Daikatana is better than Quake II


Yes, it really is.

And it’s quite a nice game in general. At least the PC version. A bit raw to start, but with a couple of easy tweaks you can achieve a very pleasant gaming experience.

This is a rather long article. If you just want to get the bottom line, go to the last page for a quick summary in Q&A format.


The administrators in the Doomworld forums used to have a funny hobby: sometimes users who said something, which was considered extremely stupid, would get that quote  as their custom title. Things like “How do I get the red key on MAP02?” (you’ll understand if you played DOOM II). Since titles appear in every post, and since regular users could not change them, these jokes would stick for as long as the administrators wanted it, presumably to embarrassment the user and entertain the community. All in good spirit. Usually.

At one point, one of the frequent posters had the title of this page set as his custom title. Apparently, everyone but him, forum administration included, thought the very idea that such a claim can be true completely and utterly preposterous.

This was hardly surprising. Quake II came out in 1997, and like every id Software first-person shooter until then used the same successful game formula on top of a new shiny 3D engine. It received critical acclaim. Daikatana came out in 2000, 2.5 years after the promised release date, using the already outdated at the time Quake II engine, over-hyped and under-delivering, and packing a few game-breaking bugs and “features”. It was completely destroyed by all the reviews, and went down as one of the biggest flops in video game history. The Dallas branch of Ion Storm, who developed the game, soon followed.

Many years later, I recalled that episode in the forums, and decided, out of curiosity, or boredom, or my own funny hobby of checking certain apparently preposterous claims, to actually play both games, and form my own opinion. It so happened, that during the period when these games were released my interest in first person shooters was at its lowest, so I did not play any of them when I was “supposed to”. I figured that it can be turned into an advantage – now, much later, I get to play the games and experience them for what they are, and not what they were back then, not influenced by contemporary trends and the like. In other words, I get to see how the games weathered the test of time. Being a person who likes his oldies, replays them frequently, and does not need cutting-edge graphics to enjoy a game, I believed that I the games’ obvious technical deficiencies compared to modern titles would not bother me.

So I got the GoG versions of both games, updated and patched, and all ready to run on a modern PC (BTW, GoG is amazing, and I encourage everyone to buy from them and support them!), and got ready to play.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/82/Daikatanabox.jpg      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b5/Quake2box.jpg

The purpose of the experiment

Primarily, it’s about Daikatana. With a game as infamous as this, every once in a while, someone tries to retrospect into it, to check whether it’s really as bad as it was said. Certainly several such have been done about Daikatana. What I aimed to do different was:

  • Look at the game only from the angle of how fun it is to play nowadays, ignoring aspects like how long it was in development, how it was marketed, how it fared compared to expectations, how it compared to other contemporary titles, how much it cost back then, and how bug-free the initial release was. All of these things are important to consider when reviewing a freshly released game, and it would be wrong to ignore them. However, in a retrospective review, I feel that the right thing is to focus only on the gameplay.
  • Try to put things in perspective by directly comparing Daikatana to another, well-known game, which is considered good. Quake II is a fine example, because Daikatana uses the same engine, so at least in technical terms it would be “apples to apples”, which would not be the case if I compared it to, say, Wolfenstein 3D, or DOOM 3. In 2000, it was logical to compare it not to Quake II, but to other, newer games, such as Unreal and Half-Life. But with all these games being equally “ancient” at this point, the exact release date does not matter anymore. Besides, the preposterous claim I set out to disprove or verify was specifically about comparing Daikatana to Quake II.

My focus was on the single-player aspect only, since I am not into multi-player. I also address only the PC versions, since these are what I played (I rarely play games except on the PC). There exists a Nintendo 64 version of Daikatana, which is in many ways different, and by most accounts worse (although I did not verify it). I consider it a whole different game altogether, beyond the scope of this article.

How I played

Even though I did not play either game before, I read and heard quite a bit about them, before I started this “experiment”. I was aware of the things that were considered the key faults of Daikatana, and wanted to work around them as much as possible. This meant using the latest patches, which fix many bugs and add important features, such as unlimited saves (there is no added value in playing the raw original release nowadays, unless your goal is to suffer). It also meant tweaking the default settings in some places. I was surprised how poorly chosen some defaults seemed to be, and how tremendously better the game feels after changing them.

