Thursday, 16 May 2019

Saturn Quake Takes: Killing Them Slowly

I don’t need to tell you that Quake rocks. Father K already covered that a while back, offering praise for it and the other iconic first person shooters Lobotomy Software famously ported to Sega’s mid-90s underdog console.

It’s also no secret that Quake’s presence on the Saturn was practically a miracle in the first place. Digital Foundry’s John Linneman has even gone as far as to dub it the “Impossible Port.” The Saturn was notoriously a pain in the ass to develop for – particularly for devs hoping to utilize the third dimension – and yet it still runs Quake somehow. Granted, plenty of concessions were needed to make that happen. Compared to the PC original, the Saturn Quake sports choppier frame rates, reduced responsiveness, and less precise movement and aiming sans mouse and keyboard. But despite its limitations, it remains infinitely more impressive than the PlayStation port of Quake…which doesn’t exist.

Tech stuff aside, I’m more interested in delving into some interesting ways Saturn Quake managed to differentiate its player experience from the classic PC original. As a likely result of the technological and design compromises Lobotomy made to get Quake to function on Saturn hardware, I quickly noticed the Saturn version forces me to approach its gameplay in some fundamentally new and unexpected ways.

Compared to the frantic run-and-gun chaos of the PC game, I found myself plodding through each of Saturn Quake’s levels far more methodically and at a much slower clip. I can no longer trust myself to smoothly negotiate its ledges and trap-filled spaces or quickly dodge and pull off circle-strafe shots at will. As the action heats up and everything goes to hell, you can bet I’ll find a way to fuck up. Nowhere is this more evident than in my penchant for repeatedly falling into the lava pit while trying to run around the goddamn Chthon boss.

Damn thing took me at least twenty tries.

While it’s easy to frame Quake Saturn’s technical and gameplay limitations in a damning light – not that my own incompetence in aiming and navigating with the gamepad isn’t also a key factor – I actually think the game’s technical concessions generally work to its benefit. By forcing me to drastically slow down the game flow, these limitations help establish a unique identity for Saturn Quake independent of its PC upbringing.

Saturn Quake emphasizes preparation over improvisation. It requires me to focus less on how I deal with enemies in the moment and more on planning out each situation ahead of time – strategy and contingencies become crucial. After all, if I screw up and get caught in a volley of ogre grenades, I’m unlikely to simply dodge or circle strafe my way out of it lest I snag myself on the level’s geometry or accidentally fall into lava and die anyway. Instead, my best bet is to prepare my most effective weapon ahead of time, pay close attention to where my cover is, and take as many cheap shots as I can to avoid engaging enemies directly.

The bouncing grenade launcher kicks ass, btw.

In its own way, I appreciate how Saturn Quake’s reduced margin for error raises the stakes of each encounter. I feel I need to be constantly aware of my positioning and carefully gauge my movements and jumps before attempting anything rash. The game pushes me to learn which monsters are where, plan out which weapons I’ll need and when, and even set up my aiming and retreat strategy ahead of time.

At the end of the day, I find myself playing Saturn Quake almost like a methodical horror game rather than the fast-paced, action-packed murderfest as originally intended. I know this all sounds like a decisively un-Quake way to play Quake and honestly, I’m okay with it.

Although Saturn Quake is far from a butter-smooth frag fest, turns out it plays just fine as a tactical grenade-chucking simulator.


fatherkrishna said...

Superb article Brian! Good to see your wisdom imparted in blog form! I have to say this has whetted my appetite for a good old Quake session this weekend!

Blondejon said...

I remember when it launched, i mean, after the doom travesty i had little hope for this game and yet it delivered an amazing experience that would have cost me a £999 PC at the time. I agree that it is a more refined stealthier experience on the saturn than the pc, but none the worse for it.