The arrival of id Software’s Quake 2 in 1997 came at a strange time for the gaming industry, PC gaming in particular. Essentially a reboot of the DOOM developer’s still new Quake franchise, it would eschew virtually everything in the original game for a narratively tighter, more focused single-player experience and expanded multiplayer. Monumental promises were made at the time, and Quake 2 was also among the first games designed with upgradable visuals in mind.
A big problem was how this future-thinking locked out so many. PC gaming was still out of reach for most gamers aching for fraggin, to say nothing of the primitive state of expansion cards at the time. Console gamers would have to settle for either Nintendo64 or PlayStation versions of the game, both admirable efforts yet seriously compromised in every way.
Enter Quake 2 Remastered, a stunning version of the original game lovingly crafted by Nightdive Studios (Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus), the same team responsible for 2021’s equally impressive remaster of the original Quake. They’ve gone even further here, improving the game where it counts, adding tons of content both old and new, and so much, much more. How wonderful in 2023 it’s possible to enjoy superior versions of a game that largely holds up on its own merits, yet benefits greatly from some TLC from people who truly seem to care about the source material.
A full explanation of everything this game has to offer would look like a Wiki page, so for sanity’s sake I’ll just focus on the best parts that make Quake 2 Remastered not just an incredible repackage of the original game but also a relevant and exciting experience that’s just as enjoyable now as ever, if not more so.
You’ll have instant access to the original Quake 2 campaign, as well as The Reckoning and Ground Zero expansions, Quake 2 64, and Call of the Machine, an all-new campaign designed just for this release. Even better, the campaigns hold up shockingly well, which is fortunate given the resurgence in “boomer shooters” we’ve seen lately. You’ll still battle the evil Strog and their horrible cybernetic monstrosities, blasting endless abominations with a variety of familiar weapons. And you’ll do all this while rocking to the gloriously metal soundtrack by Sonic Mayhem (with help from Bill Brown, Jer Sypult, and even Rob Zombie).
While the fundamental Quake 2 experience is the same there are a host of upgrades to the experience that help make it a smoother, more enjoyable game. The visuals have been tweaked slightly and upgraded, including muzzle flashes on weapons, enhanced character/weapon models, dynamic shadows and background lighting (which look awesome), and improved level geometry. Enemies now sport smarter, deadlier AI (they’ll give chase, so watch yourself). Even the chunky FMVs have been completely re-rendered.
Next-gen consoles and PCs support 4K 120 FPS at 120hz, but every version looks amazing and runs like butter. Console users can even play using USB mouse/keyboards and PlayStation and Switch versions support gyro-aiming if that’s your thing. Rather than intrusive, these changes help fulfill the original intent of the developers, effectively completing a game left unfinished 26 years ago. But will Quake 2 ever truly be “finished”?
As they did with 2021’s stunning Quake Remastered, MachineGames returns with “Call of the Machine”, an entirely new campaign crafted just for this release, and it’s a doozy. It’s a massive, hub-based experience that takes full advantage of the newer tech available yet still retains the classic Quake 2 look and feel. There’s so much carnage happening on screen, each level so huge and dynamic, with so many enemies ready to be exploded…Quake 2 at last feels like the true successor to OG DOOM many (perhaps unfairly) assumed it would be. Honestly, Bethesda could have sold this expansion on its own and it would have been worth the price alone.
Given Nightdive Studios’ (Turok 2, DOOM 64) polishing ancient Nintendo64 games it’s not surprising to see them resurrect the version of Quake 2 that appeared on Nintendo’s 64-bitter back in 1998. Developed by Raster Productions, it was an entirely new beast built specifically for the platform (fun fact: it used a modified version of the original Quake engine – no crouching here) with an exclusive soundtrack by Aubrey Hodges (DOOM 64).
Levels are shorter and more self-contained but that doesn’t make them any less exciting or satisfying. If anything, playing through this substantially better version makes one appreciate the port’s original design and gameplay options even more, especially as you’re now able to control it properly. If anything, the remaster makes Quake 2 64 feel almost as new as the “Call of the Machine” campaign. It almost makes you wonder what they could have done for the PS1 version of the game.
Small changes to the visuals aren’t the only additions. There’s a host of accessibility features that give Quake 2 some quality of life enhancements that help modernize the experience. Chief among them are the new weapon wheel (which slows down the gameplay when playing the campaigns, ala the DOOM reboots) and the item wheel that now lets you easily use your power enhancements quickly. This wheel also includes an incredibly helpful compass that lets you see digital breadcrumbs letting you know where to go if you get lost.
Don’t like these new accessibility features? You don’t have to use them. Options are great, and Quake 2 Remastered lets you play exactly like you want to play.
Also included is the id Vault, a section packed with tons of bonus goodies documenting the game’s development, including early looks, cut content, sketches, descriptions of everything, even video of an early build. How about a playable demo straight from E3 1997? It’s always great to see such respect paid to game preservation
For many, the real meat and potatoes of Quake 2 has always been, and will always be, it’s intense multiplayer. Quake 2 was a foundationally important game in this area, and while vets may think the available options seem quaint by modern standards all your favorite classics like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are here for the taking things online or local with splitscreen, LAN, ad hoc, and more.
This includes online fragging AND full co-op through any and all of the game’s available campaigns. Even better, you get full crossplay across every platform it’s available on. PlayStation vs. Switch? PC vs. Xbox? You got all this and more. How many blockbuster AAA games offer even a fraction of this crossplatform goodness?
Even offline multiplayer is overflowing with options, especially if you love splitscreen fragging as every version supports at least 4-players of same-screen mayhem. The PC and Xbox Series X /S versions support a staggering 8 players simultaneously on the same screen. That’s a little too much madness for my blood, but if your screen is big enough (and you’ve got enough cardboard, wink, wink) you should be good here. Go nuts!
There has been some chatter from the Quake faithful about what this remaster doesn’t have, such as access to Nvidia’s recent glossy RTX upgrade, support for mods, etc. For a game with nearly 30 years of post-launch support I suppose you can’t have everything in one package, but it’s fair to say that Quake 2 has never looked, played, or been this flexible out of the box than it has here.
Quake 2 Remastered feels definitive, not just in how it presents id Software’s original game, but in how it creates a new high standard by which future remasters of classic games should be judged. The campaigns hold up, scratching a very particular itch modern cinematic shooters just can’t. There’s an embarrassment of incredible content here, both old and new, handled with such care and dignity for the source material it borders on reverence. You also can’t beat the price. How is it possible that a remastered 26 year-old game can honestly be considered a Best-Of contender in the same year with Tears of the Kingdom, Street Fighter VI, or Baldur’s Gate 3?