I can still remember my first schooling in the art of Quake. A young staff writer fresh out of university, I found myself working late one night, and the office Q3DM17 expert offered to give me a run-around and a few tips.
Talk about school of hard knocks. He railed me from a mile away. He railed me while performing mid-air pirouettes. He railed me when all he could see was the pixel on the top of my head. He was a frickin' railgun prodigy, and his name, rather aptly, was Mr Chafe.
Quake Live is basically Quake III Arena playable – thanks to some astounding plugin Gandalfery – in a browser. It runs like a dream, and it's surely a sign of things to come that a razor-edge, competitive FPS that demands sublime net-coding runs in a browser, and still taps your PC's hardware for its needs.
The Quake Live servers are stuffed with Mr Chafes, and it's still a game of frightening speed and precision, but it's immediately plain that id's Tech Engine 3 browser-streamed incarnation of Quake knows the difference between good and amazing players when matchmaking. Even so, in the beginner-grade match-ups you'll meet some extremely skilled combatants.
Dropping into a quick match is easy, and for old hands, there's a warm sense of familiarity to the maps. I leapt straight into The Longest Yard, and found it as insanely frenetic as ever. Every time I took the long jump to the railgun platform, the same player got right up in my grill, trying to place rockets on it just as I landed. We singled each other out repeatedly, and aside from the inevitable interference from other players, sparred riotously for the whole match.
All this is free, but ad-supported, which isn't as intrusive as you might imagine. For a few seconds before a match starts, you're served an ad (Fallout 3: New Vegas at time of writing), then it's gone. You can pay for the game, which disables ads and offers you extra features, but for casual players, there'll be little incentive to upgrade. The free-toplay version is bulging with classic Quake maps, and you can jump into all the match-types you'd expect: free-for-all, capture the flag, team deathmatch, duel and clan arena.
There are two levels of paid subscription – premium and pro, at £1.59 a month and £3.18 a month respectively – and the extra features they offer cater to the clansman. Exclusive maps, frequent content updates, clan creation tools and so forth, you only get with a subscription. Interestingly, you can only create and customise your own games if you pay for the top-tier service. Go free or premium, and you can only join rolling servers. Which for casual players who just fancy a quick blat, is fine.
Quake III Arena was sublime, and that's what this is: sublimity in a browser window. Every match is a white-hot opera of surging gunplay that leaves the crump-and-pew of rockets and rails ringing in your ears for minutes afterwards. It's as immersive and pure an experience as it ever was, and it's even hard to care that the engine is showing its age. Oh, and it's free. What are you doing? Stop reading this now, open a browser window and sign up.