After writing about Doom Eternal last month, I felt like I was kinda losing my touch when it came to offbeat, weird stuff. Struggling to think of something to write about, I thought of something. And it’s time to head back to the unofficial expansion mines once again.
I’ve been down this road countless times at this point, but this is one I had to come back to, since I mentioned it briefly before late last year. Since I covered one of the unofficial expansions — Zaero for Quake II — back in November 2021, I had to go back and look at another expansion for Quake II. And y’all, it’s a doozy.
Juggernaut: The New Story for Quake II – quite a mouthful – is an unofficial add-on for id Software’s space marine Strogg-killing shooter Quake II. The second of two unofficial add-ons, this came out around 1998 as a way to add more to your Quake II experience.
I became familiar of this thanks to Something Awful, back when they used to “review” video games of dubious quality. Much like a lot of internet writing of that era, it’s really hard to go back to reading, especially since its creator Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka was an absolute piece of shit. But I had been curious about this add-on, so I started looking for a copy. Turns out it was a bit tougher finding a complete copy than I thought it would be, thus I put it aside and wrote about Zaero instead. It wasn’t until after I published that did a friend come and help me find a copy.
Much like previous add-ons – official and unofficial – the game offers you to shoot and gib monsters, grab keys and have a fun time, right? I wish this was true, as this is not the case with Juggernaut. Problem number one is who published it.
Head Games was a fairly infamous budget publisher through the late ‘90s, alongside some of the more infamous ones like Valu-Soft. While they dabbled in publishing unofficial expansions like the previously talked about Aftershock for Quake, their bread and butter was the “Extreme” line they published from 1999-2000, like Extreme Rock Climbing, Extreme Boards & Blades, and yes, the infamous Extreme Paintbrawl games. They’re not known for a high pedigree of quality, so buying a Head Games product meant you had to put your expectations real low. And this was before Activision acquired them.
Though we can’t just blame the publisher: Developer Canopy Games has their own tale of making clunky games as well. For the most part, they were known mostly for budget-label driving games based on Harley Davidson, Hot Rod Magazine and oddly Initial D of all franchises; as well as Midnight Outlaw: Illegal Street Drag, a racing game clearly made to cash in on the Fast and the Furious franchise that Something Awful also covered back in the day. (This will be the last time I mention that site in this article, promise.)
They occasionally dabbled in other genres, including the then-lucrative market of hidden object games in the late-2000s, but from the research I did shooters were not really their thing. Juggernaut would end up being their only add-on for a commercially released game. So I don’t have high hopes for this.
According to what I gleamed through the cutscenes and the readme files, the story goes like this: In the far-flung future, a Juggernaut ship exported people from Earth to the two moons on Jupiter – Europa and Callisto, respectively. You’re a soldier named “The Defender” who lives on Europa, doing your usual mining business until you find out that settlers of Callisto are doing science experiments on people that turns them into mutated beings. The Defender must fly to Callisto and eliminate those mutated freaks before their demon stuff… spreads throughout the universe? It’s not really clear, the story is likely explained more in the manual or the intro cutscene than it is in-game.
In Juggernaut, The Defender must fight through various environments, including mines, jungles and space bases to eventually destroy the source of the mutated Callistians and eventually get something called the “PCD,” which isn’t really talked much about in-game. I know I shouldn’t slag a shooter for not having a clear story, but even Quake II had some goals to strive for.
Much like any add-on, this game follows a lot of Quake II’s formula: Find guns, frag and shoot Stro- sorry, Callistians, hit a few switches, find a few keys, rinse, repeat. It’s a formula that’s pretty hard to screw up. And yet, Juggernaut somehow mangles that formula.
At the start of Quake II and most add-ons, the player only has the weak-firing blaster, thus forcing them to fight off low-tier guards and procure better weapons. The player gradually acquires weapons in terms on power, like the shotgun, grenades and the machine gun.
Not so in Juggernaut. After clawing through the first level or so with only the blaster, the first weapon that The Defender acquires in this add-on is the Chaingun, one of the powerful mid-tier weapons known for doing massive damage while chewing through ammo. A little later in the same level, the player acquires grenades, the grenade launcher, and a “new” weapon which will get to in a second. The shotgun doesn’t appear until the fourth level. You get these weapons in a bizarre order that really breaks the balance of the game, making it pretty damn easy to steamroll through these early areas.
The game boasts two new “weapons”: The Blade Gun, which is a weapon acquired in the second stage, and the EMP gun which is acquired later. Unlike the new weapons in other expansions, these are literally reskins of existing weapons. The Blade Gun is just the Hyperblaster but with a more obnoxious sound and animation. The EMP gun is just the machine gun but a little bit more… suggestive looking.
I don’t want to call the designers at Canopy Games lazy, but when even those “new” weapons still have the text strings of the weapons they replaced, that seems like they didn’t really care here. Even Zaero tried some new unique weapons to give some variety, but in Juggernaut they seem like amateur replacement models that you’d download off a fansite.
With that rough start, you’d think that at least the level design makes up for it, right? It doesn’t. Lots of long boring hallways, occasionally repeating areas, backtracking that doesn’t make sense, and frequent switch and key hunts outright flood this add-on. There’s a lot of design ideas that aren’t made explicitly clear, or worse off, are used once or twice and never again, like hitting multiple switches or shooting switches to open doors.
