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Hands-on: Quake Live

Let's face it: id Software could charge for Quake Live if they wanted to. For a game that was first released in the now-fossilized year of 1999, Quake III: Arena is still the crux of many competitions, user-created mods, and casual LAN parties. Yes, id could charge $20, $50, or even a monthly subscription fee, and most Quake-aholics would gladly submit their dollars into John Carmack's overflowing bank account.

They could make you pay -- but they won't. After Quake Live wraps up its beta phase, the browser-based re-release of id's 1999 multiplayer opus will be available free of charge for anyone with a web browser and an itchy trigger clicker. Big Download recently delved into the Quake Live beta to sift out the new from the classic, and to relive a cherished FPS that the world will continue to enjoy for years to come.

After creating a free account, Quake Live requires the installation of a simple plug-in. Once it has been installed, the game can be launched from most available web browsers. From there, the core game installs in the background while you're given time to choose your character skin -- I still prefer the Hell slime-coated boots of the DOOM space marine -- and tweak other settings such as controls, audio, and the color of your railgun beams.

The screen resolution options are plentiful, and offer many more options than the original Quake III. Those who simply wish to run the game in a browser window may do so, but bordering Quake Live's frenetic fragging with Start buttons, taskbars, and Firefox bookmarks doesn't exactly provide stellar ambiance. My gaming PC is connected to a 50-inch plasma HDTV, so 1920x1280 was my resolution of choice, and it did not disappoint.

Once your key bindings, character name, skin, and other settings are set to your liking, you're given the option to partake in a training session while the game continues its rather laborious installation. Quake III veterans will find themselves face-to-face with crash, the original game's first opponent. The opening tutorial, in which Crash introduces you to mysterious items such as weapons, health, ammo and armor, will be quite dull for anyone who has ever so much as touched an FPS. But what else are you going to do while the installation finishes? Run around, frag Crash, and wallow in your shallowness as your marvel at how sexy Quake Live looks.

Rather than deviate too far from Quake III's original aesthetics, everything has been buffed and waxed to give the game a fresh-off-the-lot shine. Environments, character models, weapons, and the scars left by wildly lightning gun emissions are still distinctly 1999, but have the polish of any acceptable re-release.

Once I had put Crash in her place, I was taken to the Quake Live main page. Acting as the game's main hub, the main page is where players can tweak any settings, browse for multiplayer sessions, connect with friends, and post on forums via tabs lining the top of the page.

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