Developers: Aardappel and Eihrul
Genre: First person shooter
Platform: PC (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Cost: Free, open-source
Minimum System Requirements:
Pentium 3 733 MHz
32MB GeForce 2 MX
56K Dial-up for online play
The deathmatch FPS seems like a distant memory in today’s market of cinematic, “realistic” shooters, and it seems to have been nearly forgotten by modern audiences. Some would argue that this style of game is outdated or irrelevant, that we have evolved past it. However, there are those of us that admire the simplicity of deathmatch games and the raw skill that it takes to be good at, let alone master, them. Considering this, I’d like to take a look at a unique open source FPS that combines deathmatch gameplay with an in-game map creation system: Sauerbraten.
Graphics/Look and Feel
Sauerbraten is technically good looking. The graphical capability of the engine is greater than that of Unreal Tournament 2004; with the light bloom, soft shadows, reflections, and dynamic lights, Sauerbraten certainly has all the eye-candy necessary to provide a fun fragging experience. However, good graphical capability means nothing without good art direction and presentation, and this is one area where the game suffers.
Because Sauerbraten is open source, the art assets come from a variety of artists. Maps are created by different authors, and there is no overriding style or game universe for them to adhere to. The gun and player models are also created by various artists. The result is a game that is artistically disjointed; there is very little style or visual direction. This is not to say that the existing art is bad, far from it; it’s just not consistent.
Also, the game’s presentation is rough at best. Upon starting the game, you are plunked directly into a map with only the menu screen open. There is no main menu or splash screen, nothing to welcome the player to the game. Finding a game online can be mildly frustrating, too, since the map editing servers are listed among the gameplay servers. Another annoying thing: the default player model is difficult to see in dark maps and makes it hard to discern friend from foe. It is simple things like this that make the game feel incomplete and inaccessible. Although most of these issues are easily fixable or customizable, first impressions are powerful, and all this can leave a player thinking, “What’s the point?”
The point of Sauerbraten is not the art. It doesn’t need a backstory, it’s a deathmatch game. The point is the gameplay, and this is where Sauerbraten shines. It’s apparent from the moment you fire up the game and move around: the Cube 2 engine is solid. In multiplayer, the netcode is superb. Weapon shots do not lag or freeze, they fire instantaneously, making the combat satisfying and reliable. On a good server, the amount of delay between players is so miniscule that it feels like a LAN.
The gameplay itself is fast and brutal, with powerful weapons and very quick movement. As it is with other games in this genre, the key to staying alive is constant movement and hoarding items. The weapons of Sauerbraten all serve their purposes in different situations, and power-ups such as armor and quad damage give players areas of the map to focus on controlling.
Sauerbraten comes with a variety of single player maps and multiplayer modes. The options for multiplayer include free-for-all, instagib, arena, capture the flag, capture the base, and efficiency, with team variations to most of these. Of course, the big draw of Sauerbraten is its unique in-game cooperative map editing, in which players can join a server and build a map together, switching out of edit mode at will to test their creations. Edit mode is fast and powerful, making it relatively simple to transform ideas into game arenas in a short time span.
Sauerbraten uses the default WASD key setup with the numbers corresponding to weapons. By default, edit mode is bound to the “E” key, placed within easy reach to quickly switch between modes. Keyboard and mouse settings are all configurable, with the ability to any bind key to any action desired. Mouse movement is very crisp and responsive, with no noticeable input delay. In comparison to Quake 3, Sauerbraten’s movement is less “floaty”; you feel more grounded and in control of your character.
Sound is one area where Sauerbraten falters. The groans of pain are downright annoying and the announcements are slurred. In addition, the sound effect for the crossbow is a rifle shot, and jumppads make a comical spring sound that just doesn’t seem to fit. The soundtrack is great, but might not be to everyone’s taste. Other sounds, such as reloads, weapon pickups, and the quad damage hum, are good. Overall, sound in Sauerbraten is a mixed bag.
Sauerbraten sets itself apart from other freeware shooters with its amazing, built-in map editor and custom engine. It’s a great game as well, and one that I’d recommend to any shooter fan; it’s free to play, so what do you have to lose?
Despite all the good aspects of Sauerbraten, it’s easy to imagine how new players could come into it and be completely underwhelmed. The problems it has with presentation and art, however, are easily fixable, and the game is constantly being improved upon. If you can get past the hodgepodge of art and the rough edges, you’ll find a superb engine and fun game underneath. It’s not the type of game that appeals to everyone, but those who love Quake-style games should not pass it up. The gameplay is simple to learn, hard to master, satisfying, and addictive; it’s the kind of game that keeps you saying “one more match” until four in the morning.