One level required me to crawl through a vent, enter a prison block and climb my way to the top to hit a switch. At one point I fumbled around for several minutes trying to figure out where to go. There was a stairwell off in a dark corner that wasn’t hinted at or anything. And that’s only part of the problem with the levels.
Juggernaut boasts an enemy count that would be more in line with the later “slaughter” FPSes like Serious Sam or Painkiller, where levels would have up to 100 or more monsters in a single level, often all in one place.
The problem with that is since Quake II was running on a powerful 3D engine, they really couldn’t flood areas with a lot of baddies without bringing 1998-era PCs to their knees. So id software tried to stagger enemy count, at most giving the player a few enemies to fight at a time. A very delicate sense of balance and game design.
Meanwhile, Canopy Games threw that out the window by flooding areas with a dozen or more enemies at once, which makes areas harder than they’re supposed to. It also makes a lot of areas just become outright slaughter areas, with no major challenge or fun to it.
Even in the readme for Juggernaut, they state that “warning messages may appear… these are generally due to the extreme number of monsters/items in our levels.” which should’ve been the hint to maybe rebalance these so the levels don’t feel like low-effort Doom levels taken off cdrom.com or whatever, but they decided to stick with it.
Granted, I didn’t see any error messages as I was playing this on a modern system with a modern source port, but I could imagine someone getting this on a low-tier PC in 1998 and just struggling to play this, even on Software rendering.
Even though Juggernaut is meant to ostensibly take place in a different location than Stroggos, it really feels like it was unfinished. While there’s reskins of existing baddies, a fair share of them – including the Mutants and Technicians – are the same as vanilla Quake II’s.
I don’t quite get it. The add-on implies this takes place in a new location independent from Quake II, yet it still has Quake II enemies without any proper explanation. There’s no explanation why certain enemies still look the same as the originals rather than all of them being reskinned enemies, and it feels like they gave up on this idea partway through. Granted, I probably shouldn’t be thinking too hard about this kind of stuff, but it just seems strange that they’d only change some of the enemies and not all of them.
The rest of the game is pretty mediocre. There’s no music to speak of outside of cutscenes, there’s rarely any powerups like Quad Damage, the cutscenes are laughably silly and don’t quite explain what’s going on, and the level design just looks very blocky and colorful without a proper understanding of how to make them look good. This game was definitely not a looker for 1998.
The last arena features the final boss, a reskinned Hornet from the base game, and eventually leads to finding a “PCD” that wasn’t really mentioned much beforehand. Afterwards, The Defender returned to his home planet, with the narrator saying that the mutated Callistans may return at any time. The thought of there being a sequel to this filled me with dread, but it seems it never came to pass.
Much like any add-on, there are multiplayer maps, though most of them were just repurposed single player maps, complete with the monsters still there. One of them, JDM2, refused to load because it apparently didn’t have any player spawns. Since the single player maps were bad, I can’t imagine trying to deathmatch on these for more than five minutes before everybody goes back to Q2DM1: The Edge.
I don’t like harshly judging the quality of stuff like this as it’s technically fanmade work, but even other add-ons feel like they’re trying something unique and interesting. Here this feels like a modification that went retail before it was ready, and it shows. Poor balance, ugly levels, and putting in too much effort in some things compared to others. If you spent any amount of money on this in 1998 you’d feel pretty ripped off.
Compared to other unofficial expansions for Quake II, Juggernaut: the New Story for Quake II feels much more of an amateur fan mod that got sold for retail. Something like Zaero could’ve easily been the third Mission Pack because it feels pretty damn polished. But I can’t say that about Juggernaut. It’s a bad expansion that really feels like it was made by newbies figuring out how to make games for the first time and somehow got released onto the world before it was ready.
Juggernaut: The New Story for Quake II is practically abandonware, though the problem is finding a proper version to play. There’s a lot of releases of this out there that say they’re the full version, but in reality is actually the demo, with only a handful of the levels, some enemy reskins missing, no FMV cutscenes or custom sounds, and this splash screen once you’ve finished a few levels:
Meanwhile, A version on Archive.org seems to have it but that requires knowing how to mount BIN/CUE files. Also, to make this work on modern source ports like YamagiQ2, I had to put everything in a pak file for the add-on using PakExplorer, otherwise YamagiQ2 wouldn’t recognize it. If there’s a more painless way to do this, please let me know.
With all the pain I went through to get this to work, let alone play it, you’d be better off sticking with the official Mission Packs and Zaero instead, honestly. Hell, there’s custom Quake II levels that you can download off the net for free that are infinitely better than this, some of which I covered on this blog already. Juggernaut definitely doesn’t live up to its name, that’s for sure.
Sadly Quake II wasn’t nearly as popular with unofficial expansions compared to its predecessor, and by 1999-2000, the concept of unofficial add-on packs were starting to fall out of fashion once the internet got more mainstream and there were easier methods to get new levels. Though, I still kinda miss this era where a bunch of modders would just make new levels for a game that would eventually get commercially released. That seems to be a lost art these days, with it happening once in a blue moon. Hell, most modern games don’t even have mod tools these days. All I’m saying is that mods need to make a comeback, damn it. I miss them.
This was available one week early to people who support me on Patreon. Thankfully you don’t need to frag some Strogg to get there, all it takes is $1 to see this before it goes live. You can check out my Patreon here.