Anyone interested in seeing what multiplayer-centric games used to look like, and more importantly, what they played like before Call Of Duty and Halo, should give Quake Arena Arcade a try. For about $15, gamers get a 16-player online experience spread across 45 maps. Thirty of the maps have been ported from the fan favorite Quake III: Arena, while the remaining 15 have been created from scratch for this game.
Gameplay is generally of the old-school, mano-a-mano, quick-and-dirty variety, with none of the camping bullshit that takes place in today’s online play. It's every man—or man-thing—for itself. Maps are intentionally on the small side, with plenty of choke points designed to keep gamers shooting at one another.
Encounters with opponents come in two classic varieties: the circle-strafe and the backpedal-pursue. Lulls are spent hustling about the map in a selfish attempt to consume any nearby weapons and power-ups, regardless of whether you need them. Taking a floating armor power-up off the table means your opponent can’t pick it up, which could mean the difference in your subsequent circle-strafe (or backpedal-pursue) encounter. Also, weapons carry limited amounts of ammo, so during any given skirmish, weapon fire automatically cycles through a veritable rainbow of ammo hues and types.
By today’s sophisticated standards, Quake Arena Arcade looks absurdly cheesy. Enemies are dressed like their bus broke down en route to a renaissance fair. The music is all low-level chants, bass, and moans. The pseudo S&M dungeon look of the maps—brick, chains, and low-light flickering—feels the most dated: The entire game is unnecessarily dark, as if the electric bill needs paying.
Yet there’s something hypnotic in simply moving through the game (via more of a speedy, dreamlike floating than actual footsteps), eyes peeled for bobbing armor and poorly dressed enemies. There are no perks, no prestige levels, no obtuse objectives. It’s merely a handful of people in a tiny room trying to blow the hell out of one another. And the sheer visceral simplicity of that experience, regardless of how dated it sometimes feels, is timeless.