Quake II Remastered review: Black sheep shorn

Nightdive Studios applies its Midas touch to Quake II, resulting in one of the best FPS packages of 2023.


Quake 2 has been the black sheep of the franchise practically since its release in 1997. The original Quake strayed far from the initial design set by id co-founder John Romero and shipped as an assortment of Lovecraftian-themed maps and military installations. Many fans loved the ambience of its single-player campaign and were disappointed, confused, or both when the sequel bore no resemblance to the original, the same jolt many fans of the original Zelda felt the first time they played Zelda II.

That incongruence was born out of frustration: id Software intended to create a new IP, but every combination of words they chose were trademarked. In the end, the developers threw up their hands and slapped “Quake II” on the box. Those who accepted Quake II for what it was, however, found themselves immersed in a cohesive world where every enemy, power-up, and map were parts of a whole.

Players are finally coming around on Quake II, and Nightdive Studios deserves much of the credit. The developers remastered Quake to fantastic results in 2021, and the studio did Quake II justice with this year’s remaster.

Quake II’s world is cohesive, and so is Nightdive’s excellent remaster. It collects the base game, both expansion packs, a new expansion campaign, and the Nintendo 64 version of Quake II, which, unlike PS1’s port, featured a brand-new campaign set in the same universe. Nightdive also made dozens of quality-of-life improvements and subtle design changes. In 1997, the Strogg of planet Stroggos exhibited standout AI for the time by crouching occasionally to avoid your attacks. Nightdive went in and expanded their AI to make them a greater threat; enemies can crouch, strafe, dodge to either side, and leap at you to close distances. Even with these tweaks, each battle is still weighted in your favor. This is a power fantasy, and Nightdive understands that.

One reason Nightdive has gained a reputation as the foremost studio for FPS remasters (and perhaps remakes, with this year’s brilliant reimagining of Looking Glass Studios’ System Shock from ’94) is their ability to improve games without breaking what made them immersive in their day. Quake II for Nintendo 64 is the best example of this. The original cartridge showed off lighting, for instance, made possible by the N64 hardware. That lighting is retained in Nightdive’s package, preserving one element that made the 64-bit version so beloved.

Call of the Machine, the new campaign designed by MachineGames—which also developed new content from Nightdive’s Quake remaster—provides a unique take on Quake II’s formula. The original game couldn’t bombard you with hordes of enemies because the processors and 3D accelerator cards of the time could only crunch so many polygons. Today’s hardware has no such limitations, and Call of the Machine celebrates that by throwing packs of Strogg at you across 28 brand-new levels. It’s a different type of challenge, and that’s exciting: You can play Quake II, its expansions, and the N64 versions the way they were meant to be played, and then fire up Call of the Machine to get a different take on the game’s enemies, weapons, and environments.

If Quake II has any drawback, it’s that the original campaign overstays its welcome by an hour or two. It was made in an era when games were expected to ship with 15- to 20-hour campaigns, and as much as I enjoyed revisiting Stroggos, the gameplay loop grew stale by the time I was a few maps out from finishing the campaign. With that said, I was as impressed by the composition of the campaign in 2023 as I was in 1997. Before Unreal and Half-Life stole its thunder, Quake II was one of the first, if not the first FPS to connect levels seamlessly. Traversing its levels made you feel like you were exploring a world, not moving from one discrete video game map to another.

Nightdive’s Quake II remaster is one of the best values in a year overflowing with fantastic games. It appeals to veterans who played the original, and all the customization bells and whistles make it welcoming to players who want to experience it for the first time.

This review was written based on digital downloads purchased by the reviewer.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

Review for
Quake 2
  • Ultimate collection of Quake II ports and expansions
  • New campaign by MachineGames presents new ways to approach Quake II enemies and environments
  • N64 port retains unique levels and lighting
  • Loads of quality-of-life improvements across all versions
  • Base campaign overstays its welcome
From The Chatty
  • reply
    December 20, 2023 5:00 AM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Quake II Remastered review: Black sheep shorn

    • reply
      December 20, 2023 5:34 AM

      I really appreciate that Quake II got a respectful remaster. I spent a ton of time with it when I was in high school, mostly with mods and making my own maps. And then Half Life came out and I've never played Q2 again.

      I bet I'd enjoy it again - the upgrades and smoothness of the remaster might help paper over the age of Quake II.

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        December 20, 2023 5:54 AM

        Quake 2 single-player does not hold up. Despite the iconic enemy design, killer soundtrack, and trail-blazing game engine, the actual game is just painfully boring to play. And it's not due to age, it's due to design. DOOM is still fun to play. Quake 2 is not.

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          December 20, 2023 6:08 AM

          I wasn't a huge fan of Q2 when it came out, but this remaster fixes enough things to make it fresh and more playable than ever. The AI changes, improvements to some of the weapons, and most of all the compass that shows a trail of icons to the next objective really make it a fun experience.

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          December 20, 2023 6:09 AM

          yeah, I can't even remember i played QII single player at all (although I know I did) , but I have so many memories from QII Threewave CTF ! we had almost every evening intra office bouts after working hours. Used the speakerphones as a crude communication device within each team. So much fun.

