Video Game Review: Quake

Released in 1996; developed by id Software

Available on Steam

(Note: I played through Quake using the Dark Places source port, which is available here. It provides for updated visuals and greater customization.)

Quake, the mid-nineties firecracker of a first-person shooter, revolutionized multiplayer gaming. Like Doom before it, much of its popularity was driven by its multiplayer-friendly design, with an emphasis on fast-paced, deathmatch-focused gameplay.

It’s often cited as a game with many Lovecraftian and horror influences. But is that actually the case? Not really, no. And that’s too bad – because a game with this technological profile combined with a true Lovecraftian atmosphere would have been incredible, especially back in 1996.


Quake, much like Doom, is fast-paced, easy to pick up and play, and has a quick save feature. In fact, being able to save anywhere in a level, at any time, was one of the more amazing features of the initial slate of id first-person shooters, going all the way back to Wolfenstein 3D. (I can’t recall if Catacomb 3-D had quicksaving or not. But it was still a fun game.)

The original concept of the game dates back to an idea id Software had as a follow-up to its Commander Keen series. The character “Quake” would be all-powerful, wandering around a fantasy world and smashing his enemies. It’s been reported that John Romero, the other half of the id Software dream-duo, wanted this version of Quake to be more in line with that original concept: a medieval-style, dark fantasy horror game.

The rest of id, however, wanted to create more of a 3D update to Doom.

Considering the problems John Carmack encountered in creating the engine and the multiplayer components, the more adventurous design ambitions were scrapped. Romero’s RPG and dark fantasy/horror concepts have some vestigial remnant in some textures, some level layouts, and a few enemy designs.

The weapons, then, are pretty standard, and a bit underwhelming if you’ve been playing first person shooters for a while. There are the decidedly unsatisfying shotgun and double-barrel shotgun (Doom‘s shotguns, conversely, are still really fun to use), a nail gun and super nail gun, a rocket launcher and grenade launcher, and a lightning gun. There’s usually plenty of ammo for the shotguns and the grenade launcher and rocket launcher, but you’ll burn through the nail gun and lightning ammo way too fast. The levels are stingy with the high-powered rounds.

The levels themselves often reflect the game’s lack of focus. Sometimes you’re in garish, brown and gray tech bases. Other times, you’re in garish, brown and gray medieval settings. There is not a lot of variety in scenery. There is some creative use of castle architecture, but it’s nothing memorable. Each level feels like one big set of hallways, devoid of doodads and evidence that anything actually lives or works in these places. Even Doom‘s level design feels more lived-in.

quake screen cap1

The combat, thankfully, is fun and fluid. It’s very challenging, punishing the slightest mistake. You’ll be dodging grenades, chainsaws, claws, swords, and projectiles from every angle. Enemies often teleport in from above or behind you, making each encounter tense and tactical. The enemies here deal lots of damage, so you can go from full health to dead in a few short moments. There are often multiple paths to complete the level, allowing you to take on different encounters at different times. I tried to play through this game from each level’s start without saving, forcing me to think carefully about what enemies I wanted to take on first, with what weapons I had available.

Trent Reznor composed the game’s soundtrack. This sounds cooler than the actual result; most of the music lacks any sense of momentum or even menace. It’s not bad, as far as videogames go – it’s just not memorable either. Some of it sounds like it belongs in a horror game, but a horror game this is not. When comparing this soundtrack to the work of Aubrey Hodges in Doom 64, it’s no contest. Hodges’ work helps elevate the entire gaming experience of Doom 64, transforming it from a competent console port into a horror experience.

Despite its reputation… It’s not Lovecraftian. It involves going to multiple worlds, and the boss is named Shub Niggurath. But that’s it.

Overall, Quake is a fun action game. However, Doom, thanks to source ports and the modding community, has more to offer the shooter fan looking for a fun old-school experience. For more horror flavor, try Hexen or Heretic, as they both run on the same engine as Doom, and are therefore accessible through the same source ports.

Quake remains historically interesting as the first truly-3D game. But it is very much a product of its time, and other older games actually hold up better. It’s a fun ride, but horror fans won’t find much here for them, outside of some bloody textures and a few chainsaw-wielding monsters.

3/5 Slipgates

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