BOSTON — Whatever happened to the competitive shooter? You can build up your character slowly over time in Call of Duty, or work out the perfect balance for your team in Overwatch, or survive against 99 other players in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but none of these games can offer the simple, fast-paced, cathartic fun of fragging people, again and again, until one player accumulates more frags than the rest.
Enter Quake Champions, which is currently in early access on Steam. I had a chance to check out the game at PAX East 2018, and the game’s deliberately retro design seems like a breath of fresh air in the current FPS landscape. I competed with seven other players in a free-for-all rail gun match, where “one shot, one kill” was the order of the day.
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If you played Quake back in the day, the setup for Quake Champions will seem familiar to you. You and seven friends (or enemies) run, jump and occasionally teleport around a map, replete with both horizontal corridors and vertical battlefields. The pace of gameplay is fast and furious, and it’s usually every man for himself. If you get killed, you won’t even have time to feel bad about it before you respawn right in the middle of the action.
While I did not do especially well during my hands-on (perhaps Overwatch really has made us all a little too dependent on our teammates), the game reminded me a lot of classic Quake III Arena matches — just with flashier graphics and a smoother framerate. You run, you jump, you shoot, you get blasted into a bloody mist — this is all familiar territory, and the game makes it feel just as much fun as usual.
Quake Champions does make a few concessions to modern game design, however. Before the game starts, you can select one of about a dozen different characters, including B.J. Blaskowicz from the Wolfenstein series, and the Doom Marine from, well, Doom. Each one has slightly different levels of health and speed, plus an additional special ability (teleportation, quicker movement speed and so forth).
Purists may scoff at this addition, but it does help the characters feel a little distinct from one another. And, at least during rail gun death matches, the stats and abilities didn’t have too much bearing on the high-risk, high-reward, lighting-quick shooting and dodging.
Quake Champions will eventually be free to play, but currently costs $30 to play in early access on Steam. Gamers who pine for the days of quick, brutal matches may want to check it out, while those who prefer a more collaborative experience already know how to get their FPS fix in the present.