Let's start off with the original PC release. Remember, it's 1999, so source ports aren't a thing yet.To get the basic point across, here's a quick screenshot I snapped of Quake II at its highest settings, including its then-astounding resolution of 1600x1200.
8-bit textures, OpenGL renderer-compatible... the pinnacle of interactive software, at least until this new game named Unreal releases. The PC release has sets of levels broken up into Units, each one ending with a short FMV detailing your progress through the Strogg stronghold. Not major stuff, but a nice addition and, again, cutting-edge at the time. Framerate depends on the system, but we'll say that in the future, maybe 2013 or something like that, running Quake II at a framerate in the hundreds should be commonplace. The controls are entirely remappable to any key, and support keyboards, joysticks, and even mouse-aiming, presenting an entirely new level of precision that's sure to make the multiplayer modes even more frantic. The multiplayer, by the way, supports LAN as well as TCP/IP online play.
Now let's look at the PlayStation version.
The PlayStation port of Quake II runs at the console's native resolution of 320x240. From the outset, the PSX port combines the high-resolution textures of the software-rendered PC game with some special lighting-effects that, while decent enough, aren't as stunning as the OpenGL lighting on the original. The maps in this port aren't just the main Quake II maps, but rather a combination of maps from the base game and the expansions, with some changes made to accommodate the limits of the hardware (more loading areas, less secrets). Some of the soundtrack pieces are shortened as well.
The multiplayer is still here, with deathmatch, team deathmatch, and a one-life versus mode with up to four players on 12 maps. It's pretty barebones with gametypes, but so was Quake II before Capture-The-Flag released. Players can change their name and color, and you can change falling damage and gravity in the menu beforehand. (Yes, if you're one of those people who has to have it a certain way, you can change the split orientation as well.) One thing worth noting as well is that, no matter how hectic the gameplay gets, the framerate keeps a steady 30FPS at all times.
All in all, not a bad port at all... except for THE CONTROLS. You can't remap anything, although there are three presets you can choose from. The digital-only controls are kinda standard, so if you're used to those clunky move/turn controls, that'll be your best bet. If you do have a DualShock controller, there's three presets switching the sticks up. I understand that it's 1999, and my ideal design that will hopefully become industry standard six or seven years in the future of using the left stick for all movement and right stick for all looking, isn't quite here yet, but 14 years from now people are really not going to think that this has aged well. The Right-Stick Only preset, which uses the D-Pad for moving and the right-stick for looking, almost works ideally, except that this also doubles as the left-handed preset. You're either stuck with wonky movement and aiming, or wonky firing and action buttons. I'm sure given time, you can get used to it, but the developers could have at least given the option to customize the controls. (Note: Quake II for PSX does support the PlayStation Mouse, but I don't own one so I couldn't test out how it works.)
Once you get past the controls, you could do a lot worse than this. At its core, it's still definitely Quake II, and, controls aside, there's really nothing outright wrong with this port.
Okay, so the PSX port fares fairly well, but how does it stack up against the Nintendo 64 release?
This port is a very mixed bag, but let's start with the graphics. On the one hand, lighting and particle effects are much improved and, dare I say, better than the PC version. But on the other, textures are lower-quality and model animations are much choppier, especially the weapon animations and the players in multiplayer. (Worth noting: The Nintendo 64 port of the game lacks grenades as a stand-alone weapon, as they are now only ammo for the Grenade Launcher.) The industrial-rock soundtrack by Sonic Mayhem that was present in the PC and PSX versions of the game has been replaced with a new ambient OST. Rather than being a compilation of maps from the base game and expansions, the majority of maps in the N64 port are new and exclusive, with only a few original maps. However, getting in the way of this is something that's never been an issue with any prior version - the framerate. It's smooth enough in small areas, but in combat and larger areas it becomes noticeably sluggish, even at the native 320x240 resolution of the console. The Expansion Pak is supported optionally for "enhanced effects", but does nothing to help the performance.
Unlike the PlayStation port, there are not only five presets for controls, but you can fully remap the controls to your liking. You can also change your character's name and color in multiplayer (six colors to choose from, up from the PlayStation's four). The number of maps for multiplayer is reduced to ten, but the maps there are new as well. Gone are the gravity and falling damage settings, but in their stead are new multiplayer gametypes, which are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture-The-Flag, and Deathtag (kill the guy with the flag before others do!). The framerate isn't perfect in multiplayer either, but it's certainly tolerable.
All in all, all three versions of the game are worth your time if you own the consoles. The PC version is the obvious winner, with the expansions, multiplayer, and burgeoning modding and mapping community sure to keep the game active for years to come, while the PSX port lacks new material, but holds up well enough on its own, and the N64 release is loaded with new features that fans of the game are bound to love, if they can deal with an uneven framerate and some lower-quality graphics.
(Returns back to 2013)
It sure is hard to believe that something that once was as cutting-edge and popular as Quake II is now a forgotten relic buried in the sea of mediocrity that the genre it helped popularize became. All three ports do hold up (to a degree) and, although the PC version has since become even more of a definitive release with source ports and an online community that lives on still, neither other release is a waste of money if you like the game and own the consoles. (It was also released on the Xbox 360 on a bonus disc with that console's port of Quake 4, as a straight PC port) Quake II is a worthy purchase no matter what system you want it for.