For Quake II, things were simpler, because there are no terrible game-breaking flaws, and the default settings seem reasonable. Naturally, I played the latest version which comes with the GoG release, because there is little reason to play anything else on a modern PC. Just tweak all the graphics to the max (the same is true for Daikatana), and enjoy.

Getting the optimal gaming experience in Daikatana

First of all, you should play the latest official version at minimum (1.2, which is included in the GoG release). It fixes quite a few bugs and glitches. It also enables unlimited saves (technically since 1.1), which is a must-have.

The game can be further improved by applying community patch 1.3 on top of 1.2. Among the important things it adds is widescreen resolution support, ability to disable sidekicks in single player (while keeping the cutscenes), and higher quality textures. It also fixes some (not all) bugs in the maps and in the sidekicks path nodes (if you choose to play with them), as well the tick bug (which causes very slow loading screens if VSync is enabled). If you prefer to stick to official versions, though, the game is still very playable with 1.2, but you may need to apply slightly different tweaks.

There is a very good guide by Dekonega on the Steam forums explaining how to configure Daikatana for optimal experience. For me, the key points were:

  • Avoid the slow loading bar issue by disabling VSync (on v1.2) or using v1.3.
  • Set the music volume to 100% (if you like background music, which in my opinion, is an important part of these old games). The default of 30% is almost inaudible.
  • Enable unlimited saves. Daikatana‘s attempt to deviate from the standard of shooters, that allow saving at any time, was a bad decision from the start, and it was recognized and patched fairly quickly. If you want the challenge, you don’t have to save, but you don’t need the game artificially limiting your abilities.
  • Increase the “Intensity” in the graphics parameters. This affects the brightness much more than the “Brightness”. On any modern LCD the game’s default setting will probably be too dark. You will miss a lot of graphical detail and won’t even realized you missed it. You will struggle trying to find paths and items that should be obvious. My preferred setting was Brightness of 80%, and Intensity of 5, but it can vary slightly, depending on your LCD, your environment, and your personally preferred brightness. If you set the Intensity too high, the colors will be too bright and washed out, which is also bad.

daikatana 2016-01-16 21-45-54-36

Daikatana‘s Sidekicks

The biggest question for me was – do I play Daikatana with sidekicks (Superfly and Mikiko) or without them? The game is clearly intended to be played with them; they play a central part in the storyline, the cutscenes feature dialog between them and the main character (Hiro), and this is definitely how the developers meant you to play the game: their presence was from the start announced as one of the key elements of Daikatana. Unfortunately, it is also the game’s biggest downfall: the AI for the sidekicks is just not good enough, and instead of playing the roles of trusted companions, they are usually a nuisance which you have to babysit, making progress through the game slower and harder.

There are two ways to play without the sidekicks. The first is to start a “cooperative” game without any extra players (as opposed to single-player). This eliminates not just the sidekicks, but also all the storyline (no cutscenes, no dialog). The second way is to use patch 1.3 which has a feature to disable them in-game (but they are still present in the cutscenes).

In the end I decided that I must try both with sidekicks and without them to really understand the feeling and how big of an issue they really are. So for the purpose of this experiment I played Daikatana twice, beginning to end. First time with the sidekicks, as I was supposed to. Then I played Quake II, start to finish, and then played Daikatana again, this time solo. By the end of this, I got a pretty good feel of both games, enough to form my own opinion.


4 thoughts on “Daikatana is better than Quake II”

  1. Interesting – I have never played much of Daikatana since the “FrogDemo” was enough to scare me off. But after having watched a few videos on youtube it appeared rather interesting and somewhat intriguing. Being a “fan” of arcade-like games I never made the effort to enjoy it myself though.
    Regarding the press and “uh… what a catastrophe”…
    I think many people in the industry and fan base secretly disliked Romero for being a tremendously successful & cheecky bastard and finally got their chance to strike him where it hurt most… all of his “I have the chance to make the perfect game and boy I will” finally formed an imaginary gauntlet that the media/fans drove up hard his “pompous” anus. And yes, I have to admit I would have preferred him working on some 32 map addon for DoomII instead of birthing this, now “legendary”, brainchild.

