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Part One

2. Repair the Bridge

For the guys at Shoot Club who haven’t played Valley a million and twelve times (i.e. everyone but me and Trevor), I’ve just conducted a brief tutorial. I had to pry the guys away from YouTube videos, a nascent boardgaming session that would have lasted four hours and Halo 3 splitscreen co-op. I used the excuse that we had to play Quake Wars for my review. Which was true at one time. I simply neglected to mention that the review had already been written and turned it (in case you’re wondering: 85%; The Good: Sweet graphics, Fun gameplay; The Bad: Not enough maps, Generic splashscreen music).

Once I had their attention, I had to move fast before I lost them again. I explained all the basics and was telling them about deployables when they started getting restless. It began with Jude checking the time, which is harder to do surreptitiously if you’re not wearing a watch and instead have to extract your cell phone from your hip pocket. Then Douglas slid into the seat at one of the other computers and starting randomly shooting. While I was explaining the respawn timer, he asked me how to reload, as if the button to reload is ever anything but ‘r’. I told him it was ctl-shift-F9, which kept him busy for a while.

I can’t really blame them. They don’t want to come to Shoot Club to learn new games. They’re not like me and Trevor. They’re happy to stick with one or two games at a time. Some of them still want to play retro classics like Aliens vs. Predator 2, Unreal Tournament 2003, or Command & Conquer 3. But me and Trevor want to play whatever’s just come out, and then we want to move on to whatever’s coming out next. We’re surfing a wave of new releases, and right now Quake Wars is the big Kahuna.

“Anyway, when you deploy something, just read this text on the left of the screen,” I said quickly. “It’ll explain it. Okay, let’s go. It’s the six of us against ten bots. Ready?”

“Wait,” Jude said, “That’s not very fair. We’re just learning the game. The bots already know how to play. Why don’t we just play against six of them?” Ah, so not only was he listening, but he cared about how the game went! That was a good sign. It’s the ones who don’t say anything you have to watch out for. Apathy at Shoot Club is infectious and often fatal.

“Don’t’ worry, they’re set to stupid.”

Unfortunately, the problem with the bots being set to stupid is that they’re not making any progress. I figured the guys would like the D-Day vibe of the map called Volcano. We’re perched in bunkers looking out over a beach. The Strogg plunge down from the sky (it’s worth wondering why they plunge down directly in front of the bunkers rather than behind them) and then run up the beach at us. As soon as we start shooting, they stop and return poorly aimed fire. It’s like shooting Strogg in a barrel.

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I briefly considered switching sides so we’d have to run up the beach and assault the bunkers, but I didn’t want to confuse the guys by giving them Strogg classes and weapons. Everyone knows what a soldier and rocket launcher are. But you have to play Quake Wars a bit before you figure out the difference between an Oppressor and an Obliterator.

So now me and Trevor are in the bunker on the right. I’m a soldier with a heavy machine gun and he’s a medic, lying prone at my feet. He heals and defibrillates me as needed. Which, considering how poorly the bots aim, isn’t very often.

“How much did you pay for the Radiohead album?” he asks while I pick off a few Strogg. I’m leaving most of them for the rest of the guys in the other two bunkers.

“Why? How much did you pay?”

“You go first.”

“I paid fifteen dollars.”

“You’re such a liar.”

“Okay, I paid five. How much did you pay?”

“I didn’t. Yet.”

“You haven’t downloaded it yet?”

“I haven’t paid yet. I’m waiting to decide how good it is.”

“That’s not how it works. You don’t get to not pay if you don’t like it.”

“What are you talking about? There are no rules. I’m making my own rules. If I don’t like it, I won’t pay.”

“And if you do like it, you’ll pay extra?”

“Maybe. Did you really pay five dollars?”

“Not yet.”

“I wonder why they don’t do that with games. Someone should just make a game and put it online and let people try it before they pay. I wonder how come no one ever thought of that?”

“Hey, who’s that down there?” In the distance, I see a GDF player running around on the beach. He’s jumping and shooting wildly, circling around the spawning Strogg like a sheepdog. I put my reticle on him: Jude. “Jude, get back up here,” I call into the other room, where he’s sitting at one of the computers. “This is supposed to be like D-Day. You don’t go down to the beach.”

“I told him he was doing it wrong,” Mike offers. Mike, who sucks at all games, has four xp.

“Hey, who’s Pink Taco?” Jude hollers. “Quit fucking team killing me.”

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“I’m guessing Pink Taco is Douglas.”

“Heh, get it?” Douglas says. “Pink Taco.”

“Quit teamkilling me,” Jude yells. “I’m not forgiving you, you know. The game asks, and I tell it, ‘No, I’m not going to forgive him’. That’s going on your record. I hope the server kicks you.”

“I’m calling artillery fire on the beach,” Douglas says. “If you’d quit running around down there, you wouldn’t be getting hit.” Douglas is, for once, not being a jerk.

“Jude, stop doing it wrong,” Mike adds.

“Just watch out for the red circle when Douglas calls artillery,” I point out. I hadn’t gotten that far in my tutorial. “It shows up on your minimap.”

“Oh, I thought that was the objective. That’s why I’m down here.”

Once we’ve spent twenty minutes shooting Strogg on the beach, Jude has racked up 119xp. Douglas has four teamkills, all of them Jude. Trevor is listed as the Best Medic. He is also the only medic. Mike has earned 7xp and wins the Newbie of the Battle Award. He also has an Accuracy of 0%.

“How can you have an accuracy of 0%,” Jude asks. “Did you not hit a single fucking thing?”

Mike isn’t sure whether he hit anything. I suggest he was probably doing just fine laying down suppressing fire. I instinctively feel the need to stick up for the guys who aren’t very good. I have flashbacks to gym class and getting chosen last when teams were picked. Well, next to last. There was always that one fat girl after me.

I change us over to Outskirts, which is one of my favorite maps, and not just because it’s a slam on New Jersey. I also boost the Strogg combat skill from Easy to Medium. That should make things a bit more competitive. Unfortunately, given that there are six of us and ten of them, the battle for Outskirts turns out to be like Verdun, but with respawning. We constantly throw ourselves at the barricade. We’re constantly shot to death. Mike gets lost, wanders off the map, and is executed.

“Quake Wars sucks,” one of them says after dying again. Uh-oh. Dissent. Which is worst than apathy. Dissent can lead to full scale mutiny. I have to move quickly, or Quake Wars might end up in the Shoot Club Dustbin of Games the Other Guys Didn’t Get, next to Sacrifice, World in Conflict, and Psychonauts.

“Okay, I think you guys are ready for the real game,” I announce. “We’re playing teams. Three vs. three, with three bots on each team. Ready? This the real deal.” Of course, I can tell what everyone’s thinking: Whose team is Mike on?

To be continued…

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Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club appears in this space every Thursday.

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