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          December 20, 2023 9:51 AM

          I mean, it was released nearly adjacent to Half-Life, so… yeah, it looks pretty silly by comparison. But id games were never really great about their single player.

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          December 20, 2023 3:37 PM

          Yea. It’s pretty boring. I can still play Doom or Quake any time. Quake 2 is a slog. I tried to replay it recently and just couldn’t.

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          December 20, 2023 4:50 PM

          Its a bad game, always was! Mods are the only reason it was ever relevant, and Half-Life eventually ended up taking the mod crown.

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          December 20, 2023 8:50 PM

          Daiktana is Unreal by comparison

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        December 20, 2023 6:10 AM

        I loved your Quake 1 Codex articles, an awesome trip down memory lane.

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        December 20, 2023 6:19 AM

        According to my steam year summary it was the second most played game of the year for me and honestly it still kinda sucks donkey dick despite the remaster being a great preservation and overall effort. I loved the playable e3 builds that were weirdly enough hidden away in some sub menu but the new episode kinda highlighted that the mechanics of the game couldn't carry it. Doom and quake just aged remarkably well because the movement and gunplay, level design etc are so good where q2 has fundamental issues.

        I love that they did this, great year with shit like karateka, remakes of metroid/re4/system shock.

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          December 20, 2023 6:29 AM

          To elaborate (per copy and paste because I have decades of wall of text talking shit about quake 2)

          Imo Quake 2 had massive issues with its weapons.

          The rate of fire/damage output is abysmal for most of them and they all have some quirk that is meant to balance them but in the end makes them unfun to use. It would maybe work out if the monsters weren't so hitscan heavy, grenade spamming or damage sponges or the movement was not so janky/slow compare to quake1.

          The rocketlauncher was rightfully mocked as a sausage launcher for a reason, the mg had a really annoying spread (was removed in the remaster), the grenade physics were terrible all around /for launcher as well as handgrenade. Everything takes forever to reload, the chaingun/blaster are kinda redundant being the same thing only with different ammo (the spinup wastes unnecessary ammunition and the baster projectiles are so fast that it might as well be hitscan).

          I like the rail, but it also fucking sucks in multiplayer for a magnitude of reasons (that they tried to balance around in quake 3).

          Quake 2 strikes the impossible balance of making projectiles too slow on the rl, too fast on the blaster,the reloads too long on the shotgun, the gravity/physics on the grenade launcher so bad that you don't want to use it at all etc

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            December 20, 2023 8:36 AM

            I agree about the weapons. That combined with some really tanky enemies made them feel even less powerful. Playing the Q2 remaster was my first playthrough and I didn't enjoy it near as much as the Q1 remaster.

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            December 20, 2023 10:03 AM

            Great assessment. The weapon responsiveness is the biggest fundamental flaw of the game, imo. In a shooter, it's paramount that every click of the mouse elicits joy. DOOM got it right. Quake 1 mostly got it right. And then Quake 2 just totally whiffed on every weapon. Baffling.

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            December 20, 2023 10:36 AM

            In a perverse way, we owe Q2's crappy weapons for the delight of Counterstrike 2. In this thesis I will...

            The Q2 mod Action Quake 2 was a direct response to many of your complaints about the awfulness of the weapon balance and feel in the base game. Part of the AQ2 mod team was Minh Le - he basically did all the guns. Le went on to develop Counterstrike nearly singlehandedly, with much of the weapon feel of AQ2 intact.

            So Q2's shittiness begat Counterstrike, from a certain point of view.

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            December 20, 2023 11:08 AM

            Yep. The Q2 rocket launcher is so bad. Ironically I love using the Q2 RL skin in quake champs because it looks and sounds great but now has a good speed and feel

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            December 20, 2023 2:28 PM

            They wayyyyyyyyyyyy overcompensated for how fast and snowbally the original was, where a marginal difference in skill between high level players could result in a total blowout.

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              December 20, 2023 2:28 PM

              Its basically the same thing that happened with Smash Bros going from Melee to Brawl

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              December 20, 2023 2:37 PM

              There was a huge snowball effect but I’m not sure that was necessarily related to the fast gameplay. A lot of it was really a result of the rocket launcher and to a lesser extent the lightning gun being totally overpowering compared to everything else, and so a player could grab those and then proceed to run loops to deny those weapons to the enemies while also getting hugely stacked on health and armor.

              The pace was a part of it for sure but establishing resource dominance was a bigger part.

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                December 20, 2023 3:15 PM

                Maybe I should have spelled it out but the snowball effect was clearly due to the dominance of the RL/LG over every other weapon in the game. If you had the run of those spawns, everything else being equal, then it was over.

                Speed is one component for sure, otherwise they wouldn't have slowed the game down so much, but the flattening out of time to kill between weapons was also a big thing they did.

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      December 20, 2023 5:36 AM

      It's so good!

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      December 20, 2023 6:09 AM

      This is excellent, thank you!

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      December 20, 2023 7:36 AM

      Thanks for this!

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      December 20, 2023 11:09 AM

      Is this included with Q2 in Steam, or is it a separate thing? Would be fun to try it on Steam Deck

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      December 20, 2023 4:41 PM

      That title is good enough I'm surprised I haven't seen variations on it before.

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