experience!
Perhaps best of all, the amount of time that has passed between Quake’s original release and today means that in comparison to the first-person shooters that are coming out these days, Quake actually feels rather fresh and exciting to play. No iron sights, no stealth, no loadouts, no experience levels, not even any reloading of your weapons — this is pure run and gun action that is primarily concerned with providing an intoxicating blend of Gothic and Lovecraftian horror with dungeon crawler-style exploration, light puzzle solving and high-speed action with an almost arcadey feel to it at times.
Seriously, if you haven’t touched the original Quake for 25 years — like I hadn’t — then treat yourself to a runthrough of the original campaign and expansions. You’ll be surprised just how well they hold up today. In fact, I’d argue they’re strangely more enjoyable in the context of today’s releases than they were back then.
But what of that “Enhanced” bit? What exactly does it enhance? Well, here’s the nice bit: you can take control of exactly how much it enhances.
The options menu allows you to adjust field of view, frame rate, whether two-player split screen (oh yes, that’s a new feature on the PC version — but also available on the new console ports) has a horizontal or vertical split and whether or not the textures are smoothed. I was particularly delighted with this last option, as it keeps the pixelated look of the original textures, giving the impression of running in classic software mode rather than 3D accelerated GLQuake or equivalent.
More notable enhancements get their own section in the menu, which allows you to adjust the overall resolution the game renders at, plus apply antialiasing, ambient occlusion, depth of field and motion blur effects as desired. Model interpolation smooths out the animations of all the models in the game — originally, Quake’s animations were created on a frame-by-frame basis and looked noticeably “jerky” when playing at a high frame rate — and enhanced models just polishes things up a little bit without compromising the distinctly “retro” feel of many of the enemies.
Finally, in terms of special atmospheric effects, you can choose to apply Quake II-style coloured lighting, plus fog and dynamic shadows. The result can be anywhere between Quake looking the best you’ve ever seen it, or Quake looking exactly how you remember it. The difference in the latter regard is that Quake Enhanced runs with out the faffing around sometimes required to get the original Quake working properly on modern machines and video cards.
This is clearly an attempt to keep everyone happy — and for once, I’d argue that Bethesda has succeeded for the most part here. The only hesitation I have at present is the requirement for a Bethesda.net account and a persistent online connection to make use of the Add-Ons menu — which at present allows you to download and enjoy the tweaked levels and muddy graphics of the Nintendo 64 port of Quake, plus its alternative soundtrack — but supposedly this requirement will be patched out.
You’ll still need an account for the new cross-platform online multiplayer, though, which some people will probably turn their nose up at — but again, the original Quake is still there if you want to do things the old-fashioned way. For newcomers to Quake’s distinct style of doing things — or those who were never able to get the game’s multiplayer up and running back on its original release for whatever reason (hello!) — it’s an ideal opportunity to finally understand why this game would frequently bring the offices of various PC magazines to a complete standstill.
All in all, Quake Enhanced is an impressively respectful remaster. It keeps the original intact and allows it to be enjoyed with a few of the rougher edges smoothed off if you so desire — but doesn’t demand that you do so. It makes an all-time classic of PC gaming more accessible than ever — and, as noted above, it’s aged absolutely beautifully, and is arguably even more fun in 2021 than it was back in 1996.
Shamblers can still eat a fat one though. Hand me my Super Nailgun and that Quad Damage, if you please… I’m going in. Again.