    As for Quake II…
    it’s similar to Quake I – good in single player but only starts shining in multiplayer where I would hand both an average of 95%(Quake II only in conjunction with the DM map “The Edge” though).
    It was unfortunately the product that ushered in the era of a more modern, streamlined and boring id that was not as tight as it used to be. I always had the impression that Tim Willits was inept in reproducing any of the magic that made Romero’/Petersen’s stuff uniquely enjoyable. But the decay is of course more complex as it relies on more parameters than a single mapper/designer.
    I whole heartedly agree with the perceived annoyance when wading through the maps – the dreadful back tracking did not help a single bit of course. “Forced” is THE word that comes to mind when playing QuakeII’s Single Player campaign.
    Instead of staying with their forte -brutally hilarious marathons through abstractly alluring worlds(where exploring a world’s “back alleys” would fill one with blissful glee)- they abandoned it for something “more gorwn up” that fit the “industry”.

  2. Very good review! I just downloaded Daikatana and had it fully patched v1.3 with all paks.
    I cranked up the settings and went in with a blank mind. Last time I played this was in year 2000 at a Gateway store and the demo was ,meh.
    Fast forward to today Oct 2019 and I wish I would of played this and really enjoyed my Voodoo 5 one last time. The game should of started with the other levels but hey, its his game. The first level reminded me of Slave Zero so much so I enjoyed it. It was long but great. Thanks.

  3. Sounds like you’re trying to defend the contrarian position for sake of being contrarian. You listed a ton of faults with Daikatana. For somebody supposed to be defending why that is the better game, you sure gave me the impression it’s a disgusting mess, even if it had some great ambitions. Unpatched, as released, it’s got a dated engine and visuals, a pointless RPG-upgrade system (Didn’t Deus Ex come out around the same time? Now that’s mixing FPS and RPG right. Or System Shock 2.). Laughably broken a.i. and lack of saves that it takes community patches years later to still only just mostly fix. Third-rate children’s cartoon levels of storytelling, cutscenes you wanted to skip, and an entire first episode which you said was bad. I haven’t even played the game. I got all of this from your review.

    Quake II in contrast you can’t name a single fault, because well, duh, it doesn’t have any. It’s a flawless game, and one of my personal favorites of all time. In fact, I like to call my favorite FPS of all time, even though I do play Doom/Doom II a lot more. Sure, Half-Life is great, and certainly when it came out the better game by far. However, much of Half-Life’s wow factor comes from the complex level design and puzzles, whereas the actual combat, while good, is somewhat secondary. Quake II has the abstract 3D level design of Quake, but with the sci-fi base theme of Doom Episode 1, and such a sweet kickass soundtrack. It’s non-linear design not just within levels, but between levels too. You go back and forth to levels you’ve already beaten and open up something new there you couldn’t access the first time. That’s brilliant, and it’s such a rare thing to see that it still amazed me when I played it for the first time, which was decades after it came out. Yet, I don’t have to think too hard about puzzles or soak in the level design, so I can just enjoy the non-stop action, unlike Half-Life.

    P.S. You start by saying, “It’s not ‘so-so,’ not ‘almost-good,’ not ‘not so bad,’ but really ‘good’.” Then later in the page you yourself say, it’s “not so bad,” directly contradicting yourself. It’s like you’re trying to find the good in Daikatana because you know and we all know it was a disaster, but with Quake II you’re downplaying its successes because everybody knows it’s a legendary FPS.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I understand it feels weird to read a “less than glorifying” opinion on what you consider your favorite game. Rest assured that if I bothered to write what I wrote, it is only because I truly enjoyed Daikatana more than I enjoyed Quake II, and thus to me it is the better game, no doubt about it.

      Strange that you missed the parts where I explicitly mentioned the flaws of Quake II, but to sum them up – they are really just one big flaw – it is repetitive, monotonous, bland and boring to death. For me, this kills a game, and no level of technical excellence can save it.

      If I want to play a mindless slugfest (which I sometimes do), I would much rather play DOOM and its sequels, or even the original Quake. At least they have a fun enemy roster and more variety in level design.

      The first major FPS that introduced the hub system, as far as I know, was Hexen. However, it was much more puzzle-driven, and a few of them were quite obtuse. If you want to enjoy the concept without putting too much effort in it, I can understand the appeal of Quake II. Incidentally, this is how I felt about Daikatana’s “light” skill progression feature, compare to what you would have in a proper RPG.

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